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I have been running retreats for anxiety and depression for many years now and lots of beautiful souls come and join me on a journey of empowerment, self-care and techniques such as positive psychology, cognitive behaviour therapy, spirituality and mindfulness to support them after or during periods of anxiety and depression, or when recovering from addictions. 
In March 2020 I was due to run my second retreat of the year. It was to be in a lovely hotel in beautiful Buckinghamshire. We were all getting prepared - yoga teachers, facilitators, hotel staff and clients - to travel to the beautiful setting, which I know so well, with all its wonderful grounds and gardens, food, accommodation and spa facilities. 
As the date approached, I became increasingly aware of the pending lock down due to the coronavirus. After a few discussions with the hotel who were also holding on to the last minute to still run events, I decided, just before the government proposed lockdown to transfer my retreat to an online version. 
I spent a few days adjusting and tweaking the programme and quickly we had our first online retreat programme ready for release. 
Our first online retreat was such a success! Here’s just one testimonial from a participant: 
“This retreat was so much better than I thought - I worried that I wouldn't connect with people as much as in person and I'd feel too silly/shy but it really surprised me how well the whole thing went. It was a perfect mixture of sessions, interaction and then down time - I loved every moment of it and it went too quickly - I wanted it to continue for longer! Vanessa and Lorna were so good with all the communication and it flowed so naturally and I was able to get such strong connections with them and the other group members, maybe even more so than in person. There was something really powerful about connecting with people in this way online, especially at the moment when I've been craving that connection with others. Meeting strangers online and having such a connection with them has been such an amazing experience for me. I'm usually so shy in group situations and get really anxious so I think the online retreat was the perfect way to challenge that and it has only left me wanting more" Keeley March 2020 Online retreat 
Since then we have run several Anxiety and Depression Recovery Retreats online. 
How have online experiences helped me during lockdown? 
As a therapist my personal development and wellbeing is always so important for me. For this reason, I have attended some online retreats and workshops during the last couple of months. I recently attended an online 3-day programme there was almost a ‘feel’, like an atmosphere of connection in the room, it was wonderful. Meditation was part of the programme and I could listen to it while I was out in a field which was amazing being out in nature. The facilitator invited us all to give comments and also set us little exercises to do between each day which really supported my learning. There were celebrations of achievement and a real bonding in the group. 
I also recently had an amazing experience with an online dance workshop where at the end I was transferred into a room with complete strangers, now that was challenging but also absolutely wonderful in the fact that I was in a room with people from all over the world but with a similar interest to myself in emotional dance. There was one from New York, one from Czech Republic, one from Italy and one from Germany, we all spoke English, luckily, it was an awkward but amazing experience to be in a room all of a sudden with these wonderful people from all over the world. 
What does an online retreat or workshop provide? 
An online retreat provides everything that some of us are already doing but in one place. During lockdown many of us tuned into yoga sessions online, starting to learn meditation and connecting with support groups. An online retreat may provide all of these in one place with the same group of people. 
An online retreat is more convenient than one you have to travel to. You may have considered going on a retreat to an exotic place in the past but the thought of the travel, the whole hassle of the flight, getting from your destination to the retreat might have been too much for you. 
An online retreat or workshop may help you to get some vital support and therapy so you do not need to put this on hold. 
You may have responsibilities at home that you cannot leave. Loved ones you are caring for or you may just need to be available at home. While on an online retreat you can guarantee you will still be around when needed. There will always be breaks in the day and downtimes where you can tend to your responsibilities. 
You may have a health condition that prevents you from travelling. An online retreat is therefore perfect as you do not need to leave your home. 
How will I communicate on an online group? 
There are many different ways to communicate in an online retreat or workshop, you can private message or speak, sometimes there will be a hand raised option or you can simply wave or put up your hand on screen and then speak. You can put up emoticons for how you are feeling or send comments into the group publicly or privately to the facilitator. Sometimes, depending on the size of the group the microphones will be set to on so it will just be like being in a normal room and having a discussion with a group of people. 
What if I am not good with technology? 
Retreats will often be held on Zoom or other platforms that are easy to download. If needed you should ask the retreat facilitator to talk you through. It is very simple and once you are in there for a few minutes you will get used to it. Remember, other people will probably be feeling unsure about the technology as well as you. 
What if I have a busy life and will have other things to do? 
Most retreats and workshops will ask you to make time to be present throughout the experience, of course if you are investing in the course you will probably want to do this but if you want to listen in while you are doing something else, walking or cooking you can turn your camera and microphone off and just listen in. Make sure you let the facilitator know that this is what you will need to do, they may or may not allow you to but best to ask to avoid an uncomfortable situation. 
What questions do I need to ask before joining and online retreat? 
How long you will be online and how long the breaks will be? 
Will you be offline during the breaks? 
How many people will be in the group? 
If it is a large group, will you will be split off into smaller groups at any point? 
Are there any physical activities where will you need items such as yoga mats perhaps art or drawing materials? 
Where will any recordings or screen shots from the event be shared? 
Will there be opportunity to have ongoing sessions with the facilitators or therapists after the retreat if you find them to be helpful for you? 
Get to know your facilitator 
Make sure you get to know the facilitator of the retreat, check out their website, join their Facebook groups or follow them on Twitter or Instagram. Feel confident that you like the person who is going to be running the experience, so you already feel comfortable with them before you arrive and there is a familiar face in the group. 
Confidentiality and privacy 
Be certain to make sure you feel comfortable that your privacy and confidentiality will be respected or at least permission is taken for any screen shots or recordings shared outside of the group. 
Allow yourself to be out of your comfort zone 
Online experiences can be full of interesting and enlightening experiences. Try not to fear but just go with the flow and remember that you are always absolutely safe because you can literally turn off your computer and leave at any time. Allow yourself to go out of your comfort zone and take the ride. You will definitely have something to talk to your friends about. 
Be openminded 
Be openminded to the new experience, take a risk for your current mental health and wellbeing, putting it off until the lockdown restrictions are over could mean that you are putting off vital growth and development time. 
Give yourself the space free from distractions 
If possible, try to get the privacy you need to completely focus on the online retreat when sessions are being held. Know that there is a space in your home where you will be undisturbed. Tell people that you are going on a retreat as if you were going away for a few days so they know that you are unavailable. 
And most importantly, enjoy it! 
Allow yourself to have fun with this experience, be open to making new friendships, receiving some great personal development and having a laugh and connection in the meantime with likeminded people. 
If you are still not sure whether this is the right step for you, call me and we can talk it through. 
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