Secret Social Worker: being healthy

Lila Halliday on being healthy in social work

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There is much talk about the emotional wellbeing of social workers but not much on physical health. As employees who frequent office chairs, car seats and grotty sofas in the main, our bodies suffer. I have watched the physical appearance of newbie social workers deteriorate before my eyes on too many occasions.

Maintaining a healthy diet is almost impossible. It’s a culture of emotional eating. Are you sad? I’ve brought some cake! Are you bored? Have a brew and a biscuit! Worked hard all week? Fat Friday is a chippy/pizza/deep-fried heaven for everyone! Not to mention our favourite excuse – time. If you’re busily driving between appointments you can’t possibly get out of your car to procure some food. You must go to a drive through. There is simply no other way.

Of course there is no time for exercise. When you’re working long hours, you’re tired and stressed, who is walking into a gym? No one. Sitting around at a desk much of the time means you are burning zero calories during the day, and going home and watching TV on the sofa means you’re burning zero at night too.

The thing that really gets us though is all the wine. I didn’t know what wine Wednesday was until I became a social worker. It’s a celebration of getting half way through the working week – for those who don’t sink a few glasses every night, that is. I had always been told midweek drinking was a bad thing. Imagine my delight at having a sanctioned drinking day! Consoling yourself with wine is common practice and almost an expectation. I used to work with someone who had a phone case illustrated with wine, which I thought was a little much considering we work with people with real alcohol problems and very smugly tell them to stop it.

Having said all that and at the risk of spoiling everyone’s body-bashing fun, all of this over-indulgence in the name of a job well done is not a fait accompli.

Take a look around you at all the long-standing social workers you know who’ve come out the other side. Most will stay away from the biscuit cupboard, bring their own healthy lunches to work, exercise regularly and drink the same amount as any other Brit, which is still too much. It sounds dull and a bit superior but self-care is the key to longevity at work and in life. I have engaged in all of the above and it didn’t take the stress away – it just gave it some friends, like migraines, weight gain, lethargy and poverty (wine and takeout costs a lot on a daily basis).

My advice would be to make small changes and see how it feels. The biggest and most life-changing thing I did was join a gym. I didn’t change anything else – I started with that one thing. I made it part of my life and it works for me and keeps me sane. The biggest lie we tell ourselves about wellness is that it’s about treating yourself and indulging your desires – the whole “you deserve it” thing. In reality it’s about giving your body what it needs – nutrition, fun, activity and rest. So many of the environments we work in make optimum physical health an almost impossible goal but I’m doing my best to not give into completely.

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