Stress and Well-being
At Studio 3, we aim to help practitioners understand and cope with both their own and other people’s stress in care environments. Due to the difficulties faced within caring situations, being stressed is a common occurrence for many practitioners and individuals receiving care. Under stressful circumstances such as these, being able to recognise when you are stressed and to effectively use coping strategies is crucial for overall well-being. After all, how can we care for others if we are not caring for ourselves?
Daniel Rippon’s 2019 stress study showed that there were many factors which could increase carer stress, including lone working and the behaviour of colleagues. People with high levels of stress or anxiety struggle to cope with daily tasks and activities, particularly crisis situations where our fight or flight instincts are elicited. Daniel Kahneman (2011) proposed that there were two types of thinking – ‘fast’ processes that occur automatically and unconsciously, and ‘slow’ processes that are controlled and less prone to bias and error. When we are in a crisis situation, our fast thinking kicks in, and can cause us to become stressed and make poor decisions. Learning to stop and pause in these situations is incredibly difficult, but can mean the difference between causing a situation to escalate, or successfully calming it down.
In these circumstances, it is important that we reduce overall stress as much as possible, as stress is transactional and can impact those around us (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984). By reducing the stress of both supporters and individuals, distressed behaviours will also be reduced (Rippon et al., 2019). Managing a person’s stress and helping them to regulate their arousal levels can often be more beneficial than focusing on the individual themselves or their behaviour. Stress is a core component of any behaviour management approach, and it is important that stress management is applied to all people concerned, not just the person exhibiting behaviours of concern. Many people support highly complex individuals in stressful situations with very little focus on their own stress management. A simple rule should always be to focus on managing your own stress first before you start focusing on a person you support.
In positive psychology, 'flow' is a state of mind which is entered when a person is fully immersed in an activity which requires focus. By becoming fully absorbed in an activity or task, one can loose a sense of space and time, and thus be distracted from stressful thoughts and situations. Flow is unique to everyone, so find a task that suits you.
An incredibly effective way to reduce your stress is to increase cardiac exercise. Applied research demonstrates that increased exercise is associated with reductions in cortisol (the stress hormone). Anyone who is stressed should have increased exercise as a component of their stress support plan - this applies for supporters as well as individuals.
Thinking of how stress communicates across an organisation is also extremely important. We often find that stress is contagious; that is, it can easily spread, especially when it comes to managing distressed behaviour. Targeting the sources of stress rather than focusing on distressed behaviour works well. This is where implementing a Low Arousal Approach throughout an organisation, from the top-down and the bottom-up, works well to create a stress-free environment where everyone is united in their approach. Co-regulation is a key first step to enabling individuals to self-regulate, and this can only occur if we as supporters and practitioners appear calm and have robust coping strategies in place to manage our own stress first. Through reflection and proactive strategies, we can ensure that the settings we work in become low stress environments, thus enabling us as practitioners to continue to support individuals for the long-term.