Social workers are often employed in high-stress environments, offering supportive and clinical services to clients who are experiencing life challenges, mental illness, and distress. As scholars Oliver Beer and Sheena Asthana point out: “Social workers practice in an increasingly difficult environment characterised by rising demands, diminishing resources and negative scrutiny from the media.” Not only are social workers helping clients to relieve stress, they must make efforts to relieve their own stress in order to continue effectively helping their clients. Working to help meet the needs of others can be emotionally taxing, contributing to the stress burden of social workers. As stress has been shown to contribute to a variety of health problems, it is important for social workers to develop strategies for successfully managing stress in their daily lives.
Many people experiencing stress do not make sufficient efforts to relieve it, causing stress to build up until the person reaches a critical breaking point. Rather than waiting to attend to stress when the breaking point is upon us, preventative efforts can be incorporated into our daily routines that will help create a “stress-resilient system,” according to Dick Thompson, author of the book The Stress Effect: Why Smart Leaders Make Dumb Decisions and What to Do About it. The following are practical strategies, suggested by Dr. Lori A. Leyden-Rubenstein in her book The Stress Management Handbook: Strategies for Health and Inner Peace that social workers, and their clients, can embrace as a part of their daily routine in order to build a more stress-resilient system. Employing these strategies can help social workers prevent stress-related burnout, allowing them to enjoy a long, fulfilling, and successful career as a social service professional.
Create a morning wake-up ritual – Instead of rolling out of bed after a harsh alarm sound, take the time to create a simple, peaceful ritual for waking up that works for you. Dr. Leyden-Rubenstein suggests slowly bringing awareness to each body part as you lay in bed, moving from your feet to your head, and setting an intention for the day. If you’re spiritual, you might say a prayer. Or, you can focus on things for which you are grateful.
Do a breathing exercise (1-3 minutes) each hour throughout the day – There are a number of breathing exercises that can be used to relieve stress and focus on the present, and they don’t take long to complete. Try the three-part-breath exercise often used in yoga practice (first breathe in the belly, second the diaphragm, and third, the chest) or simply take a few moments to close your eyes and focus on breathing deeply.
Choose an affirmation and repeat it throughout the day – According to Leyden-Rubenstein, an affirmation is a “positive, present-tense statement which reflects a mental, emotional or physical state you want to make your own.” You can repeat this affirmation silently or aloud throughout the day, and might repeat it to yourself during breathing exercises.
Do some form of meditation or relaxation once per day – Leyden-Rubenstein’s book provides guidance for several meditation and relaxation exercises, such as imagery/visualization, muscle tension relaxation, and letting go of thoughts. There are a number of free smartphone apps that provided guided meditation and relaxation exercises, sometimes as short as 1 minute. Find an exercise that you like and use it every day, or try a new one each time as you make this a part of your daily stress-relief practice.
Maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine – a healthy, well-balanced diet and physical activity help support your body in relieving stress. Although relieving stress is often focused on taking care of the mind to create a peaceful inner environment, it is important to also take appropriate care of your body to help bolster your stress resilience and overall well being.
Practicing these techniques on your own is a great way to build a stress-resilient system in your daily life, and can also provide a useful model for clients who are having trouble managing stress. When social workers are experienced in implementing stress relief techniques that have worked for them, they can better assist clients in reducing stress, and ensure that they themselves are able to maintain a sense of calm and protect their health even within a stressful work environment.
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