Focus Area 1: The Field of Youth Work
5. Self-Care is Key to Sustaining Your Passion

Youth workers are not invincible. You live your own life concurrently with supporting young people. Your value to a young person is directly related to how well you care for yourself outside of that relationship.

Self-care is a critical survival skill for youth workers. Working with young people presents many challenges. A normal day may have more ups and downs than a roller coaster and some days it will sure feel like a wild ride. Some days, your patience will be tested, your nerves will be frayed, you’ll feel exhausted, and you may find yourself asking how you’re even going to get through.

The key is to be aware of how you respond to stress so you can be prepared to deal with it. Practicing self-care on a regular basis will help you reduce stress as well as maintain your overall health and well-being.

Turnover is sadly quite high in the field of youth work. Stress and burnout are possibly the two greatest threats to your career as a youth worker. They are two sides of the same coin. Stress is typically a short-term response to certain situations that arise. People actually need some stress in order to accomplish things. Too much stress is the problem.

Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion. It is thought to be the result of chronic stress. Burnout can cause you to develop cynicism about your work, drive you to detach and disengage, cause feelings of ineffectiveness. Basically, you just can’t function effectively on a personal or professional level when you’re experiencing burnout.

You can’t avoid stress altogether but you can put strategies in place to lessen the effects of stress. By consistently practicing preventive strategies, and paying attention to the warning signs, you’ll be able to avoid burnout. That is the purpose of self-care.

Every youth worker is different and a self-care technique that works for one may not work for another. Take the time to discover for yourself what works best for you, personally. Explore different strategies, try different exercises, practice different techniques and when you find something that works, make it a regular part of your own custom-designed and perfectly personalized self-care plan.

You’ll find a host of resources on the web to help you create and customize your own plan. It’ll take some time to get to the perfect fit that feels just right for you but make the time. This is something you can do even a little bit each day and you’ll see results right away.

To give you an idea of what’s available, have a look at the University of Buffalo’s School of Social Work webpage.

Link to learn more: Introduction to Self-Care

Because self-care is so important, we’ll include a self-care exercise in each focus area module. We want to help you keep it top of mind and give you different ideas to consider and try out for yourself along the way.

This is not something you can afford to overlook or take for granted. Maintaining your own health and well-being first is a key factor in you being able to help young people maintain their health and well-being. More than just being a good role model for them in self-care strategies, you actually need self-care strategies to be your best every day.

It’s actually surprising that most employers do not have a requirement for youth workers to incorporate self-care strategies and practices into their daily routines. It really should be spelled out in youth worker’s job description because it is so crucial to your on the job health and safety. Maybe the field will get there one day. Maybe you can help drive that change.

Self-care should be a huge part of your job. Well actually, as the name implies, it IS your job! Just as you’re working to instill real resiliency in the young people you serve, finding ways to take care of yourself and deal with the stresses of your work will make you a more resilient youth worker.

Shout-out to self-care: THE CHOICE IS YOURS!

Most youth work job descriptions don’t have any formal requirement for including self-care practices. It’s a choice and a commitment that you need to make for yourself. Since self-care requires that you make a choice to do it, this first exercise gives you the option to choose just one thing you will do today to rejuvenate yourself:

  • Do something to energize your body; stretch, walk, swim, run – whatever physical activity you genuinely enjoy
  • Have a hot bath or shower, add some soothing music
  • Make a list of everything you’re grateful for
  • Spend quality time with someone who makes you feel special
  • Take a nap
  • Be still in a quiet place, with no distractions

When you’re done, make a note of how you feel. If your choice worked well for you, add it to your custom-created self-care plan so you’ll remember to do it again. If your choice didn’t do the trick, don’t stress about it. Just try a different choice tomorrow. Aaaaah, that feels good!

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