By Warren Terry
Field Education Coordinator, Social Work Program
College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Every morning when I wake up, my mind is bombarded with thoughts of all the things I didn’t do the day before and the ever-growing list of the things that I must do that day. My phone is close by as a reminder of my responsibilities as well as updates on the status of our world, which can be overwhelming and sad.
But occasionally when I wake up, there are two huge brown eyes, a wet black nose and a wide mouth with a ball or squeak toy in his teeth, breathing heavily near my face. That gleeful presence is Bentley, my 80-pound golden retriever, pleading with me to focus on what’s most important.
His definition of what’s most important is to go to the park, smell for any new dog friends, lean his hefty body on new human friends and carry his leash around in his mouth as a sign of independence. What I am reminded of, by his untimely disruption of my sleep, is what is most important to me – my emotional, mental and physical wellbeing.
At its core, the role of a social worker is to provide support and assistance to those facing challenges in their life.
Engaging with individuals who are struggling while providing empathy and assistance can take an emotional toll on anyone: As a social worker, you do this every day. Compassion fatigue and burnout are common factors in why social workers leave their profession.
But it’s not just social workers who experience this, it is EVERYONE. Everyone can feel overwhelmed and exhausted by the everyday stresses and responsibilities of life. No one is immune or exempt from these feelings.
That is why the importance of self-care is a critical component of life, whether you’re a social worker or not, to remain present, attentive and emotionally connected to your life and the people around you. It sometimes may feel selfish to take care of yourself, but the reality is you cannot help others effectively if you haven’t taken care of yourself first.
As a previous supervisor and now an instructor, so much of my guidance and teaching is focused on individuals developing self-awareness and self-regulation. Being able to feel yourself becoming overwhelmed is just as important as knowing how to take care of yourself during those times.
Everyone has unique ways to soothe themselves. Exercise, reading, being with friends, listening to music, or meditation are but a few of a thousand ways people take time away from the stresses of life to focus on what is important: again, their emotional, mental and physical wellbeing. We cannot live our best lives without first taking care of ourselves.
It is not every day that I get awakened by such enthusiasm, and there are days when I cannot appease my dog’s adventurous desires. But what sometimes seems like his keen perception and tenacity helps me spend time doing what is most important. Our wellbeing and joy can be found by walking in the park with Bentley.