Dr David Mathew, Learning and Development Manager, NHS Arden & GEM CSU
Managing a practice has changed virtually overnight. The rapid way we’ve seen practices implement different ways of consulting patients and maintaining services is one of the many success stories emerging from the NHS during this pandemic.
But it comes at a cost. Some GPs have opted to live away from their families to limit the risk of spreading infection, many are frustrated by the limited access they have to more vulnerable patients, and many colleagues have been on a steep learning curve to adapt to new digital tools and information recording requirements.
Practice managers are doing a fantastic job of keeping the plates spinning, but as the Government begins to ease the lockdown, a new wave of challenges lie ahead in managing patient expectations and delivering routine care in safe and effective ways – placing considerable pressure on you and your colleagues. So how do you find the time to prioritise your own wellbeing and that of your colleagues?
Prioritising your wellbeing to support yourself and others
It’s very easy to brush your own health needs to one side, but given the long-term nature of this pandemic, there is a very real risk of burnout and increased sickness. It’s essential, therefore, that we strike a balance between getting through an unprecedented workload, while ensuring we have the stamina and strength to keep well.
The first step is to accept a change in expectations, and not judge your practice’s performance against the care you were able to give a few months ago. What is realistic and achievable now may be very different from the start of 2020. Accepting that and agreeing a new set of goals for you and your team – cognisant of the wider pressures and domestic juggling needed – sets the groundwork for a more resilient team.
Within this set of goals should be some activities to support and encourage wellbeing, covering physical, mental and financial ‘health’, but on your terms.
Most of us know that eating healthily and getting plenty of exercise is good for us, but how realistic is that for you right now? What adaptations could you make to your day that would benefit your wellbeing without becoming an additional pressure?
Here are some ideas to try. But treat them like a buffet. Try a few different options, be prepared to challenge yourself with something new and then go back to the ones that work best for you.
- Set your own goals for what is acceptable each week on each day – and be realistic. For example, this may need to allow for domestic pressures or higher levels of absenteeism.
- Journal your pandemic experience and encourage your colleagues to do the same. There’s growing evidence that journaling is positive for mental wellbeing and is promoted as an effective tool by charities such as MIND. Your journal doesn’t need to be ‘War and Peace’, but making a few daily notes about your thoughts, feelings, highs and lows will help you to spot triggers of low mood or identify activities that give you a lift. Be honest in your journal – you don’t need to share it with anyone else if you don’t want to – you can even destroy it if you wish at a later date.
- Pick one or more activities which enhance your physical, mental or financial wellbeing. This could include mindfulness, exercise, speaking to a specialist adviser, reading, connecting with friends or family or learning a new skill. Or it could simply be watching TV if that relaxes you. Even a few minutes of mindful breathing while you wait for the kettle to boil can help calm the mind.
- Look for opportunities to laugh. It’s in our national psyche to laugh in the face of adversity – it’s a positive way to let off steam.
- Find ways to share your wellbeing activities with your practice team, and encourage them to share their own concerns, pressures and achievements.
When you’re focusing on running a practice and caring for patients, look out for signs of stress, both in yourself and your colleagues, such as changes in behaviour or mood and find ways to check in more regularly with yourself (through your journal) and with your team.
If you do spot any issues, take action. Connect with people that can help share the load, dial up the wellbeing activities, seek specialist support where needed – the greatest risk is that those of us in the NHS just feel we have to carry on at all costs because of the wider pressures we are all under.
It’s unlikely we will see a quick or clean end to this pandemic – the recently announced exit plan is full of ifs and buts to allow the spread of the virus to be carefully monitored and contained.
With that in mind, it is even more important that we take the time to rethink and reset our expectations of ourselves and our colleagues, and find the right mix of physical, mental and practical activities which will help us to maintain our own wellbeing and support those around us.
Arden & GEM CSU is running a series of free webinars on wellbeing. To register interest, please visit www.ardengemcsu.nhs.uk/wellbeingwednesday