Smiling through the new winter of discontent

This winter we are facing strikes, soaring bills and freezing weather. It can all feel overwhelming and difficult, but there are ways to manage your feelings through difficult times like this.

“Now is the winter of our discontent.” It’s a line penned by Shakespeare, but for many it brings back thoughts of soaring costs, severe weather, rife strike action and talk show guests telling you how to turn everyday items into insulation. That was all more than 40 years ago, yet it’s incredibly familiar to those with much shorter memories as the winter of 2022 looks more and more similar to that of the late 1970s.

Analysis from the BBC’s Ros Atkins puts today’s issues down to the war in Ukraine, climate change, supply chain issues, labour shortages, taxation changes and increased post-pandemic demand – to name but a few.

These are global issues but, as Atkins says, “what is global in nature, is personal in its consequences. 
Especially in winter.”

In the 1970s a certain day was labelled ‘Misery Monday.’ Today then it’s unsurprising that all of these pressures, scary headlines and extra concerns can take their toll on our mental health and wellbeing.

A report in March 2022 from foodbank provider The Trussell Trust found that “many people are already experiencing negative mental health impacts as a result of struggling to make ends meet, and anticipate that the rising cost of living will only make this worse.”

Helen Ellerington, psychological wellbeing practitioner at Sheffield Health and Social Care’s (SHSC) Improving Access 
to Psychological Therapies service, says this is completely understandable.

“You only have to have conversations with people you know and how quickly does the conversation come round to either the rising cost of food prices or fuel prices or mortgage rates,” she says.

“I think so many people are feeling the impact of what is going on and I think a lot of people are affected in that. They’re feeling more anxious, more stressed and more worried.”

You might notice you’re more tense than usual in your shoulders and back. You could have headaches, an increased heartrate and shortness of breath, feeling shaky and irritable and struggling with your sleep. You may also find that your thoughts are a lot more negative, jumping to the worst case scenario – maybe catastrophising about struggling to pay bills or even being kicked out of your home. Ultimately, you might not be enjoying the things that you like to do as much anymore.

This might all seem really difficult, but Helen says there are actually some simple steps we can take within our control to make ourselves feel better.

She says: “The first thing that I’d always say is, because what we’re going through is affecting so many people, talk to the people around you. It’s really helpful actually just to acknowledge how you’re feeling and there’s something really powerful in sharing that and then actually hearing someone else say, ‘do you know what I feel really similar’.”

Helen suggests taking a step back and working out what is in your power to do and what practical steps you can take.
“It might be that you are able to contact an energy provider, for example. It might be just thinking about being a little bit more structured with budgeting. Everything feels out of control, but actually are there some simple steps that you can take to access some practical support?” Helen asks.

Routine helps too, including the things you  do for fun. It might be that you need to get creative with some of those. Consider swapping the gym for Saturday Parkruns, or heading round to a mate’s house instead of meeting out somewhere else.

And remember the power of fresh air, activity and good sleep.

Helen says: “Light movement - I think that helps us to process things. Take a few deep breaths. If you’re feeling anxious, everything speeds up. If we can do things like breathing exercises, it slows down those processes.

“And also having a good routine around sleep, putting our devices down an hour before bed, maybe reading, doing something more relaxing. All of those things are just going to help to build resilience within the context that we’re living in at the moment.”

Of course, in this overwhelming world, trying to make changes to your own life can feel like an extra burden. Helen advises to do these gradually and be kind to yourself in the process.

“As a starting point think, ‘okay, what is one thing can I do today?’ And then once you start to build that in, build that in for a while, that then becomes a habit. ‘Okay, what else can I add into my routine?’ It might be just those really simple things day-to-day, but just build up really gradually.

“There will be days that feel easier than others and that’s okay. But just always try and come back to what it is you do that you know is helpful for yourself.”

