Dr Jennifer Napier explores how you can improve your wellbeing, from practising mindfulness to preventing burnout
Dr Jennifer Napier
How can mindfulness help GPs cope with the stresses of modern general practice? What can you do to prevent burnout? What impact can ‘professionalism’ have on your health? Dr Jennifer Napier explores these issues and more in her wellbeing series with GP Online. Here we have summarised some of the ways you can improve your wellbeing at work.
Mindfulness can make you more aware of your thoughts and feelings so that you can manage them more effectively, instead of being overwhelmed. It can also reduce anxiety, depression and a host of other health conditions. As Dr Napier writes in her mindfulness article on GP Online: “As we develop skills in connecting with the present moment, we generate a better capacity to step back in moments of stress; to pause and evaluate.”
She goes on to explain that this may help you get less hung up on never-ending tasks and become better connected to the meaning of your work. It might even make you more curious about why you’re experiencing a challenging patient in a particular way and become better able to notice and respond to signals telling you when you need a break.
Put professionalism into context
As GPs, you need to be aware of the changing contexts in which you work and reflect on whether your concept of professionalism needs adjusting to your current setting. As Dr Napier says in her article on GP Online: “Gone are the days of paternalistic, heroic professionalism in which the doctor could be relied upon to respond to all woes day and night.”
Being a professional today means ensuring you are in a good state of mind so that you can effectively engage with your patients, make good decisions and work well with your colleagues, which will ultimately benefit you, your patients and those you work with. “Professionalism can - at times - mean saying ‘no’ to more work when we are simply not up to it”, adds Dr Napier. She goes on to explain that it can also mean focusing more on prevention and empowering patients to look after their own health.
Increased workload, reduced autonomy, role ambiguity and greater expectations from patients - these are just some of the factors contributing to a burnout culture in general practice. In her article on preventing burnout on GP Online, Dr Napier points to a mismatch between demands and resources that is frequently leading to mental distress, health problems, exhaustion and reduced wellbeing. This can also have an impact on staff turnover.
So what can be done? Dr Napier suggests that general practices make time for peer support within the working day - from shared lunch breaks to Christmas parties. She urges GPs to find ways of continuing to grow professionally and for practices to share some decision-making amongst staff, giving everyone a voice.
Focus on outcomes
Dr Napier refers to a key learning point from a coaching course she is attending: “When we focus our attention on the outcomes we want, rather than the problems we are facing, we enter into a more creative space.” This, she explains, will help you connect with your resources, motivation and energy. “By visualising our desired outcome, we begin to ‘see’ the possibility of achieving it”.
She advises GPs to stop and imagine the healthier you, and to devise a plan guided by key questions to help you achieve a greater sense of wellbeing. Questions range from ‘How important is your wellbeing on a scale of 1 to 10?’ to ‘What is stopping you from moving towards greater wellbeing?’
Dr Jennifer Napier is a GP in London and honorary research fellow at Queen Mary, University of London where she has researched wellbeing and workforce issues. She is also the founder of Contextualyse, a consulting company focused on supporting organisations to create healthy workplaces.