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Seven Ways to Pace Yourself in the NHS Right Now

Seven Ways to Pace Yourself in the NHS Right Now

Will you be the tortoise or the hare when it comes to getting through this NHS winter?

In Aesop’s fable of the tortoise and the hare, the hare speeds on ahead only to eventually fall asleep exhausted while the slow and steady tortoise eventually overtakes him. In the same way, if we can find ways to pace ourselves better in medicine then we are more likely to be victorious tortoises – still somehow playing the game rather than burned out and exhausted like the hare.

Let us not pretend this is going to be an easy exercise for medics this year. Ambulance and nursing strikes combined with the usual winter pressures of flu, now COVID and the overwhelming demand from the Strep A outbreak are placing extraordinary demands on the health service. 

There are going to be some of us faced with very difficult and demanding circumstances at work when it is going to be hard to take a step back without seriously damaging the values we want to live by.

Aesop never worked for the NHS, did he?

However, it is still worth taking a step back and asking ourselves what we can do to pace ourselves this season – presuming the goal is to stay in work so we are still moving and present in January, even if we have approached winter at work like the tortoise. Remember we have had COVID, monkey pox, Strep A, influenza…anyone working in acute care in any capacity has had it really tough…but something else will be along in a minute so let’s do what we can to stay in the long game.

What questions therefore can we ask ourselves to see if there are places where we can pace ourselves and look after ourselves better? 

When is your next proper break?

If you are in doing extra try to get something scheduled soon – meaning more than just one day as you will spend the first day or two just physically recovering and may not be ready for activities that are reviving. 

Ask yourself regularly: what do I need right now? Usually the answer is a glass of water or to go for a wee!

Check in with your peers

Having an informal peer support group is under rated. It goes a long way towards keeping us going. Humour and solidarity on a WhatsApp after the end of the shift can help reduce isolation, be cathartic and humour always lifts morale. 

Optimise your sleep

 Sleep is essential for brain functioning and wellbeing. Working late or on shifts on screens will all interfere with sleep quality. If you are working late, put your PC display settings onto night mode. If possible, be off all screens for 2 hours prior to going to bed. Sitting with a notebook and pen and just noting down what has happened in the day can be a useful way to discharge thoughts so you are less likely to go to sleep overthinking things. 

What has been helpful during difficult times in the past?

 Most of us have been stretched in recent years to above and beyond. What was most helpful last time to get through the difficulties? How can you instigate more of that now?

Address negative self chatter

Our brains are skewed towards survival mechanisms and negative thoughts. When faced with a waiting room overflowing out into the car park and a lot of angry people, tired brains can just focus on how bad it was when we get home. Take a few moments to remember what you did well – staying calm and professional and competent is enough in these times. And if you didn’t stay calm – you are human and doing good work. 

Be intentional during rest

Netflix has its place but doing something for 10 minutes that you enjoy and even stretches you slightly is a better way to let your brain tune down. Something creative, playing an instrument, or even 10 minutes learning a language can all help. Setting a rhythm to these activities as something you do at certain times also helps prevent burn out. If motivation is hard, picture the benefit you will have afterwards and how you will feel – it will help. 

Finally, a word on guilt

Guilt is a kind of currency in the NHS…it makes people cover gaps and do more but it also makes us feel bad if we have leave booked at this time of year when we know some of our colleagues are dealing with unprecedented pressure. Guilt can have an upside – it probably means you are hold being a team player as one of your values – but it doesn’t mean you have to give it your all for every crisis and burn out. It’s better to go back fully refreshed and ready for whatever is next.

Everyone is an individual contributor, but no-one has to be superhuman. 

To find out more about working together through coaching, drop me a message on this platform or an email here.

#NHS #doctors #generalpractice

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