When things are hard, the world can feel lonely and scary. But this is one situation where we are all in this together, whatever our individual circumstances. We’ve been here before and we’ve come through difficult periods. So take the time to try these simple steps to help yourself, and those around you. Even if the mercury drops below zero, we can feel like glorious summer by the sun inside ourselves.

"We’re not classed as care, but it is care"

When we think of heroes our minds are drawn to batlights in the night’s sky, quick changes in telephone boxes and, even more recently, scrubs and supermarket uniforms. But when we take a look around we quickly realise there are so many more out there.

Kathryn Hull and Sue Gower, Senior Housekeepers on the Stanage and  Dovedale 2 wards at SHSC, along with all of their housekeeping colleagues, work like absolute trains – many for more than 20 years. It’s a 5am alarm for Sue, who starts at 6.30am with a spot of toast on the ward. There follows an array of tasks – providing breakfast, lunch and dinner, cleaning, mopping and tidying in between, doing orders and receiving deliveries. It sounds like a mammoth job just on the face of it, but dig a little deeper and it’s so much more than that.

That’s because every person served their meals, every item of food ordered, every area cleaned, is all done in the name of service user care.

There was the misguided foray into vegan sandwich spread, those who like to have hot sauce on everything, the birthday buffets, the willingness to stay late if needed, the balance of the dietician’s menu and the day to day desires of people staying on the ward. “Real life has a bar of chocolate here and there,” as Kathryn says.

“We don’t go against the dietician and we don’t go against the service user. We sort of meet somewhere in the middle. You know, so everybody’s happy,” Sue adds.

And Kathryn asks: “Does an army march on its stomach?” Yes it does. So they make sure staff get plenty of food too.
What makes a good housekeeper then? Kathryn puts it mildly: “We feed them. We keep the rooms clean. And we listen.”

The recipe we observed is one part cleaner, one dollop of banter and one dose of compassion. However you phrase it, the result is the same – the beating heart of the ward.

The proof is in the pudding, or at least the chocolates they’re frequently given when somebody leaves the ward as a thank you for the care they provided.

No, housekeepers aren’t classed as carers, but they could be.

Kathryn, ever modest, eventually and reluctantly agrees: “We’re not classed as care, but it is care. You’ve got to have your empathy and want people to get better and get back on that road.”

Next time you have the chance, why not stop and chat as you cross paths with somebody working a job like housekeeping? We could all use the uplifting sensation you get when you realise that heroes are everywhere around us that we choose to look. And on this occasion they don’t wear capes, they wear PPE aprons.

Uni life won’t be first class all the time, but there will always be help when it gets hard - discuss

Living as a student, heading off to pastures new and all that university life brings - it can be a thrilling and feverous time in your life, but it can also be filled with difficult moments. How can we handle them? The Sheffield IAPT team tells us more.

In a far off board room in some glass panelled tower, economists are still trying to understand the annual spike in sales of Andy Warhol posters and Joy Division t-shirts, while September is said to be the worst month on record for the abuse of washing machines by unfamiliar users.

In a city such as Sheffield the answer is clear - students.

It’s estimated that there are more than 30,000 undergraduates and postgraduates studying in the city and anyone who has passed either of the two main campuses will have seen the local population swell significantly since the start of the academic term.

That’s a lot of people who are predominantly young (around three-quarters of adults with a mental illness have their first episode before turning 25 according to the mental health charity, Mind) and who are potentially away from home and experiencing a new city (and possibly country) for the first time.

For many that’s an incredibly positive experience. But with the change can come anxiety and worry. 

Suddenly the dream of freedom turns into a lonely existence – what was once taken for granted can no longer be relied upon and then exams and study pressures quickly hit home.

The days of free pizza and poster sales of arty depictions of tomato soup and bananas at a packed Freshers Fair quickly become a dim and distant memory.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that in research referenced on Mind’s website, one in five students has a diagnosed mental health problem.

And that’s where Sheffield IAPT is helping.

The IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) team has developed a specific set of sessions to help students learn techniques to improve the way they feel and understand why they feel the way they do.

The sessions were first introduced in 2021 and the team has engaged with students from across both universities.
IAPT Team Leader and Psychological Wellbeing Practitioner Helen Ellerington is expertly placed to understand the needs of students and how IAPT can help.

Helen studied at the University of Sheffield and now teaches there two days a week alongside her work for IAPT.

“The importance of the mental health of students cannot and should not be underestimated,” said Helen.

“If the research shows that one in five has a diagnosed mental health problem then that could suggest there are more people suffering who haven’t felt able to come forward or don’t recognise what’s happening to them.

“Letting students know that we are here, we are available to help and we are free is very important.

“We therefore made a point of going to the both Freshers Fairs, introducing ourselves and talking to students about who we are, what we do and how we can help.

“Even those students who just came for some free goodies will now know our name for future and how to reach out to us.”

When asked if she had any specific advice for students, Helen said: “Although student life may seem exciting and daunting in equal measure you should always remember you are not alone. There is always someone on hand to provide support. IAPT is just a click away.”

For more information about the help available:

  • Visit
  • Call 0114 226 4380
  • Facebook shscft
  • Twitter @SHSCFT

Got flex appeal?

Is flexible working our chance to balance a fulfilling career and family life?

My partner has a new job. I should be over the moon. Outwardly I am super excited and thrilled for them about this new adventure they will be starting. They are ambitious and this is a significant career move.

On the inside I am worried. I do most of the care for our small children. I flex my work as much as is reasonable around after school clubs, breakfast club and extracurricular activities. I have a sense of dread that the new job will mean there is less flexibility for my partner, and they will need to spend at least six months proving to their new employer that they are competent in the role and are trustworthy enough to flex for school pick-ups and attending the odd sports assembly. 

I tell myself I am lucky because my children are primary school aged and can at least put their own socks on. What if we both had demanding jobs and babies? The fact remains, I will be taking on more of the childcare whilst also trying to work. 

This new situation has prompted me to think, is flexible working really all it’s cracked up to be and what is the impact of it on our mental health? I embarked on a journey to understand what other flexible workers think.

Firstly, I wanted to define flexible working. It is a term used loads by employers very broadly to cover a range of working patterns outside the standard 9am-5pm and different to your existing one. So it may include part time work, working compressed hours, working remotely or at home or job sharing, to name a few examples. 

Cathy Sinclair is Co-Director of Student Recruitment and Admissions at Sheffield Hallam University. She has a job share. She said: “We job share the role, working three days a week each. There are different models of job sharing, we felt the ‘hybrid’ model suited our role best – this means we share most elements of the role, but each have lead areas within it. The ability to job share means we are both able to balance work with energy and time with our young children. We feel this makes us more effective at work and home. The University gets two sets of skills, experiences and energies applied to what is a large and challenging role.”

She mused that job sharing is a different way of working: “We had to spend time agreeing when and how we would review how it was working, both from our point of view and our manager, team and stakeholders.” Cathy said that she and Carol apply the same values to their work, and they trust and back each other up.  For Cathy and Carol, flexible working really works. There are so many benefits for them, their teams at work and their families.

Holly Cubitt is chair of the women’s staff network and head of communications at SHSC. She said: “I feel strongly that flexible working is something that everyone is entitled to, but we do find that it is still an issue for women the majority of the time. Often they have had maternity leave and they have had to apply for flexible working to accommodate caring for their children or they need to change their working patterns to care for an elderly relative. Women talk to me all the time about the huge ‘mental load’. Perhaps the ability to work flexibly contributes towards this, it means we take on more?

“The mental load is the price we pay for trying to do everything.”

So maybe flexible working comes with a few downsides for some people.

As the first day nerves loom for my partner, I feel my to do list is about to get longer. Flexible working is one tool I’ll be using to help me through this new life challenge and keep some balance. I’ll be looking to others for inspiration.