Social work is incredibly important work. You can make a huge difference to the lives of others at almost every age. Unfortunately, there is also just not enough social workers out there to give the correct amount of time and dedication. This means many social workers can burn themselves out and run themselves ragged in their attempt to help someone else build a better life.
This isn’t the case for every social work role. This guide will take you through some top advice for social workers and those aspiring to be one. It will ensure you have the best career and look after yourself during the process.
Taking your degree
Regardless of what you are doing as a social worker, your health and wellbeing are critically important. This is doubly true if you are also working towards a degree. A BSW to MSW online can be just what you need to take your career to the next level, but taking that on while working is another matter entirely.
Social workers need to care for their health and wellbeing. This applies during your first entry-level job. It applies when completing your BSW to MSW online; it applies during your clinical placements, during your state exams, and all the way to your clinical work itself. Caring for yourself is the best way to succeed, and this guide will help you devise a strategy that works for you individually.
The Type of Stresses You Have to Deal With
There are two main types of stress that you will have to deal with as a social worker:
1. The Physical
There is always the risk of physically burning out in any job. You need to be truly careful. Otherwise, you could end up running on a lack of sleep and invite stress to take over. Physical stress extrapolates mental and emotional stress. Being in perfect health doesn’t mean you are immune to a rough day at work, but rather it means that you will be better equipped to handle it.
For example, you have a bad day at work. If you are in perfect health, the only thing that is wrong is the bad day. If you were horrendously sick and in pain on top of it? The problem is immediately more serious. In fact, being physically unwell can turn something that is usually no problem for you into a massive disaster.
2. The Mental and Emotional
Social workers frequently work with people who have, for lack of a better term, hit rock bottom. They may have just received a terrible diagnosis from a doctor; they may be in a poor family home that requires CPS, they may be struggling with addiction. Social workers get involved when things become unmanageable for the individuals involved. You are expected to help in a myriad of ways, from emotional to supportive, and there are a lot of people who will need your help.
The issue is that a lot of people are also hurting, and one of the oldest defense mechanisms in response to hurt is to lash out. Verbal abuse, physical abuse, and even just a solid, defensive wall can wear you down emotionally and mentally.
The work you do is absolutely invaluable to society. You are doing so much to help build a better future, but none of that means that you don’t also deserve help. Add on the stress of taking on a BSW to MSW online degree, and you have a lot to contend with. That is why you need to put your health first. Feel good, feel good about yourself, and you can do great work at your job and even work to further your career with a next-level qualification.
How to Better Handle Degree Stress
Every social worker’s career begins with a degree. This could be a BSW, or it could have been in an associated degree, like psychology or sociology. Regardless, you must have a bachelor’s or some form in order to qualify for even entry-level and administrative roles.
As your career begins with a degree, the most important thing to learn today is how to handle your degree stress. Degree stress can be so much worse than working in a job because your results and your efforts are being marked and graded on a scale. In the real world, a good day’s work is making progress with a client or just filling out your paperwork on time. The metrics used to determine if you are good at your job or not are entirely different from what they are looking for during your degree.
So, if it feels like it’s more stressful completing your degree than doing your job, don’t worry. Instead, try out these tips:
1. Set out a consistent time to study per day
It’s a lot easier to study and focus on your degree when that is the only thing that you have to focus on at the moment. If you are completing your BSW to MSW online, however, that is an entirely different situation. You have more freedom and more difficulties simultaneously. After all, you will be in charge of your own schedule. For some, this is liberating; for others, this is just another thing to put off thanks to their procrastination.
It is recommended that you apply for a BSW to MSW online degree 9 to 12 months before the degree starts. Use that time to start getting into the habit of studying every day. For now, don’t worry about what you study. Enjoy it. Choose interesting topics that are fun and engaging. By getting used to using an extra two or three hours a day to learn, you can easily incorporate your studying from your BSW to MSW online degree once it starts.
2. Prioritize a full, consistent night’s rest
Eating well and exercising are important, but before you start to worry about these two high-energy activities, start with a good night’s rest. A good way to do this is just by being consistent. Try to go to bed at the exact same time every night, and wake up either eight or nine hours later. If you still struggle, consult your doctor for more specific help.
