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    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.

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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.

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    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

    52 Comments

    1. Claire Quigley

      November 27, 2015 at 9:09 pm

      Ericka what are u. Lol

    2. M Irfan Ahmad Hhq

      November 24, 2015 at 8:09 pm

      Extrintrovert!

    3. Tim Teal

      November 23, 2015 at 6:41 pm

      Meyers-Briggs “INFP” for sure!

    4. Mike Thorpe

      November 22, 2015 at 11:07 pm

      EXTRAvert? What the hell’s that mean?

    5. Elaine Miles

      November 22, 2015 at 9:53 am

      i totally relate…

    6. Rosiee Castro

      November 22, 2015 at 2:03 am

      love the middle sect

    7. Cindy Ayala

      November 22, 2015 at 2:01 am

      Yup that’s us alright haha to the point

    8. Rosiee Castro

      November 22, 2015 at 1:49 am

      Cindy Ayala

    9. Michelle Villaraza Alapay

      November 21, 2015 at 10:29 pm

      Introvert Pauline Saguran
      Extrovert me.hahahah

    10. Skye Hearns

      November 21, 2015 at 9:44 pm

      Mike ?

    11. Melissa Pederson

      November 21, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      It finds me♡

    12. Kirsten Butler

      November 21, 2015 at 9:37 pm

      How do you always find this stuff? <3

    13. Kirsten Butler

      November 21, 2015 at 9:36 pm

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

    14. Melissa Pederson

      November 21, 2015 at 9:34 pm

      Kirsten Butler

    15. Philip Wellington Stubbs

      November 21, 2015 at 9:16 pm

      I love that word rapport..

    16. Philip Wellington Stubbs

      November 21, 2015 at 9:15 pm

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

    17. Sheryl Ann

      November 21, 2015 at 9:02 pm

      Extrovert!

    18. Leesh AllSmiles Diggitty

      November 21, 2015 at 8:58 pm

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

    19. Jill Mundt

      November 21, 2015 at 7:20 pm

      Introvert, with a little bit of extrovert 🙂

    20. Michelle Roberts

      November 21, 2015 at 7:17 pm

      Introvert all the way!

    21. Dănæ Weaver

      November 21, 2015 at 7:10 pm

      Hahaha gold ?

    22. Sam Henderson

      November 21, 2015 at 6:57 pm

      Introverts for the win.

    23. Anna Wilson

      November 21, 2015 at 6:52 pm

      Dănæ Weaver…doesn’t matter ?

    24. Mallorie Hurlbert

      November 21, 2015 at 6:50 pm

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

    25. Geri Ryan

      November 21, 2015 at 6:47 pm

      The image says ‘extravert’ not extrovert lol

    26. Elizabeth Flood

      November 21, 2015 at 6:47 pm

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

    27. Kristina Andresen

      November 21, 2015 at 6:43 pm

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

    28. Geri Ryan

      November 21, 2015 at 6:40 pm

      Interesting… Which one are you?

    29. Kristina Andresen

      November 21, 2015 at 6:36 pm

      Geri Ryan

    30. Anne-Jessica Steed

      November 21, 2015 at 6:23 pm

      introvert here!

    31. Sile Nic Aoidh

      November 21, 2015 at 5:50 pm

      Lauren McFadden

    32. Melinda Henderson

      November 21, 2015 at 5:40 pm

      Melanie Henderson

    33. Natalie Wineti

      November 21, 2015 at 5:37 pm

      Introvert!

    34. Hannah Eleanor

      November 21, 2015 at 5:18 pm

      Ashley this is accurate

    35. Amanda Amerson Price

      November 21, 2015 at 5:10 pm

      Corrie Cole

    36. Robyn Rickerby

      November 21, 2015 at 5:02 pm

      Introvert ?

    37. Jodie Woodrow

      November 21, 2015 at 4:40 pm

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

    38. Pepper Potts

      November 21, 2015 at 4:33 pm

      Most social workers seem to be extroverts….

    39. Shayna Bessell

      November 21, 2015 at 4:31 pm

      Craig Bessell

    40. Trudi Dodwell

      November 21, 2015 at 4:15 pm

      Trudi

    41. Megan Doxtator

      November 21, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      *Extrovert

      There, I feel better…sorry ?

    42. Emily Magyar Beckers

      November 21, 2015 at 4:05 pm

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

    43. Jam Clock

      November 21, 2015 at 3:25 pm

      Thank you! I’m introverted.

    44. Shelly Byndom

      November 21, 2015 at 3:11 pm

      .

    45. Raymond Nicholas

      November 21, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      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.

    46. Debbie Ballangarry

      November 21, 2015 at 3:03 pm

      Louise Spittles

    47. Pauline Molina

      November 21, 2015 at 3:03 pm

      Mostly introvert. Small % extravert.

    48. Pamela Werb

      November 21, 2015 at 2:59 pm

      Introvert 🙂

    49. Melissa Davila

      November 21, 2015 at 2:58 pm

      I find myself in all spectrums too ??

    50. Lalani Molina

      November 21, 2015 at 2:53 pm

      I find myself in all of the spectrums.

    51. Janell Huerta

      November 21, 2015 at 2:37 pm

      Ruthie Padro Youngman

    52. Gabrielle Potts

      November 21, 2015 at 2:34 pm

      I’m truly an introvert

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