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Coaching you back on track

Coaching you back on track

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A new program free for small business owners provides confidential coaching support delivered by Richmond Fellowship Queensland on behalf of Beyond Blue.

Anne-Maree Brown

General Manager of Content

TRIGGER WARNING: This article involves discussion on mental health and suicide. It may be difficult reading this story, especially if you’ve had similar experiences or supported a friend or family member. If you’re feeling impacted, contact Beyond Blue for immediate support, Lifeline on 13 11 14, Headspace, or your local GP for support.

The participant: Arlene’s story

Holidays, we all need them. Some would say they’re essential for lowering stress levels, kickstarting your outlook on life or building memories with loved ones. And for an increasing number of Australians, cruising the world on ocean liners has been the go-to break. It’s so popular in fact that one in 17 Australians has taken to the seas – about six per cent of our population. 

If you could summarise Arlene Mack’s relationship with the cruise industry, it too would be a story of numbers. With 28 years’ experience in the industry, she has personally been on 64 cruises, and has navigated 12 years as managing director of Cruise Focus.

But there is one set of numbers she recalls very clearly and with less joy. The calendar date 14 – 02 – 2020 is a day when Arlene realised that COVID-19 was going to be an enormous issue as the first wave of cancellations came through from cruise lines. A situation confirmed a month or so later as the Australian Government closed the borders and enacted the Bio-Security Act.

Arlene Mack has always had a passion for travel 
Arlene enjoying a holiday in France

'If I could explain how the whole thing played out, I would consider it “soul destroying”’, Arlene remarks. ‘I started Cruise Focus because I love to see how much joy cruise holidays bring people. It’s one of the true times in your life you can really let go, relax and not worry about the day-to-day.’

When the reports and rumours started about the spreading international threat of Coronavirus, Arlene, like many Australians, thought the implications would be short lived and would only affect a few of her clients. As we now know, that was not the case. None of us could have foreshadowed the following 24 months.

The series of tidal waves came, and it was unrelenting. There was a constant flurry of cancellations, re-bookings and re-checking refunds, and myriad calls and emails from concerned holidaymakers. ‘A lot of my clients are older and were confused and upset,’ she says. ‘They had a lot of trust and faith in me, and I really tried to give them the best of myself in a constantly changing and challenging situation. But it never seemed to ease up.’ 

Before long, Arlene’s wellbeing plummeted. She went from someone who took care of her diet, exercised and shared her worries with others to failing to prioritise her care and withdrawing into herself.

Exploring Angkor, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Arlene in France

Fortunately, a cruise industry colleague shared the Beyond Blue NewAccess for Small Business Owners (NASBO) program with her, and it was the light bulb moment she needed to step forward and ask for help.

‘What really struck me was that it was run specifically for small business owners, or sole traders like myself, and the coaches have the same background,’ she says. ‘I felt my coach Lawrence really knew how lonely and all-encompassing that can be.’

While nervous at first, Arlene felt reassured by the flexibility and confidentiality of the free six-session program. Especially when it uncovered what was making her anxious or worried, and then identified what she could do to address her concerns – almost like an action plan.

‘We started with an initial [assessment] appointment and then they developed a program based around what I personally needed,’ she says.

Upon asking how the process ‘felt’, Arlene admits: ‘I had to really take stock of the fact that pushing on and keeping worries to myself wasn’t helpful to me, and in a way [it wasn’t helpful either to] my clients and the people that care about me.’ 

Visiting Petra, Jordan
Arlene with her brother at the Victorian snowfields

She adds that she also had to take accountability for her thoughts and actions. ‘By setting myself tasks, I knew that I had to break some habits to change the way I not only behaved but thought. The internal, negative “self-talk” was a bigger issue than I realised.’

Now describing herself as ‘back to normal’, Arlene is confident to use the tools provided in the NASBO program in the future if she needs them. ‘I’d really like others to learn what I have, that no matter what challenges today has in store, things can, and will, have the capacity to change. Keeping a positive mindset and never giving up is so important,’ she says.

The coach: Mel’s story

Mel Forster knows all too well the pressures that being a small business owner can bring. Transitioning from the fitness industry to running her own business has meant she has experienced the ups and downs of going out on her own. It is why she has the perfect background to work as a coach with Beyond Blue’s NASBO program

‘Small business owners have a unique set of stresses and circumstances,’ she says. ‘So, it’s really powerful that this program has been designed with coaches familiar with where others like ourselves are coming from.’

As a coach, Mel’s interactions with small business owners who join NASBO starts with an initial assessment that is followed by working with participants to develop goals to achieve throughout the six-session program. Consultations are either over the phone or via video. 

‘We try to help work out what are the true drivers making them feel overwhelmed or anxious, then work on practical skills to help them manage stress and get them back to feeling like they are more in control,’ Mel says. ‘Is it one main concern, such as finances or staffing, or do we need to help them in prioritise what they can work on first?’

NASBO coaches undertake at least 12 months' training

‘We try to help work out what are the true drivers making them feel overwhelmed or anxious' 
Mel Forster, coach for Beyond Blue's NASBO program



Specifically, the program uses Low-intensity Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (LiCBT) that allows participants to recognise the way they think, act and feel to break unhelpful thoughts before they become all encompassing. This kind of therapeutical approach is about uncovering the participants’ ‘problem statement’, that is, narrowing down and understanding what their main problem at this point of time is, and then providing them practical tools and strategies they can use in their everyday life. 

Low intensity, Mel explains, is a deliberate method that is carefully moderated, accommodating a person’s breakthrough moments and the moments when they are struggling as well. ‘It’s a calm way to communicate and be non-threatening. We let them have the floor to talk through their week’s activities, their obstacles and what they learned,’ she explains.

To help with this process, participants are provided with a treatment booklet and a diary so they can easily share with their coach the triggers they may have experienced. What were their feelings? What were the thoughts that preoccupied them? And what were the behaviours and actions that resulted? 

‘It gives them space to get in touch with [the factors] that are contributing to their overwhelming anxiety or low mood,’ Mel says.

To ensure the NASBO coaches are appropriately equipped for these sessions, they undertake at least 12 months of training, including intensive and practical learning, and are then provided with ongoing clinical supervision. ‘We are always supported in managing our clients and their progress, and this includes specialist clinical supervisors,’ Mel explains.

People sometimes feel that they don’t want to burden others with their worries or that if they reveal them, they are letting everyone down
Mel Forster, Beyond Blue’s NASBO coach

According to Dr Grant Blashki, Beyond Blue Lead Clinical Adviser, what a lot of participants feel comforted in is that not only is the service confidential, but it can commence without needing to see a doctor for a referral.

Mel believes the program is an important service for small business owners. ‘There is a real loneliness factor that comes with running your own business, by yourself or with family, which can impact your personal relationships,’ she says. 

‘People sometimes feel that they don’t want to burden others with their worries or that if they reveal them, they are letting everyone down. 

‘When they discover they have an internal voice that drives their mood down it can be life changing. More importantly, when they realise, they can change the conversation – that’s when the real change occurs.’

Find out how Beyond Blue’s NewAccess for Small Business Owners can help you or someone you know.

Published on 2 December 2022

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