Online Support and Groupwork, and tips for thriving in difficult times

In these difficult times, we all need to keep our connections with others, and offer and receive support, in a variety of ways. Groupwork in particular, can both offer support and allow those who think they have nothing to offer, play an important role in supporting others, boosting their sense of worth. There are many folk among us who are vulnerable, alone, feel anxious or scared, be at risk of abuse, or have underlying health conditions, including ourselves. However, each and every one of us can contribute meaningfully by harvesting positive emotions, positive connexions and positive meaning, in order to help communities thrive during this pandemic. Seeing someone’s face is powerful so online apps are particularly useful. We don’t need to just stumble past this global, historical, extraordinary and sometimes frightening pandemic. We can learn from it, make the most of it, and make a difference, and all around us others want the same.

I’ve put together some ideas for working online to support people, particularly in groups, but some would fit 1:1 work, and maybe family/friend meet ups too 😊 Some lend themselves to delivering groups, others are good for peer support.

Online groupwork icebreaker ideas:

1. Ask all participants to name something they are looking forward to in the next week/fortnight/month. Make a note of all participants answers and the dates they are happening. Text them after the event to ask how it went. This exercise shows you are listening, care about the participants and adds a personal touch.

2. Highs, lows, gratitudes. (Each participant in turn names one of each of these) The highs mean we can celebrate with each other, the lows mean we can support each other and the gratitudes ends on a positive note, and is a way to address feelings of hopelessness.

3. Ask each participant to look at the screen and choose someone in particular. They then have a half a minute to draw that person, without looking at their paper. Each participant shares their drawing, by holding it up to the screen, and asks the others to guess who it is. This is a quick, fun activity that could break down barriers and help participants relax and get used to the screen.

4. Ask each participant to write down three words to describe their day, or how they feel. They get a point if no one else has said their word. You can check in after the meeting if any participant seems overly worried or scared etc. This activity may help participants to share feelings and see they are not alone.

5. Use zoom interactively. Base this on using the share screen. You can share a PowerPoint presentation to show information on some pages, and then have blank pages where you could explore ideas interactively. You could have a theme in a central box and add text boxes as the participant/s explore the theme to add their ideas and thoughts (mind mapping). You could also have text boxes with ideas already stacked up on a page, then move them to different areas on that page (sorting ideas). You could have a line across the page, ask a question, such as ‘How connected do you feel with others during this period of social distancing?’ Then rate by adding a mark on a 1-10 scale. Perhaps could work like an interactive questionnaire? Thanks to Alison Chandler at Getaway Girls for these ideas.

  • Other advice for zoom meeting hosts that may, (or may not) be useful:
    • Make sure all participants know who is going to be joining the meeting prior to it starting.
    • Welcome each participant as they arrive and then tell the group how long the meeting/group will be and give a 5-minute warning before it is due to end.
    • Give time and opportunity for participants to contact you afterwards, 1:1 if they need a debrief.
    • Have planned but flexible schedule that doesn’t last too long. Zoom can get tiring huh?! Try to manage everyone having a turn to speak one at a time, perhaps by muting participants who are not speaking.

What’s app tips

Some may not be able to use zoom for a variety of reasons, and WhatsApp groups may be a tool people are more familiar with, making it easier to engage with. However, it’s important to understand the potential risks in terms of safeguarding and meaningful consent of all participants needs to be sought prior to arranging.

  • • Set up a WhatsApp group and welcome each person to it individually, as a way of introduction.
    • Set some ground rules if needed, such as keep the content relevant to the group, no random memes or pictures!
    • Encourage voice recordings, attachments and photo sharing to make it more interesting.
    • Set out different themes to discuss each week, that link with the current situation, or ones that are common interests of the participants

Other ideas to help ourselves and others thrive in trying times.

Let’s make physical distancing less socially isolating.

The Flourishing Triangle: Focus on positive emotions (pleasant feelings), positive connections (interactions with others that make us feel alive), and positive meanings (behaviours that have significance, value and worth to ourselves and others) But how? Here are some ideas to try for yourself or with others, particularly the women you support.

• Make online groups engaging. Fun (wear a silly hat?). Energetic (mute other participants at the end and put on an uplifting song to dance about to). Connected (greet each participant individually, with a personal check in). Meaningful, (lay out what achievement will be made and the difference that will make).

• Find a purpose. What’s the most important thing in your life. Reassess, as this is likely to change right now. A strong purpose makes us happier, healthier and more productive. You can check your screen saver on your phone to give you a clue of what’s meaningful to you: Family? Nature? Your pet? Build people around you that share your meaning.

• See yourself through the eyes of others. We all want to feel socially valued and appreciated. We all have positive blind spots (the way others see your best self, that you don’t see yourself.) Try looking through texts and emails from friends and colleagues who have sent thank yous, told you you’ve done well, or positive messages, and keep them in view. When you see yourself as a valued contributor, you’re more likely to share perspectives, function better and be an effective member of the team.

• Positive identities. Answer the following questions: How am I growing during this crisis time? What new skills am I learning? How am I getting stronger? How am I connecting well with others?

• Practice virtuous action, however small. Make care packages for those in need, send a letter, connect with your neighbours by picking them up something from the supermarket when you go, for example, or simple check ins with friends. Send a text every morning to someone, maybe someone you don’t normally connect with, to ask them how they are.

• Energy management. To thrive rather than survive or cope. Keep a sleep routine of 7 – 8 hours. Look after hydration /nutrition by sipping fresh water and cooking from scratch when you can. Movement. Schedule in your daily exercise or walk and practice movements often from your seat. Try rating your energy every day to see when you have peaks and dips.

• The Essential Connections. Connect to all these essential elements, for example, fill your space with pictures and writing that inspires you, make sure your routine includes a way of transitioning in and out of work. Your purpose is about the bigger reason you are doing what you are doing.

• Practice Gratitude. Identify what’s going well and express gratitude for it. Ideas could be to keep a gratitude journal, writing one thing you are grateful for every day. Maybe text a friend and tell them what about them you are grateful for. Write quick and simple positive thank you notes to post out.

• The Expanding Help Concept – Reciprocity. This is where someone helps someone else and the recipient helps back, or feels grateful and pays it forward, helping others too, reaching more and more folk. This builds a network of connections. People are willing to help but the problem is getting people to ask for what they need, as they think this makes them weak or incompetent, however, if you ask for help, you are the strongest link, and the one that will start the growth of the network and drive the concept. Practice asking for help, and remember that no act is too small

• Invisible Suffering. Just by interacting with others, asking questions, and picking up on small signals, we discover invisible suffering, that often goes unnoticed, and where we can make a big difference. If we are compassionate, then we are called towards it, rather than away from it. All we need to do is be present, not solve or fix the problem, and lean in!

• Strengths Library. Seeing strengths in others by observing them, naming the strength and sharing it with the person you see it in. To help you, you could build a strengths library, with your top 20 strengths.

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