There has been significant focus on the mental health and wellbeing of doctors in both mainstream media as well as in medical journals and conferences. Whilst on one level this is welcoming, I have grappled with understanding what kind of approaches are likely to be beneficial and enable a positive path forward. Highlighting such issues can be depressing if there is no catalyst for change, and lets face it, there is no shortage of ongoing potential stresses affecting us in the current healthcare systems.
A workshop on “Caring for our Health Professionals” at the Gathering of Kindness event on the 13th November in Melbourne provided some useful insights and perspectives.
Essentially we were asked to place ourselves anywhere on a line from one end of the room.... to the other on a continuum. One end represented a high level of personal self-care/fulfillment and the other end a lower level.
On this occasion I placed myself past midway on the side, reflecting lower self-care. Oops! I had considered that over many years as a doctor I had developed reasonable skill sets to manage stress including practicing meditation, exercising regularly and overall maintaining reasonable health lifestyle.
To set the context, however, I had recently spent a few days away at a wonderful folk-based music camp. The days had been spent attending workshops, learning tunes by ear on instruments, and it also included dance and concert sessions complete with music being played quite late into the night. I had returned, however, feeling absolutely exhausted with headaches and a decent bout of sinusitis.
So whilst the experience was uplifting, I was inclined to blame myself for the poor decision to go to the camp, and thought maybe I should cut back on similar activities in the future.
Then the penny dropped.....
I was exhausted before I left, and I couldn’t blame the music camp for that! In fact the experience was so much fun.
So in a paradoxical way, I choose to continue with the hobby/music because it is joyful. The general consensus within the room (others shared similar experiences) was that any activity or hobby which brings us joy is one which we should hold on to, as both a personal buffer and potential antidote for stress. Sharing experiences and insights with empathetic and like-minded people was positively reinforcing.
It's not the whole solution but as in jigsaw, one piece at a time.