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Mental Health

Mindfulness Practice and Self-Care for Introverted Social Workers

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We are drawn to service work for many reasons. We want to help others, we find human beings fascinating, and we are called to make ourselves available to the suffering of others. The work can be engaging, demanding, and draining. For those of us who are introverts, the energy expending and restoring aspects of the work can be critical.

awakened-introvert

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The introverted brain is more active and stimulated relative to the extroverted brain. Because of this, extroverts will feed off the energy of social interactions while introverts will get drained. The type of interaction matters such that superficial banter is more exhausting than a deeper conversation. However, social energy expenditures need to be followed by periods of restoration in order to prevent burnout. The quality of our attention also matters to how energy is spent and during work time. We can bring mindful attention to our practice and, through that presence, engage in higher quality care and self-care simultaneously.

The default mode of the brain is self-talk. Neuroscientists have confirmed this self-referential thinking as the default mode network of the brain (DMN) and have mapped its pattern of activation. This is how we spend much of our time—engaged in storytelling, projecting ourselves into the future, dragging along the past, and generating opinions about the present. As introverts, we may be more prone to this internalized self-talk.

In clinician groups that I train in mindfulness that often include social workers, I survey the participants and ask them how often their DMN is active during sessions with clients. The range spans approximately 30 to 70 percent of attention on the task at hand and the rest rattling around loose in imagination. The average tends to be 50 percent. We are all well-meaning and care for the people we serve, but these informal surveys reveal that we can do a lot to improve our attention. Closing this gap and shifting from the DMN to the experience of the encounter-at-hand will, no doubt, make us more empathetic.

A regular practice of mindfulness meditation can help us to be more present. Studies by Yale’s Judson Brewer and others have shown that experienced mindfulness practitioners can more readily withdraw attention from the DMN and redirect to the embodied experience of the present moment. In addition to a regular meditation practice, you can bring mindful attention into your work hours.

Mindfulness works by focusing attention on something happening in the present moment such as the physical sensations of breathing. Each time attention moves away from the breath to the DMN, you refocus your attention on the breath. This process is repeated as needed, which is usually quite a lot!

I teach a technique that I simply call “divided attention.” If, as the survey suggested, a large chunk of our attention is not with our client, then we can take let’s say 10 percent of that attention and ground it on the breath. That is, we aim to be mindful during the service time such that we speak and listen with an awareness of our breathing body. Now, close to 90 percent of our attention is with our person because we have steered our attention away from the DMN.

This kind of attention takes practice. It’s easy to get caught up in the stories of the moment—our own and those of the people we treat. Having a regular daily silent meditation practice can help us to develop the skills necessary to be mindful while communicating. When we bring our full presence to the work, it tends to be less exhausting because we are getting the benefits of mindfulness practice through the service hour. Mindfulness helps us to bring a sacred attention to the work. It conveys that we care deeply enough to be present and becomes the vehicle of that presence. Compassion, empathy, and equanimity will follow.

We can also take the moments between sessions to have mindful breaks. Instead of peering into your smart phone, take three minutes to be with your body and mind. These little mindfulness hits can help to keep your energy tuned during the workday.

Mindfulness practice is a form of quiet solitude that is especially important for those of us who are introverts. It can be beneficial for everyone, but we need it for restoration of energy. Being mindful during sessions, as suggested above, can help to offset the energy drain that inevitably occurs in social work. Getting yourself on the cushion on a daily basis will also help to build a foundation of energy that can be drawn upon in all the challenging situations of your life.

Arnie Kozak, Ph.D. is clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Vermont College of Medicine and the author of The Awakened Introvert: Practical Mindfulness Skills for Maximizing Your Strengths and Thriving in a Loud and Crazy World. He conducts workshops at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, and the Copper Beech Institute. He has written several books, including The Awakened Introvert.

52 Comments

Ericka what are u. Lol

Tim Teal Tim Teal says:

Meyers-Briggs “INFP” for sure!

Mike Thorpe Mike Thorpe says:

EXTRAvert? What the hell’s that mean?

Elaine Miles Elaine Miles says:

i totally relate…

love the middle sect

Cindy Ayala Cindy Ayala says:

Yup that’s us alright haha to the point

Introvert Pauline Saguran
Extrovert me.hahahah

How do you always find this stuff? <3

I’m definitely the introvert and for sure need to think before speaking 😀 But for sure I’m an introvert. I like this thing

I love that word rapport..

I’m introvert asf.. Like…. Get away from me

Introvert all the way but mess with me and Extrovert you ???..practice self care a lot. Much needed!! Hello fellow social workers Happy Holidays…

Jill Mundt Jill Mundt says:

Introvert, with a little bit of extrovert 🙂

Introvert all the way!

Introverts for the win.

Anna Wilson Anna Wilson says:

Dănæ Weaver…doesn’t matter ?

That’s a great way to describe it! I am the same way 🙂

Geri Ryan Geri Ryan says:

The image says ‘extravert’ not extrovert lol

Relevantly excellent topic! Each type of personality benefit clients in rewarding ways! It is time we break stigmatizing molds.

