Social work is a very stressful job. A Guardian survey of 3,700 people in public services and the voluntary sector, including many social workers and other social care professionals, found that 93% of them experience some level of stress working in their jobs.
This stress is ever growing in the UK due to fewer resources, increased workloads and reduced staff. People in the survey reported various negative effects of feeling stressed, such as loss of sleep, depression, anxiety and an impact on their relationship with their partner or family. Many also said that their jobs were particularly stressful due to the nature of supporting people in difficult circumstances.
The demands placed on care workers by their jobs can affect their ability to sleep, causing fatigue and physical illness. This might mean they feel unable to continue with work, become negligent or reckless, or angry and irritable.
People react to stress in different ways depending on their personality, mental health issues and what is going on in their non-work lives, but there are things you can do to better cope with the inevitable levels of stress you find yourself dealing with when you work in care:
1. Talk to someone
Within care it’s important to communicate and let others you trust know when you are struggling. It’s difficult to care for someone else when you are unable to care for yourself. When you talk about how you feel, it helps you better understand what is stressing you out and why and will relieve the tension that you feel. Feeling overworked and under pressure is a serious concern and you don’t have to deal with it on your own.
If you’re having difficulties, try to have a mentor or a manager who you can talk to. This doesn’t need to be your line manager, but it does need to be somebody you have a good relationship with either inside or outside of work.
2. Develop coping strategies
Try to learn where your breaking points are and recognise the signs within yourself when things are getting too much. It’s important to develop techniques that you can use in these situations that can calm you down, whether that’s practicing meditation, or taking a walk, find what works best for you.
Equally, if you feel like you need extra help, speak to a medical professional.
3. Maintain a healthy work/life balance
Make sure you take time out of each day just for yourself so that you are able to recharge. Working long hours can mean that care workers are not able to recover from their long shifts, with the result being that they start the next day with little to no energy. Spending time on other activities outside of work or just relaxing can help.
4. Eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep
Getting enough sleep along with developing healthy eating habits are good places to begin when it comes to handling stress. You know what they say: Healthy body, healthy mind. Your body needs good nutrition to function daily. Your brain needs 80g of carbohydrates a day just to think straight. Check out the NHS website for tips on healthy eating. Everyone is different but the general rule is everything in moderation; including moderation.
5. Make time for yourself
Learning to relax is a skill which can help you control your emotions and improve your physical wellbeing. Even if you work long hours, waking up half an hour early to have breakfast or to just simply breathe and look out the window provides a great platform for you to start your day.
Being physically active is a great way to reduce anxiety levels. Whether it’s swimming, running or just walking up and down the stairs a few times in your break, being active helps to give your brain some time away from those daily stresses. It also triggers the release of mood-enhancing hormones, making you feel happy and less stressed.