Why volunteer?

Hello and welcome to my latest blog post about volunteering.

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I have written this post for the reader who may have been interested in volunteering for a while and not known where to start. Or for someone who may be curious as to how volunteering could benefit them and the local community.

There are several areas in the community that offer volunteer opportunities. According to the Open University, there are several areas of work where you could volunteer and include:

  • Administration, IT, management and finance

Many organisations depend on volunteers to help them with a wide range of “office” type work – from photocopying and envelope “stuffing” right through to helping with more specialist areas such as School Governors and Organisation Trustees:

  • School governors

School governors form the largest volunteer workforce in the UK with around 350,000 governor places. Governors play a crucial role in the teams that run schools, helping to ensure that all pupils develop as individuals and receive a good quality education. Governors have responsibility for the strategic management of the school, working closely with the headteacher and staff. As a governor you will attend regular governing body meetings, visit the school to meet staff, see the children at work, participate in the life of the school and attend special events.

  • Trustees

Trustees, (also known as management committee members, or Board members) play an essential part in the running of voluntary organisations. They are responsible for ensuring that a voluntary organisation has a clear strategy, that it remains true to its original vision, and that it complies with all necessary rules and legal obligations.

  • Advice, information giving, counselling, listening and befriending

Many organisations also rely on volunteers to provide a wide range of support to individuals who are in difficulty or don’t know where to turn. They often provide training to enable their volunteers to undertake this sort of work and the knowledge and skills gained can often be used by the volunteers in other parts of their lives.

Organisations under this category could include the Citizens Advice Bureau, The Samaritans and various counselling, support agencies. Such as Mind, or Cruse Bereavement Care.

  • Event organising, fundraising, marketing, campaigning, public speaking

Many organisations rely on volunteers to support their work by undertaking a range of activities to promote their organisation and its work, to the wider community. Some but not all give training to help volunteers develop these skills but many welcome volunteer contributions to support the work of those who already have them.

  • Fundraising

All charitable organisations seek fundraising volunteers to help raise income levels and fund their work. One benefit of fundraising is that you can work for charities in which you have a strong belief. It may be as simple as rattling a collection bucket one weekend, or you could get involved in working in shops, developing new ideas, educational visits to schools and running events.

 

Other areas of volunteering could include working in conservation and wildlife projects and working in classrooms and schools to support the learning of children, for example by reading to children. I’m sure there are many more volunteer opportunities that I have missed out!

 

Benefits of volunteering:

According to Timebank there are a number of benefits to volunteering, including some of the following:

  • Giving your CV a boost

Whether you are looking to study a particular course, such as medicine. Or looking for a means of getting back into work, or changing career paths, volunteering in a relevant area to your dream job, or course, could give your application the boost it needs to get you noticed by recruiters.

  • Get back into work

Volunteering could be a valuable means of filling any gaps in your employment and getting a reference that could help you when applying for paid positions.

You could also try different areas of work as a volunteer in order to get a taster of the work and see if it is an area that you would be happy working in long-term.

This could be particularly helpful if you are currently looking for work, or wanting to change direction in your career.

  • Improve your confidence

Volunteering could help you improve your confidence, as you may get the opportunity to try something that you have never done before. You get to meet new like-minded people, who are likely to be as passionate about the same cause as you are.

You are likely to have the opportunity to develop new skills, which can also help to improve your confidence.

  • Improve your health

Now this is an interesting one. Whilst volunteering to help others, you could be improving your own physical and mental health.

The following research highlights some of the benefits of volunteering: https://www.nationalservice.gov/pdf/07_0506_hbr.pdf

 

My own experiences of volunteering:

I have volunteered in some capacity since around the age of 17 years. At various stages in my life and for various reasons.

Following on from my Facebook Live video on my Facebook page BreathworksMK: Mindfulness Meditation and Counselling, I would like to share a couple examples of volunteer work that I have done in recent years and how they have benefitted me.

  • Inpatient Unit Assistant

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Now I know that working in a Hospice may not at first seem appealing, as they are often associated with death and dying. However in my experience a Hospice is a very positive place in which to be and in which to work.

I was first drawn into Hospice work after a family member with terminal cancer spent some time in a Hospice. I got to see first-hand how beautiful a Hospice setting is, how kind and compassionate the staff are and how peaceful a place like this can be when you are at the end-stage of a terminal illness.

I wanted to give something back and help to support the vital work that a Hospice does for both patients and their families.

Working on an In-Patient Unit such as the one at St Francis can involve many job tasks, a main part of the role being delivering food and drinks to patients and their family members, keeping the kitchen areas clean and tidy and restocking coffee and tea supplies!

One of my aspirations is to volunteer for the counselling service at a Hospice such as this one. I hope that my work on the Inpatient Unit if the first step towards achieving this.

 

  • Cruse Bereavement Care

Another volunteer position that I’ve had a really positive experience with is volunteering for Cruse Bereavement Care as a Bereavement Support Volunteer.

After completing the Awareness in Bereavement training with Cruse, I have worked with around 15 clients to date, all of whom have experienced bereavement, or a loss of some kind. Clients are offered up to six one hour sessions in the branch of Cruse where I work, as an opportunity to talk about the bereavement, or losses that they have experienced with a trained volunteer.

