The idea for this post came from a brief conversation on Twitter last night when a social worker asked about how we manage stress at work.
There was a fine Q and A in the Guardian a few weeks ago on their Local Government Network site which collated the opinions of people with a lot more experience than I but I have developed some ideas that I personally use and thought I would share them in more than 140 characters. Twitter, believe it or not, has its limits. I’m sure and hope that people add to my list with their own techniques. This is an entirely personal list!
I’m fortunate enough to work in a good, supportive team with excellent managers who have a realistic understanding of workload pressure. It is important for me to acknowledge that my stresses are not about poor management or a difficult team which may lead to a whole different range of tactics about managing stress.
Supervision is, of course, important but I am taking regular, good quality supervision as a ‘given’ as that is my current experience. It is important that supervision is more than a list of updating cases but is a chance to discuss the ways the work impacts us personally and professionally. A chance to both reflect and learn. My supervisor tells me that she gets as much from our supervision sessions as I do and that is entirely right.
Apart from supervision with my manager and my other supervision with a senior social worker in a different team, I’m very strong on immediate debriefing. I think it is an absolutely necessary part of the job. Without the time and space to debrief, without that immediate opportunity to hold some of those thoughts together and discuss them, you begin to internalise some of the pain, sadness and distress that you inevitably will see at work and more dangerously, you take it home. Stress can’t help but affect your family and those around you if you let it. That’s why it has to be ‘left at work’ as far as possible.
I call ‘debriefing’ the immediate reflection or observation as opposed to the most considered reflection that comes during a ‘proper’ supervision period. Debriefing is often with colleagues who are around in the office. We are good at helping each other out with this. If there is no-one around in the office that is able to talk, I will tend to write some thoughts down on a notepad I carry around. Sometimes I might do this in a cafe between visits. It helps me detach some of the responsibility I have from a situation and see it through ‘third person’ eyes.
I manage stress much better now. I detach home from work more and I am far less likely to bring the stress and work-related anxiety home. Part of that is because I have space to debrief and discuss while at work. Sometimes you want someone to reassure you outside the managerial system, sometimes you just need to talk about what you have heard and seen and the best people to listen can be those who are attuned to the culture of the same workplace and environment.
No-0ne quite understands some of the pressures of the job or at least it can feel that way, if they aren’t doing it themselves.
I have also tried meditation and mindfulness techniques which personally, I’ve found very very helpful. My interest in mindfulness actually started when I was writing about it on this site and I thought it sounded useful personally so I bought some books and MP3s (I was going to write ‘tapes’ there but that dates me!). I then attended a short day course locally to see if ‘proper’ instruction would be useful. I find taking the time each day to relax actively has really helped my mindset. It also helped me a lot when I was recovering from surgery.
MIND have a good resource page and details of courses both online and local. I’d really recommend it, even if you are normally quite sceptical of some of ‘these things’. I was.
Exercise is a classic one. I have been a member of a gym in the past but I didn’t stick with it. It works for some people. I like swimming but I find it hard to build in before work and after work I get tired. But I do like walking. I can walk for hours and days. Nothing ‘releases’ me as much as a long walk. Sometimes in the city and sometimes in the park. I can be alone with my music or in company. I always find it helps me to gather my thoughts.
Most important as well is to have interests and involvements outside work. They can be work-related. I write a lot about social work and social care and read a lot of related books but I still see that as a ‘discrete interest’ as it helps me in ways beyond work. There are other things I enjoy though whether it’s cooking or playing my ukulele or playing on my Xbox (wow, I LOVE the Kinect), I could also possibly be the only person who plays ‘Lips‘ while on my own at home (it’s one of those karaoke singing games – enormous fun!).
I also have taken many evening classes over the years, from ukulele playing to Art History to Spanish to Greek to Basic HTML to Creative Writing. I enjoy learning new things and I enjoy meeting new people who work in completely different areas.
I also like to take advantage of being in London and am a member at the British Museum, Kew Gardens, South Bank Centre … and London Zoo but we have a wealth of museums, galleries and theatres which can be accessed relatively cheaply if not free of charge. I need to look after myself build and work on an identity that is more than ‘work’. So when the stresses build up at work I have other aspects of my life to build on.
What about you? What do you do to work on stress?