Our Wellbeing Practitioner, Richard, talks lockdown, telephone conversations, and resilience

We spoke to Richard about how the Wellbeing Practitioners project has adapted to lockdown.

Wellbeing Practitioners is a service we’ve offered since the beginning of the Age Better in Sheffield programme and it has had wonderful results for many people across the city. Delivered by professional counsellors from Sheffield Mind, the project aims to support people with practical ways to build their confidence and improve their wellbeing.

Richard tells us about the move to phone call conversations and the resilience people have discovered in the face of lockdown:

How did the Wellbeing Practitioner programme offer support before lockdown?

“The support that we were doing before lockdown was very traditional. We offered 50 minutes face-face sessions, seeing people either at their home, in the office or at a community venue. We’ve been running it for 5 years now and It’s been working very well!”

How have you adapted the programme to continue offering support during lockdown?

“Literally, at the drop of a hat, things changed, and we moved to telephone counselling. On the first day of lockdown, we made sure we rang everyone and reassured them that they will continue getting support and it would be via telephone. The purpose behind calling them so quickly was because their worlds, just like everyone else’s, had just been turned upside down and we felt it was important to ground people by letting them know they would still be getting contacted at their usual time on their usual day. It created a sense of ‘Okay I’m still going to get my conversation at 10am on Tuesday’. The consistency of a familiar voice, that connection to being part of a wider thing and an opportunity to talk about this new way of life is all very helpful.

As time has gone on and this has become the new normal, I feel we’ve all started to get a sense of where we’re at and things are settling in.”

What are the main challenges of lockdown?

“Losing that face to face interaction wasn’t ideal but we’re certainly adapting and making it work over the phone. In my personal experience, I found that I was initially quite anxious around silence on the phone, whereas now, over time, we’ve all come to accept that a bit of silence on the phone is normal. It’s like any skill isn’t it – now we’re 7/8 weeks in, we’ve adapted and can sit in silence for a few seconds and know it’s fine. It takes a bit of practice and you feeling comfortable but we’re definitely getting there!

Some people don’t like talking on the phone, which is completely understandable, so we chat via email instead, it’s so important to keep that connection going. Others, however, have found speaking over the phone useful and prefer that way of expressing how they’re feeling to someone. It’s totally dependent on what you feel comfortable with and what works for you.

The team has found their feet with it now we’re a few weeks in – that’s almost a reflection of where the world is isn’t it. Instead of fighting something that isn’t going to change, we’re all gradually learning to get used to our new world.”

Have there been any positives to come out of lockdown?

“A strange positive to come out of this, is that people are starting to focus on what they can do rather than what they can’t. At the beginning we were all, understandably, very focussed on lockdown and what we couldn’t do. Whereas now people are saying ‘well I can follow the government guidelines and go out for a walk’ or ‘today I’m going to..’ and focussing on the things they can do! What we’ve learnt is that people have got resilience and we can use that awareness to work on other challenges in our lives. How can we look at problems we had before with this with a new awareness of our extra resilience?

A lot of people find change challenging and the fact that we’ve all had to adapt has actually proven to a lot of us that although change can be tricky, we can do it! That’s something really positive that I’ve noticed, knowing you can face challenges like the ones we’re facing does lots of good for your mental health and wellbeing, even if it might not feel that way now.”

This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, what advice can you share for people?

“The first thing for me would be to show kindness to yourself. That self-reflection time, that ability to know that you can change – that is the greatest gift of any kind because if you’re kind to yourself then you tend to be kind to others.

Lots of us are being forced to self-reflect because we’ve found ourselves with a bit more time. Developing some mindfulness and awareness of the resilience you have shown can be very useful. For everyone, change, if you embrace it, can be positive and it does give you a sense of wellbeing, knowing that you can do things.”