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Why reach out?

Life and work can be demanding in all sorts of different ways. When the pressure builds up it can feel impossible to find time to look after ourselves and the people around us.

A good analogy for emotional resilience is to think of it in terms of holding a bucket. The individual buckets we hold vary in size and overflow at different points unique to us. As they fill, there is only so much each of us can bear. 

We all have our own limits. Each stressful event fills the bucket a little more, and unless we find a way to empty it, the issues start to overflow. This can mean that we have reached a point where we feel we can no longer cope at all.

Another way to think of resilience is as a sliding scale, with distress at the farthest left hand side and strength at the farthest right.

  • Life at the distress end of the scale can be challenging. With little strength, it can be really difficult to face living, some people in this area may be considering suicide
  • A little further up the scale to the right, people may find themselves struggling to cope if they have gone through life events that have been draining. Without a chance to offload some of the challenges, there is a possibility they could slip further down the scale
  • An other step towards the right of the scale, just over half way, may be the point at which many of us find ourselves. We have sufficient strength to deal with the day to day challenges that life may throw at us
  • Life at the strength end of the scale can be exciting. We’ll be coping very well and often get elevated to this area when great things happen in our lives. We may not stay here for long, as being this happy and excited can, for some, be wearing
This image visually represents the sliding scale with the four points described

When people talk about what’s going on for them with someone who actively listens, it allows some of the load they’ve been bearing, or the distress they have been feeling, to drain away and they feel more able to cope again.

In this short video Lucia, Samaritans Senior Learning & Development Officer and an experienced listening volunteer, explains the benefit of offering support to others.

We know that by asking someone if they are okay and if they need support, it’s a really beneficial thing to do for both people. It’s sort of a two-way street if you like. You as the asker, you’re giving the person permission to talk about what’s going on, what’s troubling them. It’s almost like you’re giving them a release valve, a safety valve. And then for you, as the person who’s going to give the support, it can set your mind at rest. It can help you know that you’ve done a good thing, the right thing, and actually that you’ve been there for someone when they’ve needed it. When you reach out for some to someone, what you’re really trying to achieve is, is hopefully giving them some space to actually say what’s going on. You may have noticed their behaviours changed. They’re acting slightly differently. You may even just be acting on gut instincts. But the hope is that by actually asking a very simple question or just saying you’ve noticed things a little bit different, is everything okay? That actually they will feel safe enough to be able to open up and tell you what’s going on. It may be that nothing is, but they will not resent you having asked.

So when you’re listening to someone, key behaviours really are… eye contact. It’s important to show that you’re listening. And you can do that by nodding, perhaps smiling, depending on what they’re telling you. Regular eye contact. Try not to interrupt too much. Silence doesn’t always come naturally, but actually, often people want to pour things out. So the odd question here and there, but actually just sitting with them, being with them, showing that you’re listening, nodding your head. All of these little things add up to really active listening.

Starting a conversation with someone is always there’s always a certain amount of trepidation, I think. And I think that’s important to acknowledge. Sometimes we know the person. Other times we’re not going to know the person. For me, one of the simplest things I do is approach someone and say, are you okay? Noticed you seem a bit upset and perhaps offer a cup of coffee. Is there a space they want to go and sit in and talk about things? Lots of very small things that wouldn’t ever push someone if they didn’t want to. But it’s just a gentle, you know, how are you doing it? You don’t seem yourself or have noticed that you look a bit upset. Are you okay to need to talk?

I guess the objective really is for them to have a bit more clarity by the end of the conversation. Often people know what they need to do. But having the chance to talk about it. Having that space to say it out loud gives them the opportunity then to really make a decision that suits them. And that works for them going forward.

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