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Blog: The emotional impact of supporting people virtually

This article is a blog by Chris Paul, Education Community Project Worker, on supporting children, young people and adults on virtual platforms and the impact that this can have on your wellbeing.

When we were locked down back in March 2020, we had all hoped that the uncertain times would be short lived and that life would have a level of normality as soon as possible, preferably for Easter time I had hoped. This was, unfortunately, nowhere near the case and at the time of writing this blog (February 2021) we remain in a nationwide lockdown with over 117,000 British citizens having died through Covid-19.

Over this period of time, a lot of services across the country have up skilled by delivering their crucial work by any means possible, including a real shift in the delivery of digital interventions. We have witnessed a boom in online training courses and national conferences, alongside a promotion of fitness classes, such as Joe Wicks PE, keeping the nation on their toes.

I have had to adapt my own practice and deliver crucial wellbeing services over online means, including daily check in’s using WhatsApp, weekly mental wellbeing check in meetings over Zoom and using the tried and trusted mobile phone for telephone befriending sessions. Initially, there was resistance from those who were engaging with the virtual services; however, I believe it allowed some barriers to be broken and provided those struggling with anxiety the opportunity to engage in services they would likely have avoided had they been in-person.

One of the main switches in an educational sense has been the jump from physical classroom learning to virtual lessons and online classes, using a variety of platforms such as Microsoft Teams, to try and keep our young people engaged with school during periods of such uncertainty. Speaking from the perspective of a parent with two school-aged children at home, it can be a confusing world engaging with online learning, particularly when the systems go down!

I always spare a thought for the teachers and wider education staff who have to juggle everything at home, particularly if they have children of their own. Managing their own children’s learning whilst juggling the education of everyone else’s children must be a level of stress that they haven’t encountered before in a professional or personal capacity. All whilst having to try and run the house, make breakfast, lunch and dinner and then find time to think about how they are feeling in amongst this global pandemic.

The other strand to my life at present is a return to education as a year 2 student in an undergraduate degree at the University of the West of Scotland. The course has mainly been delivered online and from the perspective of the student, it’s been mixed. I have really missed having that opportunity to connect physically with others and build relationships with new students. We have connected in breakout rooms but I don’t feel it is the same. Nonetheless, I have managed to learn and stay safe whilst doing so, and this is the most important part for me during these times. The University staff have worked really hard in the background to make the classes continue and they deserve enormous credit for doing so.

Speaking from the perspective of someone who helps support a number of young people and adults with their own wellbeing on a weekly basis in a professional role, the last person we usually think of is ourselves. Yet we are all well aware that you cannot run on empty for too long. Your car will stop running if you ignore the fuel warning light. Your body and your mind are no different and need special care and attention to keep powering through. This is hard during these times. A lot of our usual methods to top up our wellbeing are not available or limited. Connection with others, a huge factor for my wellbeing, is restricted or non-existent, and this can take an impact on myself. You will have your own top-ups that you use and hopefully you have been able to adapt and find new ways to continue with these during the restricted times we are living in.

My hope is that things will improve, particularly as more of us get access to the vaccine. Nothing lasts forever, some say, and I very much hope this is the case for this pandemic. I long for the day that we return to a level of normality and are able to engage with people in person again, without restrictions. Delivering services digitally has been a real-life saver for some, literally, and without it this would be a whole lot tougher. But that comes with a disclaimer and that is: look after yourself when engaging with delivering so much online content. Your wellbeing is paramount. Without those top-ups you will run on empty and your fuel tank will fade. You are doing an amazing job and the country would not function the same without you and your colleagues across the UK. Please remember this when you get out of bed each morning. Stay safe.

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