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Mental health: Protecting your team’s wellbeing starts with being kinder on yourself


By Dr David Mathew
Learning and Development Manager, NHS Arden & GEM CSU
20 May 2020

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Wellbeing has become a hot topic in the wake of the pandemic for good reason. We are all experiencing a new normal and juggling multiple pressures, with those working in the NHS arguably affected most keenly. As a result, many of the traditional factors which influence wellbeing are being adversely impacted, including physical and mental health, and financial security. 

As a leader, the pressure is even greater. As well as considering your own wellbeing and that of your friends and family, you will no doubt be concerned about the wellbeing of your team. This could become even more challenging as efforts to loosen the grip on lockdown result in different rules for different people at different times.

Recalibrating expectations  

It’s worth remembering that those of us working remotely are not simply ‘working from home’ but are trying to work while juggling other domestic and caring responsibilities. Whether remotely or on the frontline, some people are fulfilling completely new roles with limited training, while others are facing traumatic experiences on Covid wards. 

To cope with these new roles and demands, we need to allow ourselves a much more personal set of daily goals, combining work, domestic and caring responsibilities. We cannot expect the same level of productivity under these circumstances.

Within this set of goals, we are increasingly asking people to add wellbeing activities into their daily routine. But is it realistic to expect people to take on more activities, even if they are designed to help?  

Genuinely supporting the wellbeing of your team means finding the right balance between encouraging positive activities that may support physical and mental health, without putting pressure on their daily ‘to do’ list. 

Here are some suggestions to encourage achievable action:

  1. Set your own goals for what is acceptable each day in each week – and be realistic. For example, this may need to allow for domestic pressures or higher levels of absenteeism.
  2. Share your approach with your team, discuss appropriate productivity goals and provide plenty of opportunity to discuss concerns or pressures.
  3. Be present – continue team meetings, using technology, to create the nearest equivalent to your normal way of working e.g. Teams video calls.
  4. Spot signs of stress – this is much harder to do without day to day contact, but be on the lookout for changes in behaviour or mood among your team and find good reasons to check in more regularly where needed.
  5. 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. 
  6. 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. Don’t try to pack everything in, but try a couple of different activities until you find what works for you and what you can fit into your day. Even a few minutes of mindful breathing while you wait for the kettle to boil can help calm the mind.
  7. 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.

All the signs suggest there may not be a quick or clean exit from 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

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