How emotionally resilient are you?


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Do you struggle to manage your emotional reactions to stressful situations at work? Do you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by service users’ feelings and experiences?

Emotional resilience, or the ability to bounce back when life becomes challenging and stressful, is an essential skill for social workers.

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How emotionally resilient are you?

  1. 1. How emotionally resilient are you?Written by Louise Grant, a senior lecturer in social work at theUniversity of Bedfordshire and Dr Gail Kinman, professor ofoccupational health psychology at the University of Bedfordshire
  2. 2. Which of the following best applies to you? 1. Bouncing backa). I am usually able to cope well when I am going through difficult timesb). I sometimes find it difficult to bounce back quickly after hard timesc). I tend to take a long time to get over setbacks in my life
  3. 3. 1. Feedback• If you answered a: You are resilient most of the time and rarely fail to bounce back when life gets difficult. It is important to recognise though that sometimes things may get too tough for even the most resilient person to handle. Remember that you need to nurture your resilience, even during the good times - by continuing to work on the competencies that underpin this important quality, as this is an investment for your future.• If you answered b: You are usually able to manage adversity and recover well from difficulties. At times, however, you find it difficult to bounce back. It is perfectly normal to find it hard to get over some things. Gain support from others wherever possible, and seek out opportunities to learn more about the stress management techniques that work for you. Use supervision to explore your difficulties and how you might move on.• If you answered c: You need to invest in your emotional resilience. Try to think about setbacks in a different way - as learning opportunities rather than negative events. Resilient people experience frustration and anxiety, but are able to draw upon more positive emotions and use a wide repertoire of coping and problem solving strategies during times of adversity. Take time to consider your resources, such as support and supervision, and make sure to learn about other stress management techniques that work for you.
  4. 4. 2. Social supporta). I have a wide network of friends and colleagues whoI can turn to for helpb). I sometimes find it difficult to get the support I needc). I often don’t know who to turn to for support
  5. 5. 2. Feedback• If you answered a: You have a wide network of friends and colleagues around you who provide you with strong support in times of crisis. It is important not to take these relationships for granted, however, but to nurture them and ensure they are reciprocal: if you give support to others, they will help you when the chips are down.• If you answered b: You have people around you, but they may not be available when things get tough. You might also struggle to get the right kind of support from your existing social network. Positive relationships thrive on mutual support - it is important to develop reciprocal relationships where people don’t turn to you in times of crisis only to disappear when you need support. Consider widening your social circle and spend time nurturing relationships with others as it is a worthy investment.• If you answered c: Relying on just one person for support may make you feel that you are overwhelming him/her with your problems. Actively seek new relationships and friendships with people who you trust and who trust you. Make time for other people outside of work so that you have a wide range of support from different people. Join a gym, do an evening class, or develop a new hobby. Above all, don’t be afraid to ask for help and try not to see this as a weakness but a strength.
  6. 6. 3. Emotion managementa). I am usually able to manage my emotional reactions to work effectivelyb). I sometimes have difficulty coping with the emotions I experience in relation to my workc). I often find it difficult to manage my emotional reactions to work
  7. 7. 3. Feedback• If you answered a: You have developed effective techniques to manage your emotional reactions to work and can usually stop work-related concerns from “spilling over” into your personal life. You recognise the impact that strong emotions can have on you and others, and are able to explore your reactions independently and during supervision. It is important to recognise, however, that you may encounter a situation which triggers an unexpected emotional reaction which may surprise, or even shock you. Take time to explore any potentially sensitive areas and how these might affect you and your practice.• If you answered b: You are usually able to manage your emotional reactions, but acknowledge that this is an area for further development. Self awareness is a key tool to manage emotional reactions more effectively that helps us becoming too enmeshed in our own emotions or those of others. Consider keeping a diary where you reflect upon situations which invoked a strong emotional reaction in you and others, and consider how this may be affecting your practice. Discuss your findings in supervision.• If you answered c: You need to develop more effective ways of managing your emotional responses to difficult situations. It is important to avoid becoming traumatised through encountering the distress and pain of others, but you must avoid becoming immune to their feelings. Techniques such as mindfulness can enhance awareness of your own emotional state and the factors that threaten your well-being, and enable you to tackle issues and situations in your practice that make you feel anxious or stressed.
