It is National Social Work Month, I should be celebrating, why am I so cranky?

“Work-related stress is common in today’s workforce, including individuals practicing social work. Given their professional client-centered nature, stress is a concern among social workers- particularly among those providing direct services (NASW Membership Workforce Study, 2009). “

I know that statement is true. I lived it in the field for many years as a case manager in Ryan White Funded organizations working with HIV infected and affected adolescents, children and women, as the social worker for an Adult HIV Clinical Trials team and as a technical assistance provider for State Substance Abuse prevention systems. With common stressors such as, not enough time to complete the necessary tasks to get our job done, not having enough resources to meet our clients needs, heavy work loads and difficult or challenging clients, plus our natural desire to help people with problems, it is no wonder we are feeling stressed and a very many of us feel burntout.

The work we do is too important for us to just stop, but we can’t continue to put in all of our resources without taking deliberate time and action to attend to our needs and replenish our resources. Is this hitting home for you too? Not sure? Here’s a quick quiz to check in with yourself about your own work-related stress.

As a result of work do you…

  • Feel fatigued regularly?
  • Have trouble sleeping sound, falling asleep, staying asleep or just plain feeling rested when you wake up?
  • Are you experiencing psychological problems like anxiety about work, feeling “depressed” about work?
  • Feel like you are not working at your peak performance level?
  • Feel irritable or angry?
  • Experience a tired, achy, heavy and/or sore body or other physical symptoms?

If you have answered Yes to 1 or more of these questions, you might just be feeling stressed and headed towards burnout. Stress, like with many things, a little goes a long way,  and in small doses it may act as a motivator, too much and it’s overwhelming and harmful.

But it is not all gloom and doom. Because of our nature and drive as social workers many of us do things to help manage our work related stress. According to the recent NASW Membership Workforce Study many of us exercise regularly, meditate or use some form of counseling to help cope. We are creative and resilient and by using healthy strategies to cope with stressors and maintain/regain our sense of control, mastery and competency in our jobs we can find ways to continue our exquisitely important work.

So take heart and take care, its probably not “just you” its probably the job and the very real demands we feel. And there are things you can do. Jump on your bike, take a walk, go dance, pull out the kayak, take some time to be still and reflect, journal or talk to someone about what is or is not going on. None of those appeal to you?  Go find some other personal and healthy way to restore yourself and honor the good work you do. Me, I am going to go dance.

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