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How to Cope as a Social Worker at Christmas Time

For many, Christmas is a wondrous occasion full to the brim with festivities, tasty food and drink, and friends and family; for social workers, however, it can be a particularly challenging time of year.  

From worrying about caseloads to feeling guilty about enjoying yourself whilst others are going through tough times and hardship, festive cheer is often the last thing on social workers’ minds.  

But it can still be a refreshing and enjoyable time, and in this post, we will explore exactly how that can be. First, let’s explore social workers’ challenges during the holiday period.

Why is Christmas a Difficult Time for Social Workers?

The reasons that Christmas time can be so challenging for social workers are many and varied. Firstly, it’s that social work is a 365-day-per-year profession…

Working Over Christmas (Plus Increased Workload)

Many social workers work over the Christmas period, and that includes Christmas Day. Whilst some social workers do book time off over Christmas, this itself can lead to issues (which we’ll come on to shortly). Social work is emotionally taxing at the best of times, and the festive season can be particularly wrought with intense feelings.  

All through December – and, let’s be honest, even before that – Christmas-themed marketing is shoved down your throat reminding you that it’s “the most wonderful time of the year”. But it can be hard to really get into the festivities if you simply don’t have the time (or energy) to.  

It’s not just purely the fact that social workers work throughout the Christmas period; it’s the fact that their workload usually increases around this time. Homelessness, substance, domestic and child abuse, and mental health crises are often more pronounced at this time of year, leading to a more significant number of cases for social workers to have to handle.

Feeling Guilty for Not Working Over Christmas

It’s not unusual for social workers to experience feelings of guilt at Christmas time. Guilty that they’re unable to help clients have the Christmas they’d like to have; guilty that they’ll be enjoying themselves whilst others are struggling. Just guilty.  

This guilt, however, is entirely misplaced. Social workers do all they can to help others. They deserve time off and should enjoy it just as much as the next person.  

There is no, and let us stress again, absolutely no reason for social workers to feel guilty over the Christmas break if they do happen to take some time off. Everybody needs time to rest and recharge, and social workers are no exception.


We all wish we could be like the Duracell bunny, but the reality is that we all have limits on our energy and how much we can give. If we don’t listen to that inner call for rest, that inner gut feeling that we’re running on fumes, then what awaits us is an unhealthy dollop of burnout and compassion fatigue.  

In fact, given the complex and challenging nature of their work, it’s essential that social workers take some time for themselves over the winter season. If you have a flat battery, how can you expect to help and safeguard others as effectively?  

By contrast, if you slot yourself into the charging station that is a few days off, you’ll be replenished (at least, partially) and ready to go once again. So, when that nagging feeling of guilt tugs at your shirt, gently refocus your mind on why you deserve not only to have the time off in the first place but also that that time off is as regenerative as it can be.

Complex Family Dynamics

Challenging family situations often come to the fore at Christmas time, and child welfare cases, those cases dealing with domestic violence, and family mediation cases can all become more intense during this period. Everything is heightened at the year’s back end, both the good and the bad.  

The holiday season brings with it more occasions when families are together, children on school holidays and a general sense (pressure, even) that everything should be just right. Pile on the additional financial strain that the holidays bring, and you have a recipe for what is arguably the most challenging time of the year.   

How Can Social Workers Look After Themselves at Christmas?

So, the challenges are clear, but fortunately, there are some ways that social workers can take the strain off at Christmas time. Ways that ensure the festive period stays the time of peace and joy it’s meant to be.

Set Boundaries

Now, we know this can be challenging. As a social worker, you want to help everybody. However, you need to be able to lay down clear professional boundaries so that you can also recover.  

Setting (and sticking to) professional boundaries is especially important if you work over Christmas as a social worker. With limited downtime, you need to ensure that the moments away from work you do get, you focus on aspects of your personal rather than professional life.  

This means doing your best not to think of work outside of it, sticking to your work hours as much as possible, and communicating with clients when you’re available (and when you’re not). Manage expectations so clients only expect what you’ll be able to give, and avoid overcommitting!  

Practise Mindfulness

A social worker’s head can be full of mental chatter around Christmas time. All the professional and personal worries that the period brings can make it feel like a jukebox is being blasted at full volume in your head, 24/7. Mindfulness is the practice of fostering awareness around our thoughts and watching them without judgment instead of engaging with them.  

When we can observe our thoughts, focus on our breath and bring ourselves back to the present, rather than worrying about potential problems in the future, we introduce a greater sense of calm, promoting better wellbeing.

A Quick Mindfulness Exercise

Here’s a quick mindfulness exercise you can practice at home or if you get a spare couple of minutes at work:  

Take a moment to sit quietly. Close your eyes and take three deep, slow breaths. With each inhale, visualise a sense of calmness entering your body. With each exhale, imagine releasing stress and tension.  

Focus on the sensation of breathing. Acknowledge any problematic emotions without judgment, then gently bring your attention back to your breath. Practice this for five minutes to find a moment of peace.

Have Support Networks in Place (Both Personal and Professional)

A strong support network is crucial for social workers throughout the year, but even more so at Christmas time. Whether that be friends, families or other colleagues, having a shoulder to lean on occasionally can be a tremendous help, particularly if your caseload gets even more stressful at this time – which, as we’ve already discussed, is often the case.  

Having multiple people you can see, even if you’re working, can help combat the feelings of isolation that can come with working while others are off work and celebrating. Similarly, having a professional support network in place can ensure you get a more informed and empathetic perspective on some of the struggles you might be facing as a social worker over Christmas.

Final Thoughts

Christmas time is a period when everything is exacerbated, and it can be challenging to manage for social workers. However, with the right help and support and a healthy self-compassion serving, social workers can still get the most out of the festive season.  

If you’d like to find out more about any of the social worker roles we offer, get in touch – we’d love to hear from you! 

Carry on reading