  8. 8. 4. Empathya). I can empathise with service users’ feelings and experiences without becoming over-involvedb). I sometimes find it hard to empathise with the feelings of service users without becoming over-involvedc). I frequently get overwhelmed by the feelings and experiences of service users
  9. 9. 4. Feedback• If you answered a: You have developed an appropriate level of empathetic concern with service users. You are able to respond to intense emotional reactions in others without becoming either overwhelmed or disassociating from them. There may, however, be some people that you find difficult to connect with emotionally, or feel overwhelmed by their pain. Becoming distressed about another person’s circumstances will happen from time to time in social work, so it is important to know where to seek support if this happens to you.• If you answered b: Sometimes you find it difficult to empathise with service users and/or may feel that you are in danger of becoming over-involved. It is easy to get lost in the world of the service user: it is important to recognise, however, that if you become over-involved your ability to help is limited. Recognise that you cannot “fix” people’s emotional hurt but you can help them find solutions to their difficulties. Reflect upon your own feelings and use supervision to check that your empathetic concern is not spilling over into distress.• If you answered c: Try to ensure that you don’t become overwhelmed when listening to intense stories of grief, trauma and abuse. Consider using techniques to help you to develop appropriate empathy. For example, imagine a semi-permeable boundary between yourself and service users to allow yourself to be receptive but not emotionally over-whelmed. Use supervision to explore ways to do this effectively.
  10. 10. 5. Flexibilitya). Reflecting on my practice comes as second nature to meb). I frequently find it difficult to reflect on my practicec). I struggle to reflect on my practice
  11. 11. 5. Feedback• If you answered a: You are a flexible person who is usually able to see change as an opportunity rather than a threat. Remember, however, that some rules are universal and there are key professional values that should guide your behaviour. Use these as a framework to determine how flexible you should be when trying to adapt to new situations.• If you answered b: Don’t pay too much attention to your initial defensive reactions to change. Try to shift your position to one who sees change as an opportunity rather than an inevitable source of fear and anxiety. When assessing the potential impact of change, focus on long-term gains rather than short-term discomfort.• If you answered c: You find change difficult to manage - this may be due to fear of the future or unhappy memories when you felt out of control. Try to reinterpret changes as new horizons in order to develop a more flexible world-view. Anchor yourself by acknowledging that change is inevitable and desirable, and then accept opportunities as they arise. Making minor changes encourages a more flexible and less fearful response, as change can then be seen as an incremental process rather than a major event.
  12. 12. 6. Challengea). I am good at finding solutions to difficult problemsb). I often find that a problem is too difficult to tacklec). When I am faced with a difficult problem, I frequently give up because I think I will fail
  13. 13. 6. Feedback• If you answered a: You are always willing to take on a challenge and actively seek opportunities for problem solving. Embracing challenge underpins emotional resilience, but remember to utilise critical thinking skills to ensure you are not just repeating the same old patterns of problem solving.• If you answered b: Consider how you might improve your problem solving abilities. Break down problems and approach them systematically. Consider using the COPE model C= Challenge - identify the problem, consider the causes and results. O=Opt - select the best option from possible solutions. P=Plan - make a plan to action your option. E=Evaluate - check for progress and revise the plan if need be. Learning to face challenges head-on will help you enhance your resilience.• If you answered c: Challenges and problems are an inevitable part of social work practice, and we are often faced with situations that are beyond our control. More resilient people tend to see challenges as something that can be embraced, and recognise there are usually solutions to even seemingly intractable difficulties. Try and see challenges as opportunities to exercise your problem solving abilities rather than a threat to your emotional equilibrium. If the initial solution doesn’t work, try another.
  14. 14. 7. Reflecting on practicea). Reflecting on my practice comes as second nature to meb). I frequently find it difficult to reflect on my practicec). I struggle to reflect on my practice
  15. 15. 7. Feedback• If you answered a: You recognise the important role that reflection plays in your practice. Resilient social workers see reflection as a vital technique to develop insight into themselves and their practice and how they might improve this. Remember that it is important to develop holistic reflective practice, using others to check that your thinking is not reinforcing stereotypes or one way of viewing the world.• If you answered b: It is not always easy to dedicate time and energy for reflection as it can be a challenging and time-consuming process. Try to see reflection not as an opportunity for self-criticism, but a way of acknowledging competence and examining practice constructively rather than defensively. Professional supervision must include reflective space and a supervisor’s role is to facilitate this - try and discuss different ways and models of reflection until you find one which is comfortable for you.• If you answered c: As reflection is strongly linked to emotional resilience it is important for your personal well-being and your practice that you develop this resource. Seek out tools that can aid your reflection. Consider the “what” “so what” “now what” approach to help structure your reflection time. Carve out space for reflection, both personally and during professional supervision, and consider creating peer reflective supervision opportunities.
