Where change starts

The theme of Stress Awareness Month is ‘community’. OT  considers the benefits of connection

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For a number of my teenage years, I could be found in the centre of our village on the Saturday before Easter, wearing fluffy rabbit ears and holding the answer sheet for the annual egg hunt – one of several strategically placed volunteers guiding families seeking out the trickier finds on the trail.

To engage the wider community, local businesses were invited to participate by displaying the numbered card eggs in their windows, or hidden amongst their front displays, for families to find and mark down on their sheets.

Despite the changeable weather that likes to make itself known in April, the lure of a small chocolate prize and hot drink at the end was enough to draw many families. The egg hunt, launched initially as a one-off, is still going now and was reinvented during the pandemic as a safe activity for families on their daily exercise.

I was fortunate to know a lot of my neighbours – the phrase: “I knew you when you were this high” is well known to me – and I was also engaged in local groups that made our village feel ever-more interconnected.

As mentioned in the blog last week, community and the High Street is something that OT has been particularly exploring in the April/May issue, and I have loved reading the stories of the various ways optometrists are engaging with their local areas. There is plenty more to come on this topic, so do take a look through your issue or keep an eye on our website.

You might have also seen OT’s Practice Team Guide: The perfect fit. Produced in partnership with Johnson & Johnson Vision and the AOP, the guide features several articles that highlight the different ways each member of the team can contribute to practice success.

Tips range from ways to make children feel welcome in practices, to harnessing social media communities, communication advice, and how to support patients with sight loss. Because while we each bring a set of skills and experiences to the table, putting them together can create so much more.

Having a team, or the sense of belonging or connection, is important for wellbeing too, with ‘Community’ chosen as the theme for this April’s Stress Awareness Month.

Sharing the theme, the organisation behind the awareness month, the Stress Management Society, highlighted the benefits of socialising – something that has been variable in the past two years of virtual-everything.

“Having the opportunity to laugh and chat with others in social situations serves to temporarily distract us from our worries by turning our focus outwards instead of inwards,” the organisation shared. “And being able to talk through problems and share our worries with others decreases our stress levels.”

Talking about the theme for the month, founder Neil Shah, discussed tackling stigma associated to mental health, and said of communities: “This is where change starts - whether that community is your family, your neighbourhood, your workplace, your country or a global community.

“We can become part of the solution by doing our bit to have uncomfortable conversations, by raising awareness of the issue, by lobbying for change, and by showing love, compassion and empathy to all.”

While Easter reminds me of those bunny-costumed times above, it also reminds me of the dread of exams.

In the run-up to our mock GCSEs, before I had quite worked out how to balance study with self-care, I pushed myself hard in revision and paid the price with a series of migraines.

I benefited from having my friends and family around me at the time. My parents taught me to balance revising with breaks, my younger siblings were always there to lighten the mood, and my friends were an encouragement – going through the stress of it all together. And when the migraines did come, everyone knew how to help.

Stress Awareness Month focuses on ways to manage stress and improve resilience, before it can have a detrimental effect on our health. With the month underway, why not take a look at some resources to consider the way you handle your own stress, or as an employer, understand how to create an open dialogue with colleagues?

For students facing exams this season, with many back in-person for the first time in two years, this can be a particularly tough time.

Whenever I ask for their tips on maintaining wellbeing, many students highlight the importance of communication, connection, and support. Whether reaching out to university officials, friends, or family, or continuing to attend societies and hobbies - having that opportunity to engage with others is vital.

Do keep connected and remember we’re all cheering you on.