Self-Care for Social Workers: 10 Tips for Optimal Wellness

Self care in social work
Self care in social work

Self-care for social workers is essential for maintaining positive well-being, especially during COVID-19. Since early 2020, social workers have supported Americans through unprecedented challenges while navigating similar difficulties in their own lives.

A career in social work is fulfilling, but can also be exceptionally draining. Here are 10 tips for how social workers can care for their body, mind, and spirit during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond.

What is Self-Care?

The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to self-care as the ability "to promote health, prevent disease, maintain health and cope with illness and disability." Practices can vary by person but have similar themes:

  • Hygiene
  • Nutrition
  • Lifestyle
  • Environmental factors (e.g., social habits)
  • Self-medication
  • Socioeconomic factors (e.g., cultural beliefs)

Like drinking water or getting adequate sleep, practicing self-care is necessary for optimal health. Research shows self-care can improve well-being, help people live longer and lower the risk of developing certain diseases.

Why is Self-Care for Social Workers Vital during COVID-19?

Prioritizing your physical and mental health is crucial amid COVID-19 because many social workers are experiencing pandemic-related job burnout. Doing can help them overcome it.

In July 2021, the American Medical Association published a survey showing job burnout in 60% of social workers. That figure is higher than that of almost any other healthcare worker surveyed.

Job burnout is an occupational phenomenon stemming from chronic workplace stress. Social workers have encountered many sources of workplace stress during COVID-19. An article in the journal Health & Social Work points to several factors including:

  • Increased mental, behavioral and physical health concerns among clients.
  • Overwhelming job demands.
  • Anxiety about personal safety and that of loved ones.

The good news is that integrating a few self-care measures throughout the day can drastically improve social worker wellness.

Mental Health 

Our mental health affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. That is why social workers need to practice mental health self-care during COVID-19.

Mental health encompasses emotional, psychological and social well-being. When individuals have positive mental health, they can cope with stress and make healthy choices.

The following practices can help social workers prevent and manage workplace stress, improving their mental health.

Tip #1: Discuss Stress at Work

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends talking about job stress with coworkers and supervisors you feel comfortable with. When your colleagues understand why you feel stressed, they can help you alleviate it.

Tip #2: Follow a Daily Routine

Sometimes feeling out of control can lead to stress. Creating and following a daily routine can help social workers feel greater control. The CDC suggests keeping a regular sleep schedule, taking short work breaks and spending time outside.

Tip #3: Ask for Help

Social workers feeling overwhelmed by stress, anxiety or depression should ask for help. They can check with their employer's HR department about available workplace resources and find mental health providers using the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Treatment Locator.

Physical Health

Maintaining physical wellness is another critical element of self-care. The benefits of good physical health include lower stress, higher energy, and a reduced risk of disease.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends several strategies for improving physical health. Two of the most important are engaging in regular physical activity and eating a balanced diet.

Tip #4: Stay Active

The NIH urges at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity and two or more days of strength training every week. However, adding more physical activity throughout each day is also beneficial. Take the stairs instead of the elevator or go for a walk during phone calls.

Tip #5: Eat a Balanced Diet

Balanced nutrition is also crucial when it comes to physical self-care. The NIH advocates for eating a variety of foods, including fruits, nuts, seeds, lean meat, seafood and eggs. For lasting energy, consume complex carbohydrates, such as vegetables and legumes.

Emotional Health 

Having positive emotional health means being aware of and coping with emotions. Social workers can improve their emotional well-being by connecting with others. There are many ways to do so, even when social distancing guidelines exist.

Tip #6: Help Others

Research compiled by the Cleveland Clinic shows that being helpful increases self-esteem and lowers stress. Fortunately for social workers, helping others is their profession. Showing appreciation, donating unused items and being friendly to strangers are just a few simple ways social workers can be helpful outside of work.

Tip #7: Give Hugs

Physical touch is not always possible amid COVID-19. Whenever it is safe to do so, embrace the benefits of hugging. It can strengthen the immune system and lower stress, blood pressure, and heart rate.

Tip #8: Interact with Animals

When it comes to self-care for social workers, spending time with animals can positively impact emotional health. Johns Hopkins Medicine reported that even short interactions, like petting or holding an animal, can reduce loneliness, stress, and blood pressure.


Spirituality is another path to self-care. Connecting to something greater than ourselves helps cultivate a strong sense of purpose, leading to improved mood and less anxiety and depression.

Tip #9: Religious Practice

For some, spiritual growth is achieved through religious practice. Attending worship services, praying and studying religious doctrine are meaningful ways to take care of the spirit.

Tip #10: Spiritual Practice

Activities involving nature, art and other channels can also improve spiritual health. Spirituality can also include sitting quietly outside, meditating or writing in a daily journal.

Prepare to Change Lives as a Social Worker

Social workers perform one of the noblest professions in the world. They are prepared to improve individuals' quality of life and affect system-wide change through the pursuit of social justice.

During COVID-19, social workers have faced new challenges in their practice. The pandemic has also shined a brighter light on their tremendous impact. Social workers advocate for the nation's most vulnerable populations across schools, hospitals, nonprofits and beyond.

Spring Arbor University's Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) online program will equip you with the skills and knowledge to help individuals improve their relationships and solve problems. In the process, you will transform your life and career.

As a student in SAU's online BSW program, you will benefit from a program that is:

  • Flexible: Complete coursework 100% online with no residency requirement and transfer up to 84 credits.
  • Faith-Driven: Grow as a compassionate social worker emphasizing human dignity, justice, ethics, and cultural understanding.
  • Reputable: SAU is ranked among the Top 25 Christian Colleges for a social work degree and accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE).

SAU's online BSW program blends hands-on learning with academic rigor so that you are ready to take on real-world challenges. Fulfill your calling to serve and be supported—every step of the way.


Learn more about SAU’s online Bachelor of Social Work degree.