In the run up to National Stress Awareness Day on 4th of November, we spoke to Kelley Fray, Managing Director of Education and Children’s Services, and found out how she manages stress day to day, and what her advice is for anyone currently dealing with stress.

Marketing Team: What advice can you share with staff on how to deal with stressful experiences involving the children they support?

Kelley Fray: I think the key to managing stressful experiences with the children we support is understanding that every behaviour has a meaning and an unmet need. For example, a young person who is being verbally abusive and demanding staff leave them alone whilst damaging their room, is actually wanting staff to be close because they are in a state of emotional crisis but don’t know how to ask for support. By listening to the behaviours rather than focusing on the verbal interaction gives a better insight into what support is actually needed and reduces the stress of not knowing how to help the individual child.

MT: How should staff de-escalate any situations that arise?

KF: It is difficult to give a blanket response to this question as all situations are different, but an important strategy that can be applied in any situation is clear communication, both verbal and non-verbal. By communicating that we are there to support and demonstrating we are safe adults through verbal and non-verbal communication, there is a greater likelihood of a situation being positively de-escalated.

MT: Do you have any advice on how staff can cope and manage their stress personally outside of work? 

KF: I think it’s important to have a work-life balance as much as is possible (my colleagues will know I am often guilty of not achieving this!), and to take time to do something you enjoy even if it’s only a 10 minute sing along to the radio – it all helps to reduce stress levels.

MT: How do you manage any stress or stressful experiences in your own daily life? 

KF: I’ve learnt over the years that it is so important to talk about feelings of stress or anxiety rather than bottling them up, and that it’s okay to say I think I need to take some time to regroup, rather than trying to get a resolution immediately.

MT: What types of stress arise specifically from being in your role and working within Education and with children?

KF: I feel very strongly that the children and young people I am responsible for receive the highest standards of care and education we can possibly give. When I hear or see that this isn’t happening, then it becomes a cause of stress for me and I do everything I can to ensure that any issues are resolved – this is usually when the work-life balance goes out of kilter! I have learnt and continue to learn skills in how to work within a team and achieve the outcomes through working collaboratively which ultimately reduces the stress of trying to do everything myself.

MT: What is the most stressful experience you’ve had? How did you cope with this?

KF: My sister passed away unexpectedly just before Christmas 2017 and that had a huge impact on me and my family in coming to terms with the loss. In the initial days and months afterwards, I thought I was coping as I tried to keep everything ‘normal’ and went back to daily life focusing on supporting my family.

However in February 2018, following what would have been my sister’s 45th birthday, I realised that I needed to talk about how I felt and began bereavement counselling which made a huge difference not only with coping with the bereavement, but also in teaching me the value of reaching out and talking. I would encourage anyone who has experienced a bereavement or feelings of isolation or stress to reach out and talk to someone, because however hard it feels to make that step, it is much harder trying to cope alone.

MT: Overall, what would you like to say to anyone who is dealing with stress? 

KF: You are not alone – everyone at some point in their lives will experience stress and it isn’t because you aren’t strong, or that you are not capable of managing. It is because you are human with all the strengths and weaknesses that being emotionally connected creates. True strength lies in reaching out and asking for support because there will always be someone there who can, and will, listen.