Katie Barnett is a Post CCT Fellow with Haxby Group Practice in York and an Honorary Clinical Fellow in the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York. She is on Twitter @drkatiebarnett1 and blogs about wellbeing and fellowship at: Thefellowshipmonologues.wordpress.com

How do we bring what we have learned about burnout with us into the current crisis to ensure we remain well during what, for most of us, will be the most stressful time of our careers to date?

At Haxby Group Practice, we had a wellbeing team up and running for a few months prior to the pandemic. When we met virtually last week the first thing we did was ask how each of us was… The resounding ‘fine!’ from everyone did not ring true. So we asked again. We acknowledged that this is not going to be a comfortable experience. We are not OK. But that is OK, right now, we need to be aware of that and give ourselves the space to feel a bit rubbish sometimes.

Having said that. it is important not to dwell or ruminate on the negatives, that’s how those bad feelings become pervasive and disordered. So we decided we would take the following basics and encourage all the staff to use them to take care of themselves, skills they can hopefully use now and in the future to promote wellbeing and awareness of our emotions and their impact.

  1. Focus on the good. This crisis has brought out the best in some people, we had one million NHS volunteers, people are clapping to show their appreciation every Thursday night, the canals in Venice are cleaner than they’ve been in hundreds of years etc etc. Make a positivity board and pin good news stories to it (this can be virtual).
  2. Save your energy, try to take things one day at a time to avoid burning out worrying about what’s to come.
  3. Set specific times in the day to check emails, the news and social media and outside of those times give your mind a break from it all!
  4. Exercise. Dance in the living room, find online videos to do, make an obstacle course in the garden. Whatever it is, just move your butt. Exercise is one of the best ways to lift your mood and improve your wellbeing.
  5. Be present. Notice the flowers and the blossom on the tree and practice gratitude for the things we often take for granted. Headspace has given all NHS workers free access for 3 months. Learn mindfulness and feel the benefits during this crisis.
  6. Be with those you love. We are so fortunate to live in a world where we can video chat with people on the other side of the world. Catch up regularly, check in on your friends and family.
  7. Do something creative, pick up an old hobby, paint, draw, sew, knit. Keep your mind active on things other than the pandemic.
  8. Sleep and rest. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and good quality sleep is a necessity in keeping us well while managing these new challenges.
  9. And finally and most importantly: When things become too much, tell someone.

We are all in this together. We need to create a culture where talking about how we feel, opening up to our colleagues that we are human and have human emotions and human needs and sharing our stories is encouraged. We have spent too long shaming ourselves and each other for having emotional needs. This is not the space or time for that. And as with any change, we have to be what we want to see. So be kind to yourself and others, know it is OK to not be OK, and talk to each other about this and ways to make the most of these challenging times.

We have been given an opportunity to remake the way we work. We have known for many years that the structure of general practice was not fit for purpose, as evidenced by the amount of burnout we have seen. So let’s use this opportunity to make it better. This is literally redefining what it means to be a GP. And while that is petrifying it is also exciting. Focus on the excitement. Use it, find what works and take it forward, try new things and if they don’t work you have lost nothing. The future of general practice is in our hands. And it can be whatever we want it to be, and build on the solid foundations of continuity, compassion and kindness. To each other as well as our patients.

The only way past this is through. And we will do that together, maybe not closer than two metres together, but still together — in spirit and heart.

 

Check out Clare Gerada’s video° about practitioner wellbeing.