What is Self-Care? 

Self-care means intentionally taking time for oneself amid and despite the chaos of life. It doesn’t matter if you meditate every day, blast your favorite album on the commute home or take the dog out on a long hike once a week, the opportunities for self-care are only as limited as your creativity and preference.

Taking this time to work on building your own whole person is not only crucial for health, but is crucial for the health of everyone you work and live with. It’s important for every youth worker to develop long-term coping and self-care skills to avoid health issues such as burnout and compassion fatigue, which can sometimes take years to heal from.

It sounds obvious, but for many people this integral component of individual and community health often goes neglected. Direct service staff and social workers dedicate their lives helping neighbors in need, but to be in service of others while neglecting yourself is damaging for all. The Youth Worker Institute offers this section to assist King County direct service staff in recognizing signs of “burnout,” as well as tips and resources for self-care on and off the job.

What is Burnout? 

Burnout is a mental state of emotional, physical and mental distress and exhaustion caused by long term stress wherein the individual is no longer capable of successfully meeting life’s responsibilities and obligations. This state of mind is the result of chronic events in which environmental demands, internal demands or both exceed the adaptive resources of an individual,” according to psychologist Richard Lazarus.

Burnout is different than stress — burnout is chronic, ongoing and more difficult to rise out of, whereas stress is situational, short term and may leave the individual feeling tired, but not fatigued or exhausted.

Other causes can include the inability to set good personal and professional boundaries, financial struggles, personal and professional issues, lack of adjustment to change, and sustained life imbalance. As a worker for unstably housed youth and young adults, secondary trauma is another great source for burnout — particularly considering many youth workers don’t realize they might be absorbing their clients’ experiences.

We’ve compiled a few resources for you to help increase awareness of your own self care needs, avoid burnout and ultimately help you build the self care skills you need to be successful as a direct service youth worker.

Resources & Tools:

  • Self-Care Tips Infographic: View, print & share the basics with this visual infographic providing tips for starting your own self-care.
  • Burnout Symptoms Infographic: View, print & share symptoms of burnout. A visual map to briefly consider if you’re experiencing burnout.
  • Assessing Your Stress – Survey (PDF): Print out a PDF survey that allows you to asses your stress coping capabilities & strategies. *It’s important that you are an OBSERVER of any results of this survey. Take the information in as objectively as possible. Awareness of your vulnerabilities and strengths are key to successful self-care, but you must not judge yourself if you hope to successfully incorporate this awareness. *
  • Burnout Self-Test – Survey: Take this interactive online survey to gauge if you are at risk of/are already pressed by burnout. The website provides additional resources and information on managing and preventing burnout once you have you results. As with the survey above, remember to view these results as objectively as possible to incorporate them into your life most effectively.
  • Self-Care_Activities: A few self-care activities for you to try, including one on systemic change, creating a micro-culture, compassion, developing a “plan B,” finding balance, gratitude, and daily mindfulness practice.
  • Trauma Stewardship Institute: Based on the book “Trauma Stewardship” by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky, this website is a hub of resources spanning background information, workshops & retreats, keynote talks and much, much more. The book itself is a great resource for direct-service staff, who not only have to confront their own past trauma, but often absorb the trauma of their clients.
  • Time Management Tools & Resources (PDF): A list of resources that help with time management in your professional and personal life.