Social workers are always being told that we need to take time for ourselves. You know, to prevent burnout, so we can force another few years in the profession. (Sorry, it’s been a rough week.) But it’s hard. We’re so busy during the workday. You’re running to home visits, school visits, child protection meetings, supervision, and whatever random things you get told to do throughout the day. There’s usually not even time for lunch. And I don’t know about you, but even when I can squeeze in a desperately needed break, I’m easily guilted out of it. I can’t sit here and bang out a game of Angry Birds to clear my head, listening to the productive typing of notes all around me!
Parents of toddlers often have trouble getting time for themselves as well. In her brilliant, flawless, laugh-til-you-cry-on-the-subway-or-pee-your-pants-if-that’s-your-thing book “Bossypants,” Tina Fey offered a plethora of tips. They include finishing your child’s dinner over the sink while she tugs on your pant leg and asks for it back, taking forty-five minute showers, and walking into the child’s room and forgetting why you went in there. As many of you know, my ultimate goal in life is to somehow be Tina Fey when I grow up. (I could grow up.) So this is how I’m starting. Adapted for social work, tips to take some time for yourself.
- Walk to home visits instead of taking the bus. No one has ever had a nice time on a public bus. Except, I suppose, that man that one of my teenage clients saw sniffing all the seats on the Bx42. He was enjoying himself. But for the rest of us normies, not so much. Take a stroll, if at all possible.
- Bathroom breaks. I recently mentioned, in another forum, that I have never once peed at work without at least briefly contemplating a toilet nap. Based on the response, I am not alone. This is the one break they can’t begrudge you. If anyone notices an excessive amount, threaten to expose your agency for running like a Nike sweatshop. The only downside is that people might think you’re pooping, and if you’re a young woman, news of your imagined pregnancy will travel quickly.
- Get “lost” on your way to home visits, provided time and neighborhood safety allow. “Oh, it’s on 174th? I walked all the way down to 170th! Silly me.” A little bonus exercise, and a few minutes to yourself. You need it.
- Exploit social workers inherent insecurities and obsession with the DSM-V. “Oh, I have school-visit-induced-stress-related-dysphoric-disorder. You haven’t heard of it? Everyone’s debating its inclusion. The only treatment is regular five minute yoga/meditation/Twitter and cheese doodle breaks.” Your coworkers and supervisors will go along with it, to avoid looking foolish.
- Make friends with the administrative staff. Getting on the good side of receptionists and secretaries is an age-old office tip. I say go one further. “Allow me to run to Office Max for you!” “I’d be happy to run out and get those stamps!” “Why don’t you put me down as an approved pick-up for your son’s day care?” You’ll get out for a minute, and you’ll never have to wait for your paystub, or get ratted out if you’re a few minutes late.
- Wait until a line forms to use the microwave. Oh, there are three people ahead of me making tea? (Of course there are. We’re so predictable.) Best to wait here and zone out for a minute, I don’t want to lose my spot.
- Make up a fake birthday. Wasn’t it your birthday last month? Oh well, it’s your half birthday, or everyone’s unbirthday, or you just finished paying off your student loans. (Hahaha, just kidding.) No social worker will question a few minutes off to eat cake.
- If all else fails, call in sick. They can’t prove anything.