During difficult times like the outbreak of the coronavirus COVID-19, it is understandable that people may be feeling isolated, anxious and overwhelmed. As humans we thrive and rely on human connection for overall wellbeing. It’s therefore vital to keep strong social connections, and to continue looking after ourselves and each other while retaining and strengthening our sense of community.
Connecting with a wellness buddy could be a handy solution to ensure you prioritise staying connected.
Finding a buddy
A buddy could be anyone, such as a team mate, work friend or even a mentor or leader you connect with in the workplace. The most important thing about finding a buddy is that you are both comfortable in creating an informal arrangement to check in on each other in these uncertain times we are currently operating in.
A buddy arrangement is a two-way street and does not need to be a formal. It’s as simple as either reaching out to someone you care about or connect with, or someone you think may struggle during periods of social distancing and isolation, to see if they are interested in keeping connected through this period. Alternatively, if you are struggling, you may also choose to reach out to someone for support. Remember – we are all in this together.
Being a buddy
As a buddy, the most important thing to consider is your own wellbeing and capacity to be able to support someone else. Remember putting on your own oxygen mask first is vital. If you take on the role of someone’s buddy this does not mean you are expected to be an expert or have all the answers; your role is to provide support and stay connected with the person. Ensuring the person has a broad support network outside of just you is also important, as this ensures that they does not become reliant on just one person – and it is positive for their overall health and wellbeing.
The following tips will contribute to an effective wellness buddy arrangement:
- Informal and agreed to by both parties
- Built on mutual trust, care and compassion
- Each person should feel capable and confident in being able to support the other person
- The purpose should be to check in with each other, provide support as needed and remain connected
- There is no expectation for either party to be an expert or have all the answers
- There is no responsibility for a buddy to replace formal supports like counselling or psychology treatment
- If at any stage a buddy does not feel comfortable or capable in fulfilling the role of a buddy, there is no obligation to continue
- Most importantly, remember – we are all in this together and staying connected is beneficial to our overall health and wellbeing
Tips for having a conversation with someone in need
There’s nothing to lose by having the conversation….
Having a conversation with someone right now doesn’t just need to be about their mental health. We have all been impacted in one way or another, so just reaching out to see how a colleague, friend or family member is going is a great way to show compassion and kindness.
It can feel difficult to have the conversation – you may be worried about saying the wrong thing, making things worse, damaging the relationship or perhaps not knowing what to do. However, a conversation with good intentions is better than not saying anything at all.
There’s everything to gain….
If you have noticed changes in someone’s behaviour or have concerns for their mental health, talking to them can be an important first step in helping them seek support. You may also be the only person to have noticed changes in their behaviour, or have the courage to start a conversation.
Here are some tips that may help:
6 tips on talking to someone when you are concerned about their mental health and wellbeing:
1. Be prepared
Before reaching out, think about your own headspace and whether you are the right person to have the conversation. If so, great! You can prepare yourself by considering the best time to connect, how (such as a voice or video call), and any privacy factors. Brush up on what kind of services are available inside and outside of the workplace, in case the person needs extra support.
2. Ask them if they’re OK
Try to be relaxed in your approach. Help them open up by asking questions like “How are you going?”, “What’s been happening”, or “I’ve noticed that you’re not quite yourself lately. How are you travelling?”. Talk about any changes you’ve noticed in their behaviour, or things you are concerned about and open the floor – allow them to open up in their own way and time.
3. Listen to what they have to say
Encourage them to talk, but accept that they may not be ready or they may be taken by surprise. You may need a few tries to open up the conversation, and they may also need time to think, so sit patiently and allow this to happen. It’s important to take the person seriously, don’t interrupt, rush, or move too quickly into solution mode.
4. Be prepared for Plan B
If they get angry or upset, stay calm and don’t take it personally. They may just need time to process what they have heard. Reassure them that you care and are asking because you are concerned for them, and are here to listen any time they do want to talk. If they express suicidal thoughts, seek immediate assistance.
5. Encourage them to take action
Sometimes a simple chat or check-in is enough, but if they are open to seeking help, assist them in brainstorming where they can go from here. You might ask “What would be a good first step we can take?” or “What do you need from me? How can I help?”. Remember, some good options for people are to seek help from their Employee Assistance Program (EAP), HR team, a family member or friend, their GP or a psychologist. They may also like to speak to a mental health support service like Lifeline, on
13 11 14. Ask if they would like you to help initiate these actions with them.
6. Keep the door open and check in
It’s important to keep the conversation going and create a safe space for ongoing support. Checking in after a few days is a good start to gently ask if they’ve actioned what you spoke about. Sometimes it’s hard for people to take these steps, so be patient and encouraging if they haven’t done anything yet. Most importantly, let them know you are there if they need support and keep the door open.
Overall, remember you’re not an expert and it’s okay if you don’t know what to say.
Being genuinely supportive and listening will make a difference.
Creative ways to stay connected
Connecting with people has become more challenging since physical distancing rules have been introduced, but it’s by no means impossible. Here are some creative ways to stay connected with your wellness buddy:
- Use any work-related chat platforms to stay in contact and check in regularly
- Use text messages, WhatsApp or other messaging platforms to reach out
- Make the most of Facetime and video chat platforms like Zoom or Microsoft Teams to stay connected ‘face-to-face’
- Have a virtual coffee or Friday afternoon nibbles to decompress and keep the catch up casual