Friday, September 23, 2016

KSA of the Day: Techniques for Stress Management

Here's an ASWB exam content outline item that may come in handy before and after you sit for the social work licensing exam: Techniques for Stress Management.

Social workers experience all manner of stressors, even in ideal work situations. Burnout, secondary trauma, and collapsing self-care are common. Figuring out how to manage your own stress--by making changes to what you face and how you face it--is a great first step in being able to help clients with stress management. And knowing some (widely accepted, empirically validated) techniques to lessen stress may have the additional benefit of getting you through a question or two on the test!

To get started with the "how you face it" solutions, here's a list from the Mayo Clinic.
  • Autogenic Relaxation
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Visualization
  • Deep breathing
  • Hypnosis
  • Massage
  • Meditation
  • Tai chi
  • Yoga
  • Biofeedback
  • Music and art therapy 
 Most of these you may have encountered or tried. But what's that first one refer to again?
Autogenic relaxation. Autogenic means something that comes from within you. In this relaxation technique, you use both visual imagery and body awareness to reduce stress.
You repeat words or suggestions in your mind to relax and reduce muscle tension. For example, you may imagine a peaceful setting and then focus on controlled, relaxing breathing, slowing your heart rate, or feeling different physical sensations, such as relaxing each arm or leg one by one.
Ah, okay, thanks Mayo Clinic! Here's another list from the NIH
  • Autogenic Training
  • Biofeedback-Assisted Relaxation
  • Deep Breathing or Breathing Exercises
  • Guided Imagery
  • Progressive Relaxation
  • Self-Hypnosis
The NIH page takes a look at the research about relaxation's effects on various conditions. E.g., anxiety:
Studies have shown relaxation techniques may reduce anxiety in people with ongoing health problems such as heart disease or inflammatory bowel disease, and in those who are having medical procedures such as breast biopsies or dental treatment. Relaxation techniques have also been shown to be useful for older adults with anxiety.
On the other hand, relaxation techniques may not be the best way to help people with generalized anxiety disorder. Generalized anxiety disorder is a mental health condition, lasting for months or longer, in which a person is often worried or anxious about many things and finds it hard to control the anxiety. Studies indicate that long-term results are better in people with generalized anxiety disorder who receive a type of psychotherapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy than in those who are taught relaxation techniques.
Important to note: social work's systems/holistic/biopsychosocial/macro view will often point a different direction. Instead of sharing techniques to reduce the effects of stress, social workers should find ways to help clients advocate to reduce the stressors themselves. Don't be too surprised if a question tries to lure you in with appealing distractors like autogenic relaxation when the real, BEST answer is to make changes around, not within, the client.

Hope that helps. Good luck with the exam!

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