Episode 155: The One Thing You Can Do For Your Well-being
As healthcare professionals, we know what we need to do for our physical and mental well-being. So why aren’t we doing it?
Often, the first thing we give up when life gets busy is something that makes us happier. We’ve normalised sacrificing well-being to make room for productivity. But in the long run, that only leads to burnout.
In this quick dip episode, we talk about the one thing you can do right now for your well-being. Don’t let yourself burn out just to do a few more minutes of work.
If you want to know how to start prioritising your well-being as you get busier in life, stay tuned to this episode.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
- Understand how not to fall into the bottom of the vortex of busyness.
- Learn the five (or eight!) ways to well-being.
- Start doing the one thing you need for your well-being.
[00:33] The Biggest Barrier to Health and Fitness
We all know how to take care of our health and well-being. Even people outside the healthcare profession have it drummed into them from an early age.
- The problem is not knowing what to do but finding the time and headspace to plan and do it.
- The people who seem to be the fittest and most well are often those who have set aside time to do it.
[02:03] Vortex of Busyness
We work harder and get busier as our world builds up and up.
- The first thing we give up when we get busier is the thing we need to keep ourselves physically and mentally fit.
- At the bottom of the vortex of busyness is burnout. No one is immune to it.
- You will experience stress and burnout if you go too hard, fast, and long without taking a break.
[04:03] Stress and Burnout
The symptoms of burnout are a feeling of exhaustion or extreme fatigue. It’s burning out your hypothalamic-pituitary axis.
- Stress is a very high-energy state with a lot of energy and anxiety. Burnout is when that energy has gone.
- A simple rest cannot resolve the feeling of extreme fatigue from burnout.
- Extreme fatigue can lead to a lack of empathy and getting cynical, thus leading to poor performance.
- It’s much easier to prevent burnout than to treat it once it happens.
[05:05] Ways to Well-Being
We must use the ways to well-being to avoid getting sucked down the vortex of busyness.
- NHS’s five ways to well-being are connecting, giving, learning and playing, being active, and noticing.
- Three other ways to well-being are eating, sleeping, resting and setting boundaries.
- The five ways to well-being are based on positive psychology research.
- The bulk of data in positive psychology looks at how people with no specific mental health disease can feel happier in life.
[06:22] The Three Types of Life
The hedonistic or pleasant life is where you have lots of wonderful experiences. While it gives a certain amount of life satisfaction, it diminishes as you get used to it.
- The good life is where you are regularly embarking on something that brings you into a flow. It gives more satisfaction than the hedonistic life.
- Flow is the feeling of being completely absorbed in something that time seemingly stands still. It happens when we’re challenged.
- The meaningful life is one where you regularly give and contribute to something outside of yourself, and gives the highest level of satisfaction.
- Living a meaningful life doesn’t mean giving too much of yourself.
[08:19] The ONE Thing You Can Do Right Now for Your Well-Being
Write down the first thing that re-energises you, but you give up to make time for extra work.
- Rate it on a scale of 1 to 3 on how important it is for your physical and mental health. 1 is the last important, while 3 indicates that it’s vitally important to your well-being.
- The first thing we stop doing is the one thing we know we need to keep us well. We push all our needs aside and put ourselves last when it comes to well-being.
- Put what you wrote down in your diary. Tell somebody else about what it is and when you will do it. Treat it as a sacred time and repeat it every week.
- Your basic needs are a requirement for you to do well at work. If you need to cut something out to make room for other stuff, it should not be your well-being.
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I want to talk to you today about the one thing you can do for your well being. Now, the thing that most well-being trainers get wrong is they think that people don’t know how to do this stuff, and they have to go and tell them what to do. But I know that we all know what we need to do to keep ourselves fit and healthy, and it’s very easy.
I’m the worst at this just to get sucked into the next, ‘Ah, if only just did this specific type of fasting, or what about this special hit exercise, or how about I try this new diet that’s going to make me feel much, much better?’
Then what happens is that we just get really, really fuzzy. I have a friend once who drank his own urine for a couple of months, because this was the next big thing for well-being. The thing is that you know what you need to do to keep yourself fit and well.
