It's fair to say, the last 16 months have been difficult. With a global pandemic and life being turned upside down, many have experienced extreme loneliness, anxiety and depression. Having limited interaction with loved ones and daily routines changing, we are now engaging and communicating less, which is impacting greatly on our mental health.
Social and behavioural psychologist - Honey Langcaster-James - is encouraging people to ask for help as part of BT’s 'Here For You' campaign highlighting the wide range of products and services available for those who need extra support, as research shows the growing number of people that have been made vulnerable since the start of the pandemic.
Why is it important that we talk about our feelings and emotions?
Parenting can be one of the most stressful and hardest jobs on Earth. We’re so invested in our family, it’s relentless because it’s twenty-four hours, we’re not even paid and yet it becomes our most important job with so many emotions attached to it! We really care about our role as parents, so that does mean that the potential for stress and being overwhelmed is pretty high. It’s important to talk to a friend or loved one about how we feel, in order to get much needed emotional support.
Support can come from just being heard, but also from being validated and knowing that we are not alone. This gives us hope and stops us worrying that maybe there’s a problem with us, as often others are going through the same or similar things. Talking to others also gives us access to practical skills as we can share the tips and tools we’ve learned from the things that do seem to work. So it is important if you are struggling to find someone that you can open up to.
How can we improve our communication skills?
Take the pressure of yourself first and foremost. There is no right or wrong way to communicate. Just try to share what is true for you and how you are feeling. Don’t worry if you are not communicating quite in the right way, most other people will understand that it’s hard for you to talk about what is going on. The important thing is to share your feelings and your honest thoughts if you are speaking to someone that has a reasonable level of empathy, understanding and care for you.
The onus is on them to understand what you are trying to communicate, and for them to ask questions or seek clarification if they don’t fully understand what you are trying to share. If the conversation doesn’t immediately go well, either try a different approach or ask someone to try to listen to you, and if that doesn’t work, try talking to someone else until you find someone who can really hear you.
What advice would you give to someone who doesn't feel comfortable talking about how they feel?
The number one thing is to recognise that you are not alone. This was revealed in BT’s research, less than half of us (46%) actually feel comfortable sharing problems with others, with almost two thirds (63%) citing embarrassment as a barrier. Try to remember that you may feel embarrassed, but you are likely to get a huge sense of relief when you do finally get things off your chest. Most people who do eventually tell someone what they are going through, report that it’s like a weight being lifted, so it is worth getting over your embarrassment and speaking to someone anyway.
What advice would you give to parents who have seen a decline in their mental health during the pandemic?
If you are struggling with your mental health and it’s causing difficulties in your daily life, or affecting your ability to function, then do speak to your GP or a mental health professional, but also reach out to other parents. Lots of us have been in the same position in the last year or so. It is really helpful to raise things by sharing your own vulnerability. Try saying ‘I have been struggling recently, have you?’. This can open up an authentic and supportive conversation for you both.
Do also find other parents to communicate with in general, perhaps online or in a group of some sort. If you can’t find parents in your own local community for support, you can meet parents online where you can chat to those in a similar situation and that really can help. Also focus on your self care. As parents we think we need to put other people before us, but we need to look after ourselves as otherwise we are no use to our children or our families.
Think about whether there might be a time in your week when you could focus on your own quality of life. Think about getting the basics right too; for example, ask yourself, are you sleeping enough? Eating enough? Are you getting some exercise? All of these things will help with your general health and wellbeing, and will all help you cope with the natural stresses and strains of parenting.
Why is staying connected and connectivity important to our wellbeing, and what is the risk of isolating yourselves from others?
It is so important to not isolate yourself from others. We live in a geographically dispersed world so staying connected either through telecommunications or online is really vital to our wellbeing. There is a wealth of information out there to help us, whether it is video content, blogs, forums, and social media groups we can join. Even if we are stuck at home, especially as we have been during the pandemic, you shouldn’t ever feel that you are completely alone. People are out there for you, you just need to find a way to connect with them!
How can parents encourage their children to speak up about how they feel?
The important thing is to pick your moment. Don’t try to raise anything that might lead to a challenging conversation in front of their friends for example. Sometimes it is good to chat whilst your child is engaged with something else. A lot of good conversations come when you’re in the car going from A to B, or doing tasks together like cooking in the kitchen. A task that your child can focus on, can make conversation feel less intense so they will often open up in a more casual way.
The best thing is to lead by example and create a permissive culture that is conducive to opening up. If they hear you talking to your partner or family about having had a difficult day and then resolving those issues, that will create healthy modelling for your child that it is ok for them to open up if they themselves have been having some difficulties in life.
Do you have any top tips to improve wellbeing in the family home?
Communicate with each other in an open but respectful way. Share how you are feeling and what is going on in your own life and show genuine interest in your child’s life too. Build these conversations into your daily life, perhaps chatting over the dinner table about each other’s day or sharing your goals for the day over breakfast. Make sure you are getting the basics right too as a family. Encourage good sleep hygiene, healthy diet and exercise.
Remember to have plenty of fun together as well. Make time to relax and enjoy life, because we can get caught up in a continual cycle of trying to achieve. So make sure that fun and quality time is always in the schedule. Try to not dwell over the small things and small irritations, or make them bigger than they need to be. Remember, ultimately we need each other, we are social beings and our relationships are what keeps us going. Stay connected, keep talking and support one another with empathy.
Why is it important to sometimes ask for help if you are struggling?
This can be the first step towards solving your problems, whatever it is you're struggling with. Once you let other people know, they can offer ways to help or suggest ways you can get assistance. It is also about breaking the silence, and helps you recognise that you are in need as well. With the pandemic, more people (56%) have felt vulnerable as shown in the research from BT, so more so than ever before it is important not to struggle alone. Reaching out also ensures you can find out what help is actually out there for you.
How can BT’s 'Here for You' help parents that may be struggling?
'Here for You' is a great resource for parents to go to if they need help in all sorts of domains. You can find out about all the different free services and products that are available, all in one place. This includes a series of videos that seek to explain the support that BT offers. So if you’re struggling financially, you can find out more about BT’s brand-new social tariff, Home Essentials, which offers lower price fibre and calls to everyone on Universal Credit and other means tested benefits.
If you need help setting up your technology at home because of the demands of everyday life or just because you find setting it up overwhelming, then their Home Tech experts can help you get connected by coming out and assisting you in the comfort of your own home. The steps BT is taking are really important in order to encourage more people to get connected and to ask for the support they really need.
For more information on BT’s 'Here for You' campaign visit www.bt.com/help/hereforyou