Paper on Self-Care in the Management of Compassion Fatigue, Stress, and Burnout

Work-related stress is a growing issue worldwide that affects the health and well-being of employees, as well as the productivity of organizations. Stress arises when work demands exceed an individual’s capacity to cope effectively. The field of social work is one of the areas where workers experience higher levels of stress due to its client-based nature. Social workers provide assistance and support in stressful environments, which subject them to burnout, compassion fatigue, and secondary traumatic stress. Self-care is an important tool in managing emotional distress among social workers.

Social workers display various behaviors and characteristics when they are impacted by clients’ circumstances. For example, they may indicate cognitive distress in the form of poor memory, inability to concentrate, low self-esteem, rigidity, preoccupation with trauma, perfectionism, and apathy (Harr et al., 2014). Constant exposure to victims or survivors of trauma can also negatively affect social workers’ beliefs, expectations, and assumptions, which can in turn negatively affect cognitive functioning. Moreover, workers display emotional symptoms such as guilt, anxiety, helplessness, anger, sadness, and fear (Harr et al., 2014). They become overwhelmed and drained, impatient, moody, and irritable.

Social work experiences not only affect the workers’ mental health but also physical health. Affected individuals may suffer sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, and hypervigilance. Some workers may avoid certain clients as a defense mechanism against traumatic situations (Harr et al. 2014). These symptoms are hazardous because they affect a worker’s relationships and performance. The affected workers may exhibit a decreased sense of duty, low interest in intimacy, and apathy.

Self-Care Activities

Self-care is an important component in social work. According to the University at Buffalo, self-care is the engagement in practices that help to “reduce stress and maintain and enhance our short and long-term health and well-being” (2018). The following are strategies of self-care.

Personal Structures of Support

The primary structures of personal self-care are physical, psychological, social, spiritual, and leisure (Miller & Lee, 2013). One can engage in physical exercise, have adequate sleep, and eat nutritional diets to enhance physical care and safety. In her talk on self-care, Wright emphasizes the importance of physical exercise in promoting health and wellness (n.d, 5:22). Psychological and emotional wellness can include processes like recognition of one’s strength and capabilities, mindfulness about situations that induce stress, participation in stress management techniques, and the establishment of meaningful, supportive relationships (Miller & Lee, 2013). The spiritual structure fosters faith, peace, and connectedness. Activities that promote spiritual wellness include prayer, meditation, and reflection, as well as contact with nature.

Professional Structure of Support

It entails different aspects. The first one is workload and time management. These strategies enable a worker to complete tasks effectively. The activities that enhance the management of work include taking breaks during work time and reserving work tasks. The second aspect is attention

to the professional role. These strategies help a worker to develop a sense of duty. An individual can feel connected to his/her role by adhering to a professional code of conducts, seeking additional supervision, and making referrals whenever necessary. The third is attention

to reactions to work. Being aware of the cognitive, behavioral, and effective impact of one’s work is essential in relieving stress, promotes self-awareness, and preparedness. This strategy includes activities such as personal therapy and discussion of stressors with colleagues.

Professional support and self-advocacy come fourth. Workers can seek encouragement, guidance, constructive feedback, and education from the organization. Besides soliciting for professional support, a worker can achieve self-care by advocating for changes that would improve his/her wellbeing and performance (Miller & Lee, 2014).

Social workers provide support and assistance in stressful environments, which affect their mental, psychological, and physical health. Their interactions with clients can result in compassion fatigue, secondary traumatic stress, and burnout. Self-care is an important tool in managing these experiences. Activities that promote self-care include exercising, taking a break off work, meditation, eating a balanced diet, building meaningful relationships, and seeking professional support among others.



Harr, C.R., Brice, T.S., Riley, K. & Moore, B. (2014). The impact of compassion fatigue and compassion satisfaction on social work students. Journal of the Society for Social Work and Research, 5(2), 233-251. Retrieved from

Miller, S.E. & Lee, J.J. (2013, April). A self-care framework for social workers: Building a strong foundation for practice. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Human Services, 94(2), 96-103. Retrieved from

University at Buffalo. (2018). Introduction to self-care. University at Buffalo. Retrieved from

Wright, K. (n.d.). Self-care with final edits. Retrieved from