Whilst employers have responsibilities to address these issues, it makes sense to manage your own stress levels, and find ways to cope. Good stress management leads to better job performance – which makes you an attractive candidate for recruitment and promotion – as well as making your life much easier.
Social workers often get a bad press – and it is only too easy to take negative messages to heart. With heavy and increasingly complex case-loads; social services under scrutiny; fear of things going wrong and difficult relationships with clients or colleagues, people in social work jobs need coping strategies to prevent burn-out.
How to manage stress in social work.
Employers should have strategies to prevent staff stress, including effective supervision and support, giving sufficient time and space, so that workers can reflect on their practice. Reflective practice enables qualified social worker to learn lessons from their practice, learn more about themselves and find practical ways forward. In addition, find ways to discuss issues, problems and even good news with managers. Approachable managers make life easier, but otherwise, try talking to colleagues or other trusted professionals.
Build and maintain resilience by having someone to talk to. This could be a colleague, but even if it is a friend who knows nothing about your job, it is helpful just to talk things through, offload, or simply share your day. You do not have to use your support networks for work-related discussions: it is great to switch off, socialise, and have fun with friends, family – and pets.
Social work training does not always include the practical skills of learning how to manage a complex case-load. Time management techniques can help social workers to take control of their workload and plan more effectively. If training is lacking, there are things you can do for yourself. For example:
- Do not read your emails first thing, but make a list and prioritise the more important tasks.
- Keep your ‘to do’ list down to 5 to 7 things. The fewer they are, the more likely you will actually get them done.
- Consider your workload for the week or across the month, rather than daily, so you can plan ahead.
- Make a note of what help you need from other people to complete a task, and approach them early.
- Spend 10 minutes every day doing something for yourself that makes you happy, like going for a walk, sitting in a park, or reading.
Resilient people notice and understand their own feelings, and know how to control them. Everyone feels anxious, angry or upset on occasions. Pay attention to your feelings, notice the early signs of negative emotions and do something to stop them in their tracks. Whether that is doing something different – standing up, sitting down, walking around or breathing deeply; getting yourself out of the situation; counting to ten; listening to music or even thinking happy thoughts – you can learn to change your state of mind. Recognise your own emotions, know what causes them, learn how to manage them and feel better.
Sometimes it is hard to switch off, but learning to calm your body and your mind is essential: not only at bedtime! Take some time out to relax and be mindful of the world around you. Be fully present in the moment – you can even meditate by examining the petals of a flower or savouring the ritual of making a cup of tea. It may seem counter-intuitive, but even in a crisis, if you can train yourself to take just 60 seconds out to calm your breathing, switch off and relax, this clears your mind to think, helping you to perform much better.
Social workers often deal with distressing and upsetting emotional situations, but you know that the work is also rewarding – otherwise you would not be in this business. Look out for positivity and practise it whenever you can. Find instances of happiness, see the good in life and celebrate success. Take any perceived failure as a learning experience. What will you do next time? What can you take forward, positively? Focusing on the positive helps you to remain optimistic.