I think extrovert with some shared. Although I would need more examples

Geri Ryan Geri Ryan says:

Interesting… Which one are you?

Lauren McFadden

Melanie Henderson

Ashley this is accurate

I’m an outgoing introvert. I love being with people but require my own space to self reflect and regain energy.

Pepper Potts Pepper Potts says:

Most social workers seem to be extroverts….

*Extrovert

There, I feel better…sorry ?

We just completed the Meyers-Briggs inventory at work and I’m introverted. I think it depends on the population I’m around.

Jam Clock Jam Clock says:

Thank you! I’m introverted.

I’m an introverted social worker who actually does well with extroverted clients, haha. It works because they talk for much of the session and it gives me time to process what they’re saying and offer reflections and words that are more well-thought out (and they have a space for what many of them is the rare opportunity to be heard).

Though with other clients I can definitely go toward the more extroverted side of the spectrum, it all depends on the unique rapport developed with each one.

Mostly introvert. Small % extravert.

Pamela Werb Pamela Werb says:

Introvert 🙂

I find myself in all spectrums too ??

I find myself in all of the spectrums.

Ruthie Padro Youngman

I’m truly an introvert

Health

Self Help Tips and Advice For Social Workers

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There is no denying the positive impact social workers have on hundreds of families and individuals throughout their career. They will tell you about the rewarding experiences they have helping others in need. Unfortunately, for every success, there is at least one case in which they could not help. Social workers see the best and the worst of society every day, and even the strongest among us can crack under the pressure. That is why self-care is so important. Being mindfully aware of your needs as well as the needs of those around you can keep you healthy and able to be there when you’re needed.

What is Self Care and How Can You Do It Every day?

Self-care is a practice that becomes a lifestyle. Understand and commit to the idea that it is not something you do once, it is something you do every day. The key is to be mindful and aware.

It is important to be mindful of where you are and what you are doing as you go about your day. Whether you are in a meeting or at the grocery store, notice how you are feeling in the moment. This can range from listening to your body and noticing your state of health to recognizing an emotional situation in your life.

Become aware of your breathing. When we are feeling stressed, emotional, or run down, we forget how to breathe. Our breath can become fast and shallow which deprives our bodies of the oxygen it needs. Pay attention to your breathing and focus on slowing it down. Allow the air to fill your abdomen, not just your lungs. You will find that mindful breathing exercises calms your thoughts, allows for greater clarity, and lessens your anxiety.

Now That You Are Aware, How Do You Improve?

It’s one thing to be mindful and aware of how you are feeling, but doing something about it is another matter. Improving your physical and emotional state requires some life changes as well.

Many social workers have the stress relieving habit of smoking or grabbing an unhealthy snack from the vending machine. It makes us feel like we’re taking a moment for ourselves. Instead of grabbing a cigarette or a bag of chips, try an e-cigarette starter kit or grab a granola bar. This gives you a moment away while making healthier choices through controlling the nicotine and sugar you intake. The idea is not to deprive yourself but to make small changes that will make you feel better over time.

Changing the way you approach daily tasks is another life change that will give you some added peace of mind. For decades we have been taught to multitask but all we’ve learned is how to start tasks but not finish them in a timely manner. By focusing on one task at a time you’ll allow yourself to finish a job before moving onto something else. This creates a sense of accomplishment and boosts your confidence at the job you are doing.

Maintaining Your New Found Awareness

Creating a support system is important when attempting to care for yourself. By relying on your friends and family you are willingly accepting love and nurturing that you simply cannot give to yourself. When meditating on an issue in your life doesn’t result in answers, one of the best things we can do is turn to our support system for help. It’s not necessary to face every challenge alone and often times, they can see from a perspective that you cannot. You may also find that the more willing you are to receive care from others, the easier it becomes for you to provide care for the people you’re working to help.

Self-care is difficult for those who spend their lives taking care of others. By allowing yourself the care you need you will find that it not only feeds your soul but it will improve your ability to care for the people around you.

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Mental Health

National Survey Reveals the Scope of Behavioral Health Across the Nation

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The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) latest National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) report provides the latest estimates on substance use and mental health in the nation, including the misuse of opioids across the nation. Opioids include heroin use and pain reliever misuse. In 2016, there were 11.8 million people aged 12 or older who misused opioids in the past year and the majority of that use is pain reliever misuse rather than heroin use—there were 11.5 million pain reliever misusers and 948,000 heroin users.

“Gathering, analyzing, and sharing data is one of the key roles the federal government can play in addressing two of the Department of Health and Human Services’ top clinical priorities: serious mental illness and the opioid crisis,” said HHS Secretary Tom Price, M.D. “This year’s survey underscores the challenges we face on both fronts and why the Trump Administration is committed to empowering those on the frontlines of the battle against substance abuse and mental illness.”

Nationally, nearly a quarter (21.1percent) of persons 12 years or older with an opioid use disorder received treatment for their illicit drug use at a specialty facility in the past year. Receipt of treatment for illicit drug use at a specialty facility was higher among people with a heroin use disorder (37.5 percent) than among those with a prescription pain reliever use disorder (17.5 percent).

