Self-Care Strategies for Carers Supporting Challenging Behaviour

James Hourihan, Author

In the demanding environments of health and social care, professionals frequently face challenging behaviours from people they support. Carers in these fields often find themselves dealing with routinely high-stress situations that require not only patience, knowledge, empathy and skill, but also a great deal of emotional and mental resilience.

With the rise of burnout and mental health issues in these sectors, it’s important for those in caring professions to prioritise their self-care. This article explores some practical tips that carers can adopt to maintain their well-being while effectively managing the challenging behaviours they regularly face. 

Understanding the Impact

“According to the 2022 NHS workforce survey, more than a third of healthcare staff report feeling burned-out at work, with staff in clinical roles found to be most vulnerable. Further data shows… nearly 40 percent of nurses ‘often’ or ‘always’ felt burned-out at work.”
[som.org.uk]

The first step in self-care is recognising the toll that managing challenging behaviour can take. It’s not just about the risk of physical harm; the emotional and psychological stress can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and even secondary traumatic stress if not managed effectively. Understanding these risks is key to mitigating their effects. Acknowledging and understanding this stress and its impact is the first step towards mitigating its effects.

The Pillars of Physical Self-Care

Physical self-care is an essential component in managing well-being, especially in high-stress occupations. When working in a high-stress job, the body and mind are constantly under pressure, leading to a heightened risk of burnout, fatigue, and health issues. This could pose lasting effects for both patient and carer, as the quality of care continually diminishes. A few things you can incorporate into your daily life include:

Regular Physical Activity: Incorporating even mild exercise into your routine is proven to help manage stress, improve mood, and boost overall health. Even short, daily activities like walking or stretching can make a difference.

Adequate Rest: Ensure you get sufficient and quality sleep. A lack of sleep can impair your ability to think clearly and effectively deal with stress, both of which are crucial in managing challenging behaviours in the workplace. Regular time off is essential to recharge and prevent burnout, ensuring you can continue to provide high-quality care.

Balanced Nutrition: A healthy diet is essential for maintaining the energy levels needed to deal with demanding situations. Eating a balanced diet helps in keeping your body and mind in prime condition.

Engage in a Hobby: Pursuing activities outside of work that you enjoy can provide a necessary mental, physical and emotional break from the demands of your role.

Nurturing Emotional and Mental Health

Interpersonal roles like care often involve significant emotional labour and exposure to challenging situations, which can understandably take a toll on a person’s mental health. By addressing emotional needs, individuals can better regulate their emotions, develop resilience, and maintain a positive outlook. Ultimately, nurturing emotional and psychological well-being is crucial not just for the personal health of the carer, but also for sustaining the quality of care provided in such demanding professions. A few tools you can use include:

Mindfulness and Relaxation: Techniques such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises when you feel overwhelmed can help maintain and improve your emotional and mental well-being.

Setting Emotional Boundaries: It’s important to separate your professional responsibilities from your personal life. Care roles often involve deep emotional engagement with others, which can lead to emotional exhaustion if boundaries are not established and maintained. Setting boundaries helps carers define the limit between personal and professional involvement, allowing them to provide compassionate care while protecting their own emotional health.

Quality Time with Loved Ones: Working in a care setting can be an isolating and overwhelming experience. Having a network of strong personal relationships provides essential emotional support, offering a source of comfort, understanding, and encouragement. 

Professional Development and Support

Continuous learning and skill enhancement not only keep care professionals up-to-date with the latest practices and technologies, but they also provide a sense of growth and achievement, a basic need we develop throughout the course of our professional lives. Engaging in continuous professional development helps in building confidence and competence in the workplace, reducing feelings of imposter syndrome or burnout that may arise as a symptom of managing challenging behaviour.

Fostering a culture of open communication and organisational support creates an environment where employees feel safe and supported to express their concerns, challenges, and needs. Such support can manifest in various forms, including access to ongoing training, emotional and psychological resources, adequate staffing, and a positive work environment. Discussing challenging behaviour openly and honestly can help process events and encourage the sharing of ideas and strategies for coping with events, leading to a more collaborative and supportive workplace. Moreover, open communication fosters stronger relationships among colleagues, creating a sense of community and mutual support. This open communication should include regular post-incident debriefing.

Fostering Positive Environments

Managing challenging behaviour is an integral part of any caring profession. However, the ability to manage these challenges effectively should not come at the expense of someone’s health and well-being. By incorporating a holistic approach to self-care, carers can protect their well-being while continuing to provide the highest level of care. Self-care is not just a personal necessity; it’s a professional responsibility for sustained and effective service in the demanding fields of health and social care.

About the author

James Hourihan set up Timian Learning and Development in 1994 and has over 30 years experience in delivering training programmes in positive behaviour management to staff across the UK and Overseas. He has developed training programmes which have been certified By BILD Act and approved by the RRN. James has a Bachelors in Development Studies and a Masters Degree in Social Sciences as well as a Postgraduate Certificate in Mental Disability. He also helped develop the BILD Physical Interventions Accreditation Scheme in 2002.

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