31 August 2020

Free health program helps Jess get back on track

| Edwina Mason
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Jess Buffier and Tracey O'Leary

Jess Buffier, of Broulee, pictured here with her mum Tracey O’Leary, is amazed by the Pa2Health program and how it turned her life around in four short weeks. So much so she’s signing up for the free online wellness program again. Photo: Supplied.

A young Broulee mum is emerging from winter full of vigour and vim thanks to an online wellness program being offered free of charge to drought and bushfire-affected residents of the Riverina and South East NSW.

It was a Facebook post that caught Jess Buffier’s eye in May, at a time when she was feeling particularly negative.

She – like others in the Broulee community – had faced off against bushfires all summer. Bushfires that reached the end of her street.

Highly stressed, on medication to battle smoke-induced asthma, and then confronted by COVID-19 restrictions, Jess found the overwhelming freight train of events had conspired to mentally derail her.

“I wasn’t great,” she said. “I was dealing with anxiety, low self esteem, I had shut myself off a bit and was waiting to speak to a psychologist for support.”

In May, About Regional highlighted the work being done by Pa2Health in the coastal and Snowy Mountains regions of southern NSW to help residents get physically and mentally back on track.

READ ALSO Mobile wellbeing program for Snowy Valleys residents

The four-week program was just the tonic for Jess.

“It helped me move out of a very negative headspace,” she said. “It lightened my mental load and forced me to prioritise myself.

“I started moving more and felt like a better mum to my kids.”

Like others before her, Jess is starting the program again this intake because she feels there is more to learn and so many more resources to use. This time she’s bringing a friend.

“I told my best friend about it and she’s signing up with me this time,” Jess said.

Only weeks remain for anyone in the Murrumbidgee and South Eastern NSW Public Health Networks to join the next round of Pa2Health.

The online program offers people in the two drought and fire-affected NSW health districts the opportunity, tools and support to focus on themselves.

It combines evidence-based psychology, healthy eating, exercise plus stress and sleep management and is presented by a panel of experts including author Judy Davie. The other three experts are Narelle Hunter (mindfulness), Alice Fitzpatrick (psychology) and Ed Stevens (technology).

Included are guided relaxation practices, meal ideas, exercise programs for all ages and levels of fitness plus daily SMS support messages which link through to content on a chatbot.

Also built into the program is an assessment process where participants are – at the beginning and end – asked about their current levels of stress, anxiety and physical lifestyle behaviours.

Team psychologist Alice Fitzpatrick works with the University of NSW to analyse the data and what is being revealed to date is astonishing, according to Ms Davie.

“There is a statistically significant drop in levels of stress and anxiety with improved lifestyle behaviours such as increased activity, increased consumption of fresh food and decreased consumption of junk food in most participants,” she said.

She said the winter program was a huge success.

“Despite not filling all the places, the many people who did sign up benefited,” she said.

“We encouraged them to care for themselves and do as much as they felt they could do and the general consensus was they really liked the approach.”

Many members took an all-in approach to the food, exercise and stress management program, while others focused on one area.

“There’s no pressure to try and do everything that’s available and it allows them to come back and refocus in another area if they feel they can do more this next time around,” Ms Davie said.

She says the spring program incorporates new recipes and some modified exercise challenges with similar mindfulness practices.

“Spring is always a great time to start new self-care regimes,” she said, “nature almost calls us to it; we have more energy, the days are longer and – I think – it’s a season of great optimism.”

The normally subscription-only program has been made possible through ongoing federal Primary Health Network community grant funding.

The free four-week wellbeing program starts on September 7 in both regions.

Sign up for the program is via the pa2health.com website.

“Honestly – if you are feeling dull or are in a rut, why not give it a go,” Ms Davie said. “There’s no reason not to.”

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