I find this work extremely rewarding and have received tremendous support in my work from my Supervisor and Manager at Cruse. The change in clients that you can witness in a relatively short period of time always amazes me and is a real privilege to be a part of 🙂

 

Some sources of further information:

 

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On this website you can type in where you live in the search function and it brings up a number of local volunteer vacancies.

 

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Here is a bit more information about the Hospice of St Francis:

The Hospice of St Francis provides free care and support when it matters most to over 2,000 people every year.

We do everything possible to help people living with a progressive, or life-limiting condition to live their life well and on their own terms, especially when times are tough. We also support families, carers and children affected by the illness of a loved one.

We have five volunteers to every paid member of staff and incredible supporters who help us raise over £5 million each year. We simply couldn’t provide our life-enriching, free care, without their dedication and commitment.

Here is a current list of volunteer vacancies at St Francis Hospice: http://www.stfrancis.org.uk/support-us/volunteer/volunteer-opportunities

 

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TimeBank is a national volunteering charity, started in 2000.

They recruit and train volunteers to deliver mentoring projects to tackle complex social problems. They also work with businesses to engage their staff in volunteering.

TimeBank believe that great volunteering can transform the lives of both volunteers and beneficiaries by building stronger, happier and more inclusive communities.

 

 

I hope that this blog has been useful if you have been considering volunteering. If you have any questions please don’t hesitate to get in contact.

Until next time,

 

Warm wishes,

Mary 🙂

Working creatively with anxiety CPD

I had the fantastic opportunity to attend a CPD with Nettie at Challenging-Behaviour Counselling Services in Dunstable on Saturday 17th March.

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As a trainee counsellor one of my interests is working creatively with some of the issues that clients bring to sessions. The CPD’s offered at Challenging-Behaviour are a good mix of psycho-education and creative exercises. Creative exercises that you can complete for yourself as an individual and then you can take these ideas away with you and apply them to client work.

One of the key ideas that I took from the day was asking the client to draw on an outline of a body whereabouts on the body they would normally notice symptoms of anxiety:

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Now for some people this might be really challenging to identify what exactly is anxiety and what the signs of anxiety might be in their body. Some examples that I might put could include shaky legs, pounding heart, or a tight chest. You could draw pictures on your gingerbread man, use different colours and of course use different words.

Anxiety for other people might also include increased physical pain, muscle tension, light-headedness, headache. A feeling of nausea, or butterflies in the tummy etc….  This is where this exercise is useful, as the client can begin to recognise their unique experience of anxiety.

Strategies for coping with anxiety: 

Once symptoms of anxiety arise, what can help?

Grounding yourself in the present moment can be helpful here. So looking around you, what can you see? What can you hear? What can you feel? Whether that be feeling your feet in contact with the floor, the touch of clothes on your skin, or having something soft and tactile to hold, for example a cuddly toy, stress ball etc…

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Using the senses of your body as a means of checking out that you are safe in the here-and-now. As anxiety can often lead to a spiral of negative thoughts, castastrophising, or even a sense of impending doom. Using your body senses might be a useful means of reducing anxiety responses and reactions in the body before it gets to this stage.

Another useful immediate technique could be some simple breathing exercises. At it’s simplest it could be slowly breathing in for a count of 3 or 4 and then trying to double the out breath. I find that doing this technique for three to four breaths before returning to a normal breathing pattern, relaxes my body and I start to feel calmer.

Another breathing technique is 4, 7, 8 breathing as detailed on this webpage: https://www.smallfootprintfamily.com/4-7-8-breathing-stress-relief-techniques.

A similar idea with using breathing to calm down the nervous system. This time you breath in for 4, hold your breath for 7 counts and then breathe out for 8.

Maybe try both techniques and see which one works best for you.

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Don’t Feed the Worry Bug

One of the ideas we looked at was a storybook app called “Don’t Feed the Worry Bug”, shown here on a You Tube video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x8aA-MQbT5A

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Although this app is for children, I think some adults (including myself) will be very taken with this app. It is about a character called Wince, who feeds his worry bug with his anxieties until it becomes huge. On the app you can record your worries on there and then feed it to the bug who then eats them for you!!

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I’d be really interested to hear from you, what you think about anxiety and maybe what strategies have worked for you when managing anxiety. Please get in touch.

 

Warm wishes,

Mary

How do you manage your chronic health condition at work?

Good afternoon,

I hope you have all had a good week, I know for many this will have been the first week back to work after the Christmas and New Year break.

It’s been a busy week for me, with a return to client work and starting a new job! This was me on my first day:

 

I am really interested in this blog post to discuss how it is managing a chronic health condition, whether that be chronic pain, or other health condition such as MS, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, stress, depression…and either managing the requirements of your current job, or getting back into work if your condition has meant that you haven’t been able to sustain a job, or find work.

My own personal experience covers all of the above! 

In the past having to leave what I thought was my chosen and destined career path within the NHS, due to developing chronic pain and other personal circumstances at that time.