Let’s face it, most of us listening to this podcast are healthcare professionals. Even if you’re not a healthcare professional, you’ve had it drummed into you from a very early age, what to do to keep fit and healthy. So why don’t we do it? The problem is not knowing what to do, it’s actually having the time to do it. I discovered this very early on when I first started talking about well-being. I realised that the biggest barrier wasn’t knowledge, not at all.
It was the time and the headspace about the plan to do it and to actually start doing it. If you think about the people that you know, who seem to be the most physically fit, the most well in themselves, they are often people who have the time, or they are people who have set aside the time to do it. Because the problem is when our workload builds up and up and up, as I’ve talked about before, we just work harder and harder and harder.
I remember a few years ago, I had been brought on to the Red Whale presenting course. We were developing a new course called ‘Lead. Manage. Thrive!’ for GPs. We went all over the country doing this course, and we had a publishing deadline. I had several articles to write, and I didn’t quite know how I was gonna get it all done in time. So I started putting my children into extra childcare. They were pretty young at that point. I stopped seeing my friends for coffee.
I stopped going to my circuit training class. I started staying up really late at night, just writing these articles. I knew they had to get done, and very soon, because I was going to bed so late, I was getting tireder and tireder. But I actually found that I was waking up really early in the morning with the stuff going round and round my head, just thinking about the work all the time. Even though I loved what I was doing, I started to become more and more tired.
Because I was tired, I became snappy with my other half, with my children. I started to think, “Is this all there is to life just work, work work?” Before I knew it, I’d started to go down the vortex of busyness which was really ironic, because I was writing an article about resilience at the time. The problem is that when we start getting busier and busier and busier, the first thing that we give up is the very thing that we need to do to keep ourselves physically and or mentally fit in order to make room for the work.
Now, I don’t need to tell you what’s at the bottom at the vortex of busyness. It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it. If you go down too far, you get to burnout, and nobody is immune to the vortex of busyness. If you go too hard and too fast for too long without looking after yourself without taking a break, then you will experience the symptoms of stress and burnout that we see all the time with our patients.
We might see them and our colleagues, and many of you will be able to recognise those in yourselves right now. Just to quickly reiterate that the symptoms of burnout are a feeling of exhaustion, a feeling of extreme fatigue. Your get up and go has literally got up and gone because what’s happened is that you’ve burned out your hypothalamic pituitary axis. Now, stress is a very high energy state.
There’s a lot of anxiety. There’s a lot of energy. Burnout is when that energy has gone. So you will feel extreme fatigue, which does not resolve after a rest even. So you’ve got fatigue. You’ve got a lack of empathy. You might find yourself getting very, very cynical, not caring as much, dreading going to work, all those sorts of things, and also, you will be performing poorly. That starts off with a feeling of poor performance, and that ends up in actual poor performance.
So if you find yourself experiencing any of that, then please get some help. We’ve done lots of podcasts about what to do when you’re reaching burnout. So at the bottom of the vortex of busyness is burnout, and it’s much much easier to prevent burnout than it is to treat it when it happens. So we need to put some stuff in to stop us being sucked down the vortex of business. So what do we put in? We put in the ways to well-being.
Now, many of you will have come across the five ways to well-being, which are all over the NHS Choices website. I’m not going to talk a lot about the ways to well-being now. You can look it up. Suffice to say that the ways to well-being are connecting, giving, learning and playing, being active, and noticing, and I’ve added another three things in, eating, sleeping, and resting and setting boundaries.
Now, the government developed these five ways to well-being in 2008 as part of a project, trying to get something a little bit like the five fruit and veg a day but for the mind, and they looked at all sorts of positive psychology research and came up with these key things that will keep you feeling physically and mentally well. Now, the research that they looked at was very much based on a lot of the positive psychology research.
If anyone’s ever seen Martin Seligman’s TED Talk, they’ll know that positive psychology, since the sort of early to mid 90s, has been looking at how people who don’t have a specific mental health disease can actually feel better and happier in their own lives. There’s lots of different things that they looked at, but they essentially found out that there are three different types of life. The first life is the hedonistic life, the pleasant life where you have lots of wonderful experiences and that gives you a certain amount of life satisfaction.
