How to handle stress

Stress is a huge problem for a lot of people working in social
care, writes Nathalie Towner. Long working hours, demanding
workloads and increasing amounts of paperwork all add to the
inevitable stress of dealing with difficult situations and people
in distress.

While a certain degree of stress is normal, it shouldn’t be allowed
to reach unmanageable levels. The social care sector is renowned
for its high long-term absence rates, much of which is caused by
stress-related illness.

The British Safety Council estimates that illnesses caused or
exacerbated by stress cost the UK 90 million working days and
£13bn in absenteeism each year.

Individuals and managers at all levels in social care need to do
what they can to keep stress to a minimum to protect them and their

Assess your stress levels
Take time to think about whether or not you are suffering
from high levels of stress on a regular basis. Look for physical
and emotional symptoms, which can include tension, irritability,
anxiety, exhaustion, headaches and high blood pressure. If you are
a manager, you have a duty of care towards your employees to make
sure their stress levels are also manageable. If you decide that
stress is a problem, either for you or for others, you need to do
something about it

Keep stress to a minimum
Establish what it is that makes you stressed. Keeping on
top of your workload helps to avoid stress, so try not to leave
paperwork or other tasks until the last minute. We all know how
tempting it is to delay doing things you don’t really want to do
but it is better to get on with them than put yourself under
pressure when the work piles up.

If it is a particular environment or situation that is causing you
stress, share your fears with a senior member of staff and ask them
for advice on how to overcome them.

Seek help where you need it
If your workload is getting on top of you or you are
struggling to cope with part of your role, never be afraid to ask
for help either from managers or colleagues. “Good peer support is
important for any social care
workers,” says Ian Johnston, director of the British Association of
Social Workers. You might need training in particular skills to

do with your role that would then reduce your stress levels. That
training might even be on coping with stress, says Johnston.
“Training is obviously very important for teaching staff how best
to deal with stressful situations.”
Many social care organisations offer individual or group
counselling for staff. If not, it is up to managers and employees
to make sure it is available.

“If they don’t, they are failing to meet the needs of staff,” says

Don’t put up with abusive behaviour from users
Never feel you have to put up with abusive behaviour from
users. Verbal abuse or violence must not be tolerated and should
always be reported to a senior colleague, so help can be given to
you and appropriate measures taken to deal with the

Preventing stress in others
Johnston says managers need to look at ways to relieve
overall stress in the workplace. As well as giving them access to
counselling, it might include regular supervision of staff to
recognise when anxiety is becoming an issue; regular reviews of
staff needs; and stress management training. It also means making
sure all staff have reasonable workloads, are happy with their role
and equipped with all the necessary skills.

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