Then having a number of physically demanding jobs that would contribute to the boom and bust cycle that I discussed in an earlier blog, meaning that I spent a lot of time in the bust part of the cycle. In pain and unhappy.

Then struggling to find a job that suits my ultimate career aspirations whilst not escalating my pain levels.

It can be a long journey to finding your ultimate job, or choice of career that suits the best management of your health condition and gives you the job satisfaction and personal fulfillment that ultimately we all want.

In my experience not working can lead to social isolation, loss of self-esteem and confidence, leading to a worsening of the health-condition anyway. So finding the right job can be life changing – boosting self-confidence through interacting with co-workers and customers, having a sense of purpose and something to focus on in life other than the pain (or other distressing symptoms that you may have).

Ultimately the right job can boost the self-management of your health condition, as there is a real link between mental health and physical health.

What job might you want?

This is a really challenging one, especially if like a lot of people you may have found yourself following a career path that ultimately pays the bills, but isn’t 100% what you want to do, leaving you feeling stuck and unsatisfied.

How could you find a job that you want, or a new career path?:

Vision boards:

 

 

Here are a couple of really useful article as a starting point to what vision boards are about and how to make one:

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-rider/the-scientific-reason-why_b_6392274.htmlu

https://www.wikihow.com/Make-a-Vision-Board

 

Similar to the self-care wheel that I discussed in my last blog. You could create a vision board to work on one particular area of your life, in this case your career aspirations. Or you could create a number of vision boards to cover lots of different areas of your life that you would like to develop.

Then dream big! Write words associated with your dream job, find pictures, quotes, objects that are associated with thoughts and feelings to do with this dream job. Put the vision board up on the wall and keep looking at it and working on it.

Then when you are happy with the vision board, you might then want to talk through the ideas that have come up with a trusted friend, or relative. A life coach, or counsellor could be useful here too, to gain clarity and see what steps you could take in the future to start to build experience and work towards the dream you have identified.

I will use counselling as an example.

If you decided you might want to become a counsellor in the future but wasn’t 100% sure that this was the right path for you, or you didn’t have any experience of a job role like this. You might start by investing in a short course that you could do that would give you a flavour of what was involved in counselling. I know many colleges offer a counselling introduction course that is typically around 10 weeks long and could be offered as a day time, or evening course. By doing this course you wouldn’t have to invest too much time, or money, but you would get a good idea of what was involved and good experience that could assist you in your next steps (further study, or getting a care-related job role).

Free online courses that you could explore are available at:

1. Open Learn: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/

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Free modules on various subjects from the Open University.

2. Future Learn: https://www.futurelearn.com/

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Free modules on a range of subjects from various Universities.

Along with a short education course you may decide to explore volunteer work that could give you a flavour of what it is like to work as a helper in a helping capacity.

Two related volunteer roles that I had at the start of my counselling journey was as an Assistant in the Inpatient Unit of a local Hospice, delivering teas, coffees and meals to patients and their visitors and I also worked as a Welcomer/ Receptionist at a local counselling agency, welcoming clients to their appointments, answering the phone and taking cash and card payments for appointments. Both related to counselling and both roles requiring a commitment of a couple of hours per week.

 

How to manage chronic pain at work?

In my experience there are a number of strategies that can be useful to managing chronic pain, so that you can perform effectively whilst at work.

I will share a few of the best ones that have worked for me. I would welcome any suggestions of things that have worked for you in the comments. Let’s get a discussion going and see if we can help each other.

  1. Self care

    Self care here can include making sure that you take your medication on a regular basis. Ensure that you adequate food and fluid intake throughout the day. Try to get adequate sleep every night, or if you have broken sleep that can often occur with chronic pain, maybe include a nap in the day. All of these simple self care activities can help you to ensure that you can maintain your energy levels and your concentration throughout the day.

 

  • Regular appointment with a counsellor
    In my experience a regular appointment with a therapist can be revolutionary in chronic pain management. Enabling you to ‘get things off your chest’ and to reduce stress levels. Put simply, stress can lead to increased physical tension in the body and this tension can increase pain levels.

 

  • Physical exercise, stretch breaks.
    I know that physical exercise can be extremely difficult if you have chronic pain, or any other chronic illness. But in my experience regular physical exercise and keeping the body moving can be very beneficial to pain management. This could be something as simple as going for a short walk in your lunch break, or getting up at regular intervals from your desk (maybe once an hour) to stretch and walk around for a couple of minutes to minimise stiffness and pain from prolonged sitting.For me yoga is extremely helpful to maintaining strength and flexibility. I would recommend that it’s helpful to discuss your physical conditions with the teacher before the class, so that they can offer you modifications to the moves in the class if required. Hopefully it will help you to feel more comfortable in taking breaks during the class as well, if your teacher is aware that you may need to do this.

 

  • Meditation/ pacing.

 

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This one goes without saying. I am a huge advocate for a regular meditation practice (even 10 minutes per day) and pacing of daily activities, so that you can sustain your activities without getting into bust mode and having a pain flare, that means you can’t do anything!

I hope these ideas have been a useful starting point to your reflections. Any questions please don’t hesitate to get in contact with me.

 

Warm wishes,

Mary