Self-Care for Social Workers with Lydia Burris | the nashville self-care series

the nashville self-care series | Jessica McCoy Counseling

The Nashville Self-Care Series is a resource for each of us to hear how other women are taking care of themselves in the midst of busy lives and hard jobs. Each interview brings a new perspective because self-care looks different for everyone. I am excited to introduce this week's guest blogger, Lydia Burris. She is my favorite social worker and my sister. I cannot be more proud of the work she does for Nashville students and the school system. Social Work can be a heavy job and I am so grateful to hear Lydia's perspective on Self-Care and Social Work. 

What does a typical workday look like for you?
One of my favorite parts of my job is that every day is different. My day may be packed with meetings at schools and appointments or I may be in the office for the entirety of the day. Every day, I answer emails and am on the phone with clients, school staff, therapists, and juvenile court staff. I primarily attend Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings for students with disabilities and advocate on behalf of what the parent or guardian wants for their child’s education. I also attend meetings regarding school discipline and meetings with the Department of Children Services. Other days, I provide training to community agencies regarding special education law, visit my clients in juvenile detention, go to court with my clients, do home visits, or visit kids at school. Having the variety in my schedule helps me avoid burn out and gives me something new to look forward to when I am starting to feel exhausted.

 Jessica's two favorite social workers. Lydia Burris and Brené Brown. 

Jessica's two favorite social workers. Lydia Burris and Brené Brown. 

What are some daily, weekly, or annual/seasonal self-care practices that are beneficial to you?   
I know my mental health is always better when I am getting enough sleep and exercising regularly, whether that be running, walking on my lunch break, or doing a Yoga with Adriene video, so I always try to incorporate those into my daily and weekly routine. For me, I know that relationships and connection with others are really important ways to take care of myself, so I try to make sure that I am getting enough social activities in through spending time with friends, families, and my husband.

This past year, I knew that I really needed to do some personal work, and I started seeing a therapist regularly. Seeing a therapist was one of the most beneficial ways that I was able to take care of myself during a difficult time, and I would highly recommend seeing a therapist who you connect with to anyone, especially anyone in a helping profession.

I also find it really helpful for me to be involved with a faith community because I find that doing this work can feel really lonely, and it is so beneficial for me to connect with others in my neighborhood and community even if they don’t always understand what I do at work. Even though I work with youth, I spend more time working with parents and school staff, so I teach the kids at my church every week. I find that to be important because it gives me time to build relationships with kids without having it be a part of my 9-5 routine.

Professionally, I love going to trainings because it not only makes me more competent, but it is so nice to be around other social workers. I am also typically a guest speaker every semester at the college I attended, and I really appreciate that opportunity to give back to a community that molded me into the social worker that I am today.  I find these experiences so much more helpful long-term than getting my nails done or getting a massage.

Exercise is not self-care when you end up shaming yourself for not being enough. - Lydia Burris LMSW | The Nashville Self-Care Series

How have self-care practices impacted your life and work?.
When I started my job four years ago, I really didn’t understand how important self-care was, so the first six months of my job was really challenging. My boss repeatedly had to remind me to give myself more grace, which has been really formative for my career. Since then, my practice of self-care has improved significantly, and I feel like another person both professionally and personally than those first few months.

I think boundaries are so incredibly important, so as soon as I started my job, I refused to get my work emails coming automatically to my phone. It helps me focus on what needs to get done, and it means I’m not accessible when I’m off the clock. It’s already difficult enough to not take our clients’ stories home with us, so having this feature turned off really helps me stay balanced and healthy personally. 

What are some obstacles in this season of life that make self-care a challenge?
When my schedule is packed, I know that my practice of self-care practice automatically decreases.  Also, this political climate that we are in currently is really challenging for me in a lot of ways. I try to pay attention to the red flags when I know that I’m not taking care of myself well enough.

Are there any practices of self-care that you are implementing in 2018?
Because I know exercise is really important for me, I try to run before work when I know I have a difficult meeting that day. Or recently I had a tough day at work, so as soon as I got home I jumped on my bike. Thirty minutes later, I felt like Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde because “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” Regarding exercise, I’m really working this year on not shaming myself for not being faster, stronger, as good as that girl over there, etc. Exercise is not self-care when you end up shaming yourself for not being enough.

I recently started doing a Shame Resilience Group led by my therapist with a bunch of my close girlfriends, and we are going through (my Social Work Queen) Brené Brown’s curriculum. I’m really looking forward to this because the work is so important personally, but I am also getting to improve my relationships with my friends. Having a strong community of women who empower each other has truly changed my life.

Even though it’s more expensive, my husband and I save money for vacations and weekend trips to get away. I was really struggling at work last April, so we scheduled a weekend at the beach for the end of May after school ended. As soon as I knew it was on the calendar, my outlook on work and life was immediately different. I really try to be aware of what seasons are most difficult at work and strategically place events in my calendar to give me something to look forward to.

How does your industry/field practice or promote self-care?
The social work profession really values self-care, which absolutely makes sense considering the difficult work we do and the secondary trauma we experience. Throughout my education, we always discussed self-care and the importance of it to our health and our longevity in this field. Unfortunately, I didn’t walk away from school with a strong understanding of what self-care should really look like for me personally. Because self-care has to be individualized to your personal needs, I would recommend to anyone in school or before starting a new job to start figuring out what works best for you as soon as possible. You need those skills incorporated into your daily routine because it is hard to determine what works when you’re already exhausted from the learning curve of a new job or you’re in the middle of a crisis at work.

Are there any books/movies/songs that are currently life-giving for you? 
When I’m feeling stressed before a school meeting, I often blare “Glorious” by Macklemore & Skyler Grey as I drive.

Anything by Brené Brown. Meeting her was a bucket list moment for me for sure.  I just ordered The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, and I can’t wait to read it. When I need a break from anything heavy, I love a good easy-read Chick Lit book.

Lydia Burris, LMSW provides educational advocacy with students with disabilities who are currently involved in or at-risk for the juvenile court system. She believes that all students deserve justice in the classroom. Lydia and her husband live in Woodbine and love their neighborhood. 

If you are looking to add going to counseling to help during this stressful season in your life, contact Jessica at Jessica@JessicaMcCoyCounseling or call 615-979-4168