Self Care Tips for Social Workers

By: Jane E. Shersher, LSW and Founder of Counselors Autonomous, a program within Ava Today

At Harvard Medical School in the 1970’s cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson, editor of the Harvard Medical School Special Health Report wrote a piece that everyone should read: Stress Management: Approaches for preventing and reducing stress. In the article, he wrote about relaxation responses to oppose the effects of stress and evoke resilience.

1. Breath focus. Taking long, slow, deep breaths through your belly and trying to disengage your mind is a great way to calm your central nervous system down. It’s a way to pay homage to sensations that you are accustomed to ignoring as you move throughout your busy day. Try setting a timer to remind yourself to breathe a few times a day for a minute or two at a time and record with one or two words or with a smiley face scale how impactful the practice has been for you over a span of a few weeks to measure the results.

2. Body scan. You can just pay attention to each body part one at a time from head to toe, looking for points of tension to release, or you can be a little bit more active with the approach by implementing progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). PMR includes tensing each muscle group and relaxing it 5 seconds later to increase blood flow and focus.

3. Guided imagery. Visualize yourself within an environment that helps to calm you down, inspire you, or help you to focus for a few minutes at a time. Creating a habitual routine around this process can be helpful for both impact and maintenance.

Here are some Ambiance Sound apps that help me:

  • Naturespace
  • NatureScenes
  • Relax Sounds
  • Nature Sound

4. Mindfulness meditation. There are so many types of meditation, from repeating a mantra to a guided practice.

Here are some mindfulness/meditation apps that help me:

  • Omvana
  • Breathe
  • Headspace
  • Calm
  • Life Hypnosis
  • Mindfulness
  • Bliss
  • Meditations
  • Meditate Now
  • Focus Zen
  • Hypnomatic

5. Yoga, tai chi, and qigong. These physical exercises are just as much about the mind as they are about the body. They help with mental focus, flexibility, and balance. They reduce your anxiety and improve your physical health and are so important to integrate throughout your busy day, even if for a few minutes.

Here are some Yoga and exercise apps that help me:

  • Abs
  • Yoga 201
  • Yoga 301
  • Quick 4
  • Yoga Quickies
  • Power Yoga
  • 7M Workout
  • Seven
  • FitStar Yoga
  • Lazy Monster
  • ActiveEX
  • Runkeeper

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5. Get Enough Sleep. I can’t stress this enough- your body needs on average 7.5 hours every night. Go to bed early and wake up early, exercise in the morning, eat a smoothie for breakfast that is high in veggies and low in sugar and start your day off strong. When you are sleepy, you won’t get as much done and the loss in sleep comes at a cost to your health, satisfaction, and even safety as people sleeping behind the wheel can cause severe car accidents. Start to wind down by reading an interesting book for 10-20 minutes and then shut off the lights and check these out:

Here are some relax sound apps that help me:

  • Dormio
  • Meditate Now

When I go to bed, I look at my calendar for the next day so I know what to prepare myself for emotionally. This way I don’t experience any nasty preventable surprises as a maneuver throughout my schedule the next day. It helps me get into the mindset that prepares me for what is to come.

I start my day off with two lists:

1) A gratitude list of 3 things I’m grateful for each within myself, my career, and in my personal life.

2) The top 6 things that I need to accomplish that day. Those that don’t get finished that day are rolled over onto the next day.

I go for walks and opt to take the stairs at least once every hour: These keep my blood flowing through my muscles and my brain, which keeps my attention focused, mood elevated, and body protected from developing diabetes, cardiovascular problems, and dangerous conditions such as deep vein thrombosis.

I Don’t Over Commit:

Saying “yes” to everything and everyone means saying “no” to yourself – you need to plan for self care time, otherwise it will not happen until you are purely exhausted and blowing your commitments. If you want to be accountable to others, take care of yourself and only agree to essential promises of your time and energy.

I Use Scheduling technology:

When someone wants to meet with me, I tell them to click the link within the signature of my email to book themselves into my calendar. The link shows when I’m available based upon my google calendar and schedules them into my calendar when they pick an open slot. It has saved me tremendous amounts of scheduling email time, and this is time I now spend meditating or fitting in a quick workout.

Two tools that can help you with this include:

  • youcanbookme
  • Calendly