The problem is, you get this hedonic adaption, which means that if I go out for beautiful meals every night, I will soon get very, very used to it. If I have an amazing car, I’ll get pretty used to having that car, and it won’t give me as much pleasure. So having lots of lovely experiences, going to lovely places, eating lovely food, while I would love to do that every day, it won’t give me a massive amount of life satisfaction.
The good life, however, will give me a little bit more satisfaction, and that is where we are regularly embarking on something that brings us into flow. Now, flow was described by the psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — hopefully I’ve pronounced that right — who described this feeling of when we’re completely absorbed in something, time stands still, and we don’t notice anything around us.
So it happens when we’re challenged, when we’re learning a new skill. We might be playing sports, playing a team game, playing a board game, but you get completely absorbed. I can get it when I’m playing a musical instrument, or we’re in a really good conversation. If you’re doing things in your life that regularly gets you into flow, you will get quite a lot of satisfaction in life. So that’s the second type of life, the good life.
But there is one life that gets you the highest level of satisfaction, and that is the meaningful life where you are regularly giving and contributing to something outside of yourself. Now, this does come with a little bit of a health warning, because you may well be doing this a lot in your own job, and you certainly don’t want to be giving far too much of yourself outside of work that you’ve got nothing left inside of work, but it’s worth thinking about.
So what are you doing that you’re able to give beyond yourself? Now, there’s all sorts of advice about these ways to well-being, and I’ll leave you to look that up if you’d like to. But I would like to suggest that there’s one very, very simple thing that you can do right now for your well-being.
I would like you to write down the first thing that re-energises you that you give up when the workload builds up when you get far too busy. What’s the first thing that you give up to make time for the extra work? I know that for me, it’s actually seeing my friends for a coffee. That’s the first thing that I give up when I think I’ve got too much on.
The next thing I’d like you to do is to write that on a scale of one to three. So one being that’s not particularly important for my physical or mental health, two being that’s pretty important, and three being that’s vitally important for my physical and mental health.
I bet that your thing that you wrote down has a rating of either two or three. I find it amazing that the first thing we stopped doing is the one thing that we know we need to do to keep us well. But this is such a symptom of the fact that we just push all our needs aside that we put ourselves last when it comes to well-being. In fact, a quick aside, that recently, one of my Facebook groups, somebody put a post about the fact that they reward themselves for seeing a couple of patients with a glass of water, and then some will put, “Yes, I reward myself with going to the loo.”
That is amazing to me. We should not be rewarding ourselves by meeting our basic needs. The needs come first. Reward yourself with something else. Please, you need to attend to your basic human needs. It’s not rewarding yourself to do something that you know re-energises you and increases your physical and mental health. In fact, it is vital. It’s the most vital piece of self care that you can do, and it’s one of the most vital pieces of patient care that you can do.
So that thing that you wrote down that you rated a two or a three in terms of how important it is for your physical and mental health, I’d like you to put that in your diary in the next couple of days. I’d like you to talk to somebody else and tell them what you’re going to do and when you’re going to do it, so get some accountability around that. Then I’d like you to repeat it. I’d like you to repeat that every week, make sure it goes in your diary first, and that is a sacred time.
Few years ago, I used to go to a tennis lesson, which started at 5:30. It was really difficult to get away to, and there were several times I thought, “I’m never gonna get away. I’m never gonna get to it.” But it was in my diary, and I prioritised it. Looking back at all those times I left stuff because I had to go to tennis, I can’t think of one thing that really was important. I can’t think of one thing that went drastically wrong, because I put myself first to go to my tennis lesson.
So that’s it. It’s that simple. I talked briefly about all the ways to well-being. You can go and look them up. You can listen to all sorts of podcasts about well-being and the latest thing. The one thing you can do is identify what is it that you give up first when you get too busy, and then make sure that from now on, you do that thing once, twice, or even three times a week. You put it in your diary, and that becomes sacred for you.
So see your human needs, your human limits as a requirement for you to practice well, safely and be happy at work. Don’t see them as an optional extra. If you need to cut something out of your diary to make room for other stuff that’s happening, may not be your well-being, may not be those things that you need to do to be happy and to be well. We’ll be talking about all these things a lot more in future episodes. See you then.
TED Talk: The new era of positive psychology | Martin Seligman
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