How to… sustain emotional resilience

Social worker and academic Claudia Megele examines how social workers can develop and sustain emotional resilience

Emotional resilience is one of the central themes running through the latest report from the Social Work Reform Board. The report states that continuing professional development should enable social workers to “become more confident, emotionally resilient and adaptable to the changing demands of social work”.

Indeed, the capacity to manage our emotions effectively in complex care settings is an essential part of the role of health and social care professionals.

Emotional resilience is closely related to emotional intelligence and emotional literacy defined as the ability to recognise understand and appropriately express our emotions. The concepts depend mostly on habits and attitudes that we learn/develop early in life. These habits/attitudes are set in place and reinforced based on our everyday experiences.

As we establish our daily routine and acquire habitual thoughts, feelings, and behaviour, these form patterns of processing in our brains that become the dominant pathway for our interpretations and reactions to various stimuli/impulses.

Tips on how to enhance your emotional literacy and resilience:

1. Understand emotional states and their consequences – Learn to recognise your emotions and their psychological and behavioural consequences. For instance, clenching your fist, shouting, crying or withdrawal are behavioural consequences of different emotions.

2. Self-regulation and change – Developing emotional resilience are experiential processes which require overcoming entrenched habits that are embedded deep into parts of the brain. Since emotional learning involves deeper parts of the brain, cognitive knowledge often does not suffice to modify our habits. For instance, knowing cigarettes damage one’s health is usually not enough to stop the person from smoking. Therefore, when you recognise a disruptive impulse, you need to exert self-restraint to control its behavioural consequences and to respond through more appropriate and constructive alternatives (e.g. when you feel angry, instead of pounding your fist on the table, go for a walk).

3. Express your emotions and recognise emotional toil – Self-regulation helps you enhance your emotional resilience, however, continually suppressing your emotions and disregarding the emotional toil inherent in caring relationships, can lead to long-term problems ranging from emotional bias, irritability and lack of sensitivity, to psychological disorders. Therefore, find the appropriate time, venue and avenue to express your emotions and let go of any negative feelings.

4. Allocate time and place for healing – You are not immune from emotional toil. Allocate some time (perhaps 30 minutes) each week to your “self” and healing. Do this at the same time and place each week. You will begin to associate that time and specific setting with unwinding. This positive association will help facilitate the process of unpacking your emotions and healing the “self” during your weekly “self” time.

5. Positive regard and self-affirmation – Positive self-affirmations enhance positive thinking and self-respect. Spend five minutes a day writing positive self-affirmations. This will not only affect your psyche positively, but also, through repetition it will raise your awareness and make you identify with that trait which will eventually enhance that trait.

6. Motivation and positive thinking – Aspire for excellence in all that you do. Make sure you understand and can align your goals. Maintain a positive and optimistic attitude and disposition.

Claudia Megele is a qualified social worker and service director of A Sense Of Self. She is also an associate lecturer in social work at the Open University and is completing her Doctorate in Psychotherapy.

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