The report also reveals that in 2016 while adolescents have stable levels of the initiation of marijuana, adults aged 18 to 25 have higher rates of initiation compared to 2002-2008, but the rates have been stable since 2008. In contrast, adults aged 26 and older have higher rates of marijuana initiation than prior years. In 2016, an estimated 21.0 million people aged 12 or older needed substance use treatment and of these 21.0 million people, about 2.2 million people received substance use treatment at a specialty facility in the past year.

Rates of serious mental illness among age groups 26 and older have remained constant since 2008. However, the prevalence of serious mental illness, depression and suicidal thoughts has increased among young adults over recent years. Among adults aged 18 or older who had serious mental illness (SMI) in the past year, the percentage receiving treatment for mental health services in 2016 (64.8 percent) was similar to the estimates in all previous years.

“Although progress has been made in some areas, especially among young people, there are many challenges we need to meet in addressing the behavioral health issues facing our nation,” said Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz, Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use. “Fortunately there is effective action being taken by the Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with initiatives to reduce prescription opioid and heroin related overdose, death, and dependence as well as many evidence-based early intervention programs to increase access to treatment and recovery for people with serious mental illness. We need to do everything possible to assure that those in need of treatment and recovery services can access them and we look forward to continuing work with federal and state partners on this goal.”

“Addiction does not have to be a death sentence – recovery is possible for most people when the right services and supports in place, including treatment, housing, employment, and peer recovery support,” said Richard Baum, Acting Director Office of National Drug Control Policy. “The truth is that there’s no one path to recovery because everyone is different. And frankly, it doesn’t matter how someone gets to recovery.  It just matters that they have every tool available to them, including peer recovery support and evidence-based treatment options like medication-assisted treatment for opioid addiction.”

NSDUH is a scientific annual survey of approximately 67,500 people throughout the country, aged 12 and older.  NSDUH is a primary source of information on the scope and nature of many substance use and mental health issues affecting the nation.

SAMHSA is issuing its 2016 NSDUH report on key substance use and mental health indicators as part of the 28th annual observance of National Recovery Month which began on September 1st. Recovery Month expands public awareness that behavioral health is essential to health, prevention works, treatment for substance use and mental disorders is effective, and people can and do recover from these disorders.

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Mental Health

Anxiety in Children: How Can You Help?

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Mental health issues amongst children are becoming more and more common, and this is a trend that doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. If you’re a parent or caregiver, it’s a good idea to become familiar with signs of mental ill-health, and think about how you might be able to help.

The first step is to recognize the symptoms. While small experiences of anxiety are a natural part of life, it’s important to recognize when it’s becoming more prevalent, and when it’s having a negative impact on a child. Symptoms might include an irrational and ongoing sense of worry, an inability to relax, general uneasiness and irritability, as well as difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating or sudden, unprovoked feelings of panic. Anxiety and depression are not always obvious in children and symptoms can vary significantly depending on the child. Because of this, it’s really important to involve professional medical help if you’re worried about someone in your care.

The second step is to work out if and how to talk about it. Simply letting them know you care can make a big difference. You might like to share a story about times you’ve experienced anxiety. This can be an avenue into a discussion around anxiety, and can provide an opportunity to ask if they have similar worries.

If you’re going to try to help a child with anxiety, there are a few key things to avoid as they can end up being accidentally unhelpful. Avoid phrases like ‘just relax’, or ‘calm down’ as they can escalate the feelings of anxiety and make the child feel like they are doing something wrong. Also consider and be aware of situations that might exacerbate your child’s anxiousness, for example being in loud, crowded places could evoke feelings of uneasiness or panic. It’s important that you can find the balance between understanding and supporting what your child might be going through and acting as a self-assigned counsellor – don’t be afraid to seek professional help if you need to.

The next thing you can think about is how to empower your child to deal with particular triggers. For example, if your child is feeling anxious about a certain event – an exam, public speaking at school, or an upcoming sports game, you may be able to talk with them about whether you can help them to practice or prepare in a way that they might find helpful.

Perhaps practicing a speech in front of you could help them to pinpoint what it is about the experience that’s making them feel anxious. You can’t promise that they’ll ace their presentation or win their sports day, but you can help them practice what they’re concerned about and provide them with tools to manage the anxiety they may feel in these situations. You don’t want to create further anxiety-inducing situations though, so make sure your child is happy to try this out, and mix it up with fun activities too. Revisiting things that they are familiar with and good at can help to develop a sense of capability and foster self-esteem.

When dealing with anxiety, this three-step breathing exercise can be used as a tool to interrupt anxiety as it builds, and it is something you can practice together.

  • Step 1: When you feel tension and anxiety building, stop and close your eyes and take a slow, deep breath in through your nose for 6 seconds.
  • Step 2: Hold it for 2 seconds, then slowly breathe out through your mouth for 4 seconds.
  • Step 3: Repeat this as many times as necessary, gently bringing your focus back to the breath.

If you’re worried about your child, or someone close to you, it’s important to get the advice of a qualified healthcare professional. Anxiety and depression are illnesses that often benefit from a range of treatment options, and often professional support is key to management and recovery.

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