  16. 16. 8. Self-efficacya). I am generally able to maintain a strong belief in my professional capabilitiesb). I sometimes have doubts about my professional capabilitiesc). I frequently have crises of confidence about my professional capabilities
  17. 17. 8. Feedback• If you answered a: You are generally confident about your professional capabilities. Continue to learn and grow and approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. It is important to acknowledge, however, that an overly strong self-belief can lead to a reluctance to accept criticism or consider alternative options.• If you answered b: Use supervision as an opportunity to review your capabilities in a non- threatening way. Consider using peer coaching to seek out feedback from others about your practice; accept constructive criticism and explore options for change. Enhance your ability to recover from setbacks and consider areas for development as an opportunity to enhance skills rather than engendering a sense of failure.• If you answered c: Social work is all about dealing with uncertainty and complexity. Social workers often lack self-belief and focus on perceived shortcomings rather than acknowledging their competency. The new Professional Capability Framework is useful in this regard as it can help you to identify your strengths and areas for improvement. Use supervision and peer coaching to identify training need and to highlight where you feel competent. Lacking self-belief can be self-perpetuating and indulgent, so try and seek opportunities to celebrate your success rather than dwelling on perceived failures.
  18. 18. 9. Social confidencea). I am confident that my interpersonal skills at work are effectiveb). I sometimes find social interactions at work difficultc). I often struggle with managing social interactions at work
  19. 19. 9. Feedback• If you answered a: You have well developed interpersonal skills and are socially confident - both of which are important elements of emotional resilience. Use these skills to support and mentor others and be careful not to talk over others who may not be as socially adept as you.• If you answered b: Some of us find it easier than others to cope with social interactions at work. Consider using “mirroring” techniques to form connections with other people. Consider using role play to act out difficult social situations that you are going to encounter testing your own and other people’s reactions to difficult or challenging situations. This is a great way to be better prepared for social interactions and it will boost your confidence.• If you answered c: You need to develop your social confidence as it contributes to a belief in your ability to cope with a situation, and enables you to advocate on behalf of others. We can all struggle at times with social interactions and demanding professional situations, like panels or court appearances, are bound to make us nervous. Building social confidence can help us manage these situations more effectively, and this is an element of emotional resilience.
  20. 20. 10. Optimisma). I feel positive about most aspects of my working lifeb). I sometimes struggle to remain optimistic about workc). I frequently have a pessimistic view of my working life
  21. 21. 10. Feedback• If you answered a: You are generally optimistic and tend to see life as full of opportunities for growth and development. Using positive emotions to help you bounce back from an emotionally challenging experience helps build resilience. However, being “unrealistically” optimistic can encourage risk-taking behaviour without due attention to the consequences. Also be aware that having an overly positive world view can lead to optimistic bias. Always seeing the positive in situations and people can lead us to miss warning signs, as we may not want to believe anything could go wrong.• If you answered b: Sometimes things get you down and it is difficult to remain hopeful about the future. Take time out to celebrate those moments when things went well – focus on the “sparkling moments” in your career where you felt successful, and seek out opportunities to repeat them. This can be done effectively using peer coaching techniques. Use supervision as a safe haven to explore your anxieties about the future, and take responsibility for finding solutions to difficulties. Being solution-focused rather than problem-focused will help you see the future more positively.• If you answered c: If you feel pessimistic about the world and people’s capacity for change it can have a negative impact on your well-being and your professional practice. It can also alienate other people who may be important sources of support. Try and develop a more hopeful attitude; set yourself specific goals and plan how to achieve them step by step. Celebrate successful milestones in your career and remain focused on why you chose social work as a career. Try visualising what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
  22. 22. 11. Stressa). On the whole, I manage my stress levels wellb). I sometimes have problems managing stress effectivelyc). I tend to get stressed very easily
  23. 23. 11. Feedback• If you answered a: You have developed techniques that help you cope with stress effectively. Try to identify potential stressors at an early stage and take opportunities to address these before they get entrenched, or out of control. Continue to utilise support widely, reflect on your practice, maintain firm boundaries between work and home, and seek out opportunities to relax. Recognise that you should not attempt to cope with difficulties alone; your employers have a duty of care to ensure that your work place is as stress-free as possible.• If you answered b: None of us is immune to stress. Sometimes we find our stress levels difficult to keep in check. Focus on developing techniques to manage stress which suit your current needs and your lifestyle. As well as trying to make enough time for work and family, carve out some “me” time when you engage in pleasurable and relaxing activities. If you are finding yourself worrying about work problems excessively at home, create a space to write your worries down together with action points to address them. Put the list to one side and then action them on your return to work.• If you answered c: You need to improve your stress management strategies, as excessive stress can lead to ill health and burnout. You may need professional support to keep your stress levels in check. Consider using techniques such as meditation and mindfulness, and deep breathing as well as more practical methods such as developing your time management skills and using supervision to discuss issues you are finding stressful.
  24. 24. Thank youWe hope you found this exercise useful. To access the completesocial work guide to developing emotional resilience please log in toyour account on Community Care Inform;