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The Social Workers Union (SWU) share some practicable ideas to help Social Workers manage anxieties, worry and stress over this difficult period

Mental Health Awareness Week

Managing stress and worries

Writing down our worries, fears and stressors can help to get them out of our head. We can then reflect on each one and set actions at an appropriate time to resolve them. Alternatively, some worries could be scrunched up and the paper your worry is written on thrown away - as if you are throwing that worry out of your mind. These tools can be very useful if you’re having problems sleeping as thoughts go around your head.

Don’t fertilise your Coronavirus (or other) worries by seeking out news story after news story, and especially not on social media. Limit the time spent reading up what worries you and only get your information from reputable sources such as national news channels.

When faced with challenging times, it is easy to focus on what we cannot do. Instead look positively and think about what we can do. That might be the things that are unaffected, the opportunities this situation can create… such as time to get those long-standing tasks done, or to look for benefits such as more time with the family.

Worries can be placed in to one of two categories - hypothetical worries or practical worries.

  • Hypothetical worries are ones that currently do not actually exist and at best only might happen. They are ‘what its’, not based in evidence and sometimes irrational.
  • Practical worries are actual problems. They are specific, defined and often happening right now.
  • We can use various techniques (discussed here) to try to limit our thoughts around hypothetical worries.
  • To help be more action oriented around practical worries, try reframing how you feel about it like this:
  • Instead of saying “I am worried about…….” (this kind of thought just leaves us stuck with the worry), try; “If I care about…….” This rephrasing can help to encourage positive actions because this is now not a worry but something you care about and is important to you.

Stress can sometime leave us grounded and unable to think clearly, act rationally and resolve the problem. To help create a starting point to focus on dealing with the cause of the stress, think about how you can ‘Remove - Reduce - Reconsider’ the stressor.

Remove - Can I take my exposure of the stressor completely away? If so… how? An example of this is removing yourself from an argument.

Reduce - How can I break this problem down into smaller pieces or to limit my exposure to it? You can also reduce its effects by developing personal skills to better handle it when it comes up. Also, could anyone else take some of the load to lower how much you have to carry?

Reconsider - This is when we work to change our mindset around the stressor…. to learn to accept things, to find ways to manage our stressful emotions and to have effective coping strategies that lower our stressful feelings. 

When you are frequently having stressful and worrying thoughts, consider what your actual level of practical engagement is in that thought or stressor. Ranking it from low to being highly engaged. Then consider what level of engagement you actually want/need.

  • Low engagement - this is when someone has no stress processing, a ‘head in the sand’ approach and avoidance of the issues.
  • Medium engagement - Someone here is mostly ruminating thoughts around and around their head.  Constantly thinking about it but never actually engaged enough to do something practical about it.
  • Highly engaged - The person here has found ways to process their stress, either by dealing with the problem (root cause solving) or by positively managing their feelings and coping with it (emotions focused coping).

Creating a happier mindset:

  1. Looking at positive images can induce more happier thoughts. A photo of something, someone or somewhere that evokes happy memories, or even something outside of the window.
  2. Do more of the things that make you feel happy and calm. That might be a hobby, reading or watching a film. Immersive TV and films can be very useful when we want to disengage ourselves form negative feelings.
  3. Keep in contact with friends and family. Even if you don’t feel like it, a phone or video call to someone special is very likely to lift yours (and their) mood.
  4. Maybe now is a great time to write someone a letter. Everyone feels good after receiving a letter so hopefully they will do the same back to you.
  5. Use social media carefully. Viewing what could be a fake view of the world is not good for how we feel about ourselves. When using social media ask yourself how happy this is making me actually feel. If the answer is less than 6/10 on a happiness scale, turn it off and do something else.
  6. When we are feeling down, use sources of humour to perk us up. YouTube clips, podcasts, TV and box sets, films or books all offer great options to take our mind of things and have a laugh.  Laughter is a proven stress reliever.
  7. Keep active. Moving and exercising helps to ‘burn up’ stress chemicals and promotes ‘happy’ hormones. Whether this is a walk outside or home exercise. Check out various YouTube clips and free apps for home exercise ideas.
  8. Music can be a powerful tool for improving our mood. Stick on something uplifting, create different play lists (a productivity one for your study time and relaxation for chilling out for example). Maybe even get up and have a dance!
  9. Being in nature has proved psychological benefits so get outside, even if it is only in your garden. Take a mindful look at the plants, animals, trees and sky. Take in everything around you blocking out other thoughts… simply be in the moment with nature.

Keeping your mind occupied and productive:

  • As our normal routines are broken, now we need to establish new ones that keep us on track, productive and help us to manage the day. Think about scheduling in new activates to help keep a sense of normality within the household.
  • Now might be a great opportunity to get some of those tasks you never seem to get around to doing ticked off. It will help to keep your mind occupied and create a sense of achievement. 
  • Free time on your hands? Well maybe now you could invest some time in something you have been eager to do for a while. Get that guitar out, start learning Spanish, clean up the bike…. Internet, apps, YouTube and online delivery companies can all help to get you started.
  • Don’t normally do much exercise each day? Well now as it is one of the only ways to get outside so why not use this time to be more active. Use online mapping tools to find new routes from your home, set yourself step challenges (and maybe include friends and family for some gentle competition), get involved with the kids online PE classes and use other now abundant and often free online home exercise resources to get started.
  • As our access to the trappings of modern society has diminished, why not go old school and get out the playing cards or a board game (check online shops for inspiration). A family game together, or maybe even via video chat will offer laughter, socialising and distraction.

NHS Mental Health and Wellbeing: If you’re feeling stressed, anxious or depressed, or just want to feel happier: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/

How to look after your mental health during the Coronavirus outbreak: https://mentalhealth.org.uk/coronavirus

Further information