3. Make things easier for yourself
The biggest tip for any student, even those looking to earn a degree from a BSW to MSW online, is that there is no reason why you cannot make things easier for yourself. Get in touch with other students in your course and split up the workload. Listen to pre-recorded lectures on your commute, use recording devices and talk-to-text to make note-taking easier, and so on. As you go on and work on your BSW to MSW online, you will quickly notice the ways that you can do something faster, with less effort. This is not cheating; it is actually the smarter way to learn because it is the most efficient for you.
Take these tips and use them for your health as well. A BSW to MSW online degree can take a lot of physical effort, and taking care of yourself properly is very exhausting when you have a lot of stress on top of it all. To avoid it, have things planned out. Prep your meals or invest in a meal plan delivery subscription. Little things like this can make it easier to eat well with minimal effort on your part. In turn, your body gets the fuel it needs, and you can feel all the better for it.
4. Put what you learn into action
In social work, you have this automatically covered. You will either need to attend a supervised placement or interest. If you are working towards your BSW to MSW online, then the next step after graduation is to start your clinical, supervised placement (that lasts two years).
How to Better Handle Exam and Licensing Stress
Degree stress is an ongoing condition. What is short-term and very intense is the sort of stress that you might experience before a final or, at the very least, before the state licensure exam. Starting early is key, as is knowing that you can fail, especially when it comes to the state license exam. They want you to showcase the essential skills and knowledge necessary to become a clinical social worker, but it isn’t a one-chance deal.
Try to stick to the study/learn routine that you developed during your BSW to MSW online degree. If you haven’t already created notes in your own words and explanations, do so now. While revision is a good place to start, the best way to study is by creating many, many questions. Our brains work best with a question/answer format. If you do this during studying, you can more effectively retrieve the answer from your mind.
How to Better Handle Work Stress
Work stress is another issue. Having a strong support group and, most importantly, learning to compartmentalize is going to be your saving grace here. Do that, and combine it with healthy living, and you can get through even the most difficult cases.
1. Be There for Your Co-Workers
Be there for your co-workers, and allow your co-workers to be there for you. There is no one who will better understand how hard it is to work sometimes when you are trying to help people who have been in traumatic situations. Empathy is a great asset to have in this career, but it can also mean that you end up feeling too much. By being there and relying on your co-workers emotionally, you can provide your clients the essential, professional face that they need.
2. Tips to Compartmentalize
Everyone has their own methods to compartmentalize. We do it on an everyday basis, but for those who deal with emotional situations, it is critical. A good way to do this is to never work from home, for example. Though you should never feel like you cannot talk about your problems about work at home, try to reframe it as a work problem, and work with your friends and family to refrain from your work bleeding through your personal life. If you find compartmentalizing difficult, then seeking out mental health support is a must.
3. When to Know It’s Not for You
Stress is normal in any job, especially one where you are working to help people with their mental, behavioral, or emotional problems. If you cannot ever seem to get the hang of it, however, then there is absolutely no shame in redirecting your career or, at the very least, changing employers. You need to feel supported and cared for at work. If your current employer doesn’t offer this and doesn’t seem to think that their employees deserve compassion, then it’s time to find a better place to work.
Above all else, it is critical that you understand yourself and what you can handle. If you cannot work in addiction recovery, for example, don’t limit yourself. Hard addiction like those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol can be very hard to handle. Instead of hurting yourself in a situation that doesn’t suit you, try to expand. There are many situations where a clinical social worker will be an asset and will be able to help. The type of work varies drastically depending on what mental illness or addiction you are dealing with.
By finding the right job for you, you can make a huge difference in your personal life. Some people have tough skin and are exceptionally organized. They can handle people at their worst and still seem to keep up their social life and not let their job get to them. For others, you may be more sensitive and not able to compartmentalize quite so well. Being sensitive in this job role can feel like a detriment, but it just means that you are empathetic. You understand, and you feel what your clients feel, and that is a power in itself.
The only thing you need to remember is that there are a lot of positions that could benefit from your help. By finding the right work/life balance, and even just the right company or clinic for you, you can stay healthy, mentally well and do an incredible job.