Introducing the wonderful Kate Little. Kate has worked as a GP in the NHS for the last 16 years in a variety of roles – partner, salaried and locum. She has also worked in medical education as a GP trainer and facilitator, and as a GP appraiser. Kate is founder of https://physicianburnout.co.uk, a resource for doctors that are feeling fed-up, stressed, anxious, depressed or burnt-out.
With first hand knowledge of what it means to be stressed and burnt out I was keen to hear her thoughts on finding rest amongst the the stress of Christmas. I know loads of you are going to find this such a helpful post, handing over now to the expert:
The Christmas period is upon us, what can we actually do to help ourselves?
First of all, the most important thing is acknowledging that you are stressed or at risk of becoming stressed.
For me, and for most of us this will be through physical symptoms, such as muscle tension, butterflies in our tummy, headaches, feeling tired or tense or chest pains.
You may also notice (or others may comment) changes in your behaviour. For example, you might be more short or ratty with people than you might normally be. You might find it more difficult to make effective decisions.
Taking early action when you get these feelings, can help prevent things from escalating. I know this all too well from personal experience, as well as having seen the consequences in others in my clinical practice.
Below are 8 anxiety and stress busting tips that work for me:
1. Take a pause
Even if for a few seconds. Take a few deep breaths right down into your abdomen. Feel your tummy and chest rise and fall. Try shutting your eyes if you are in a position to do so and focus only on your breath. I personally find this really helpful as it is easy to do and just re-centres me.
2. Do some exercise.
The health benefits of physical activity are enormous. (I will be writing more on this in further posts). Getting out for a short brisk walk even for 10 minutes has been shown to have benefits to you health. For example, if you moved from doing no moderate intensity activity (where you can talk but not sing) to doing 3 X 10 minute bursts a day, 5 days a week, there is a 3-year increase in life expectancy after the age of 40 years. This is better than most drugs!
3. Listen to some uplifting music or an upbeat tune.
This is one of my favourites, either on my own or with the kids. For me it is usually a loud dance tune that I can sing along to and do some crazy dancing to. As mentioned before, moving your whole body in time to the music for as little as 30 seconds can sometimes be enough to re-energise.
4. Set dedicated time aside for you.
This could be something relaxing like a bath or reading a book or just spending time alone thinking. What you do does not really matter. Try to choose something that you look forwards to and gives you a break. Doing something that you enjoy allows you to re-charge. Relaxation strategies that I have found particularly helpful are yoga and mindfulness meditation. And of course, a hot bath. That would be my desert island disc luxury for sure.
5. Surround yourself with people that give you energy.
We all have people in our lives that we love to spend time with – we feel positive and energised by them. Most of us will also know people that are the opposite. We feel drained and exhausted after we have spent time with them.
6. Take notice
Make the time to be curious, notice beautiful sights and comment on unusual ones. Appreciate your surroundings. It could be something seemingly simple like observing the way that the light reflects off a particular building.
By taking notice, you are taking yourself out of your head and focusing on the now. Our minds all too easily wander and re-play the past or rehearse and worry about the future. This drains us of energy. Being present helps re-energise us. Yoga, tai chi and mindfulness are all techniques that can help you achieve this.
We all recognise that when we do something nice for someone else that it makes us feel good. If time is precious then even small things like saying thank you, helping an elderly person with their shopping, can be enough to give us and that other person a boost.
8. Get better sleep
According to sleep experts, we should all be aiming for 7-9 hours of sleep a night. As well as helping us rejuvenate mentally and physically, it is proven to be restorative at cellular level. (I will be writing more about sleep in another post.
What should you do if you are at crisis point?
If you do feel that your anxiety has got out of hand, then it is important that you do seek help.
As mentioned above, reaching out to others, has been shown to release the ‘feel good’ hormone oxytocinin, which is protective against stress.
It may be that just talking to friends or family is enough. It may be that they can help share some of your workload or at least help you think up some effective strategies to manage better.
If none of these work, or you feel that things are at crisis point, it is important that you seek medical help. A good starting point is your GP. They will talk to you and ask you some questions. They may even ask you to complete a questionnaire such as the PHQ9 or GAD7.
They will usually give you some brief advice or a leaflet. They may suggest that you see a counsellor or therapist, what we call Talking Therapy. This is now widely available throughout the NHS either on-line, by phone or face-to-face.
They may recommend medication. The most common medication used is a family of drugs called SSRIs (such as citalopram, sertraline or fluoxetine). In my practice most people start to respond well to these within 1-2 weeks, although the full effect can take 6-8 weeks. These aren’t without side effects but are generally well tolerated, especially after the first 4-7 days.
Starting medication is not starting a tablet for life. It might just help you get through a tricky patch, whilst things are bad or until you are able to deal with them in other ways.
And so to end, rest can feel indulgent. But rest is NOT a luxury. As we have seen it is essential to our mental and physical well-being.
LJ: Thanks so much Kate for taking the time out in this busy season to educate us on such an important topic. For more about Kate and to read more from her head to: https://physicianburnout.co.uk/
If you feel this will help someone this season, why not give it a share and spread some seasonal sanity.
All the best, rest up!
If you work within the health profession, why not check out: www.heartofthehealthservice.co.uk