To mark the Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat on 20th–21st January, Maccabi joined forces with Jami, once again, to hold its “One Minute for Mental Health” – an initiative to delay every league football match that same weekend to promote mental health through sport and encourage football players, managers and supporters to think about their own wellbeing and that of those around them. And, for the fourth year running, the message proved as impactful as in previous years. But why do physical activity events like this one provide the perfect opportunity to consider our mental health too? Jami’s fitness co-ordinator, Tracy Jacobs, believes she has the answer.
“When it comes to mental wellbeing, I think we should be focusing on our body as a whole. We shouldn’t be thinking about our physical and mental health separately. You simply can’t isolate the two because we are one being. And exercise is part of self-care, which is all about our mental health as well,” explains Tracy, who has worked for Jami for more than 10 years.
“Implementing self-care is so important for everyone,” she adds. “Our body is a vessel and we need to use it properly. We should all be focusing on body maintenance, which is about eating and sleeping well, and breathing correctly. We need to understand where we hold our stress, and where our strengths and weaknesses lie. For some people it’s in their stomach; for others, in their back. It’s important to know ourselves and use what we have to the best of our ability. We should be using effective movement to increase our energy levels without exerting ourselves too much.
Why moving our bodies is so important
“Our bodies were designed to move,” she explains. “We know that when we exercise, our body releases endorphins – known as happy hormones. When we stretch and stand up tall, we feel better. Exercise lifts our mood, improves our energy levels and makes us feel more positive, which improves our confidence and self-esteem. Exercise is empowering. It’s universal. And anyone can do it.”
And Tracy has proved this through her weekly sessions with many of Jami’s service users, although a change to the times we live in and our approach to treating mental illness and distress has seen her exercise classes evolve over the past decade. She says: “When I first started, I did a lot more old-fashioned style exercise groups at Jami’s day centres. Back then, there was a mentality in mental health support to get everyone up and doing things, and people were cajoled to get involved. It was all very institutionalised.”
Jami’s online exercise classes
However, when Covid hit in March 2020 and the whole country went into lockdown, big change happened, according to Tracy. “We very quickly developed a fantastic online programme, giving each client their own tablet so that they could participate. As part of this programme, we held an exercise session three times a week, but it proved so popular that we extended it to every weekday morning. About 15–20 people would attend each time. One lady said that it made her whole day.
“At the start of the session, we would all have a chat,” says Tracy. “It was really lovely. We’d then do some exercise, using everything from tennis balls to tins of beans to get our bodies moving. It was so much fun. And doing it on Zoom worked really well because I could see people and make sure that everyone was doing the exercises safely.” More importantly, however, these online sessions provided real connection between people already affected by isolation and loneliness because of their mental illness, at a time when they couldn’t see friends and family. And, according to Tracy, it was a total success.
Providing individualised sessions
This positive format for exercise sessions, which emerged as a result of Covid, has continued post-pandemic, but with one important difference. The sessions are still online but they are now delivered one to one. “This means I can tailor-make them for each individual,” explains Tracy. “They can be five or forty-five minutes long and my clients can even do them in their PJs if they want.”
Tracy supports up to 15 people each week. While one service user may want two to three sessions in any one week, another may request one every fortnight. “Sometimes I’ll see someone regularly for a while and then they’ll disappear for a bit. People come and go, but they know I’m always here if they want me,” says Tracy.
Treating the whole person
Her sessions have also become more holistic. “Through these one-to-ones, my clients are able to get a personalised, private and confidential session each time. I adapt them according to what they want and need. But, most importantly, there’s a real element of connection during these periods,” explains Tracy. “I have built up a relationship with each person, so it’s much more than just an exercise class. I’m not talking at someone, but with someone. It’s a very personal thing that we share.”
During the exercises, Tracy talks about whole health – including diet, sleep and the importance of drinking water – and about self-care. She says: “I may be encouraging someone to take a shower, get dressed or make their bed while we’re doing our stretches. I have one client who needs encouragement to eat. If our session is at 10am, I will ask them whether they have eaten their breakfast yet and remind them to take their medication. One lady I see visits her parents every Friday, so I always encourage her to walk there instead of taking the bus.”
Getting people moving in all ways
Understanding the needs of her clients and delivering a session that will best benefit them is very important to Tracy. She focuses on everything from yoga, t’ai chi, pilates and posture to exercises with weights, exercise bands or to music. “I have one client who does weights as he wants to develop his upper body so that he feels more comfortable when he goes swimming,” she says. “Many of the clients I see are learning to self-regulate – in other words, to do exercises on their own without me – and that’s very empowering for them.”
And Tracy is certainly seeing the benefits of her sessions to her clients’ physical and mental wellbeing. “The other day I had a session with a lady who I’ve been working with for five to six years now. She’s been ill and I have been helping her to build up her strength. We did a 30-minute session of cardio exercises, which I tailor-made just for her. And she has just started going walking with her husband, which she wasn’t able to do until now because she didn’t have the strength, stamina or confidence.”
But for Tracy, it’s all in a day’s work. “Nowadays, my sessions are all about giving people choice and focusing on wellbeing and connection. They’re all about enabling my clients to function.” Hearing the passion in Tracy’s voice, it’s clear to see she wouldn’t want it any other way.
If you need support or are supporting someone who needs help, visit jamiuk.org/get-support/ or contact 020 8458 2223.