Nimal Jude – A View From Children’s Social Care

We know that child and family social workers and team managers have been working hard to ensure children are safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. We have heard about innovative ways of working with families on the doorstep, in front gardens, parks and virtually online.

During our social work training many of us have been told to develop strategies to ‘switch off’ and ‘don’t bring work home’ and develop good ways of separating home life and work life. We are encouraged to distinguish between our personal self and our professional self – and examine where they overlap – both these ‘selves’ come to work every day – now both are at home as well.

What does it mean when we have to discuss very sensitive and emotional things with families and children from our own homes, even our own bedroom. During COVID the boundaries on home and work have become blurred.

Social work is always emotive and the added layers of COVID-19 compounds emotions. So, reflective and supportive supervision is vital to help unravel some of the emotions experienced.

A few years ago, I conducted some research asking newly qualified social workers (NQSWS) to rank their emotions, I did not specify positive or negative emotions. Can you guess what the top three emotions experienced were?

What top three emotions are you experiencing today? You can write them down and reflect on what you think may have evoked these emotions. Think about when you may have felt like this before – and what you did to work through the emotions.

Going through this process of feeling, identifying, understanding and developing strategies to make sense of and live with our emotions can help to build resilience and awareness when negative emotions surface again.

The top 3 emotions the NQSWS said they were experiencing were:

3. Anxiety

2. Anger

1. Sadness

When I shared with them that they were telling me the strongest and most frequent emotion they felt was sadness  – they were at first surprised but then shrugged their shoulders and said – of course, we are sad.  At that stage they did not have the opportunity to express their sadness about the families they were trying to support.

We know that when we experience emotions our body responds in certain ways for example a change in heart rate, blood flow, different hormone secretion and we might even walk differently and our posture changes. Sometimes when lots of people are in the same space experiencing similar emotions our bodies can mimic each other. This is one thing when we are working in our offices – but what does it mean when we are frequently at home with our families?

Can you think about where in your body you experience negative and positive emotions? What happens? Do you sweat, breathe differently, what do your hands do? Do you feel any sensations in your stomach, your head, your neck? What do you notice about your body posture and the way you move when you are feeling strong emotions. What do you notice about those around you?

Sometimes simply being aware of what is going on in our bodies can help us to recognise what is going on and put things in place to balance our feelings. We all know that diet, exercise, spending time in nature, mindfulness, reading and writing, yoga –  all can help us balance emotions. However, we are all juggling a number of things and with the best intentions we can sometimes overlook time for ourselves.

We are all often either thinking about the past – what we saw, what it means – or thinking about the future, what needs to happen, what we need to do – what about thinking about right now?

Here are 3 very quick ways that you can help you to pause and could help with starting and ending the day calmly and servicing your emotional resilience.

This 5 minute morning routine can help you set the day. – how do you wake up? Is it an alarm clock, children or pets jumping on you, the news on the radio or tv?

  1. Spend the first minutes waking up to soothing sounds… actually listen to the sounds
  2. For the second minute lay and stretch in bed. Stretching out all the parts of you body from toes to the crown of your head
  3. Minute 3 Get up and breathe – as your feet hit the ground spend one minute breathing in and out deeply – focus on the sensations of you breath filling and emptying your body
  4. Minute 4 – Stretch standing up – your arms,  legs, shoulders, neck
  5. Finally – maybe after brushing your teeth drink a glass of water – hydration for the body, mind and soul

This 5 min morning routine is something you can do by yourself or with others in the household.

During the day – you have a 5 min timeout to lose your mind come to your senses. Pause in the day to notice what you can hear, see, taste, touch, and smell. This will help to focus on the right now – not the past or the future.

As you head hits the pillow you can try colour breathing. This is when you think of a colour – and imagine breathing it in and breathing it out you could follow colours of the rainbow. Observe if a different colour makes you feel differently. This exercise will help you to focus on your body and mind as you end the day.

These quick and easy ideas do not require any fancy equipment and can be done anywhere at any time.

I hope these ideas for reflection and practical exercises help you to hit the pause button.

Let’s end by taking 3 breaths together- afterwards you might want to take 5 minutes out deciding how and when you will try these techniques and when you might do the written reflecting exercise.

So, are you ready for some 7 – 11 breathing?

With your feet flat on the floor, legs uncrossed and arms in your lap. Breathe in for the count of 7 – hold

And breathe out for 11 hold

Here we go

Nimal Jude is a Practice Development Lead at the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). Nimal discusses the blurring of boundaries between work and home life during the pandemic and the positive and negative emotions it can illicit in social care staff. She also shares 3 quick ways to support our emotional resilience throughout the day.