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Doctors, it’s time to put #MeFirst

punam krishan 3 x 2

The theme of the moment is self-care and never has it held more value than it does in current times, especially for the hypocritical bunch – us, the doctors. Do we really practice what we preach?

We GPs appear to have become so patient centred that the mere concept of self-care and wellbeing evokes feelings of guilt, a sense it is a frivolous way to spend time that is already so limited. Folk appear to associate self-care with being more resilient, learning to say no more so as to not ‘burn out’ or choosing to stand up and walk away from their long sought after careers because this will let them take care of themselves better.

While all these strategies and solutions are helpful in the strive towards better wellbeing, I worry we have lost the connection with what this actually means in practical terms.

Nearly every chronic disease we encounter these days is contributed to by long-term exposure to stress. Kids are born into a world that is incomprehensibly connected and fast paced. Right from the outset, their first cry as a baby is shared via insta live to the far corners of the planet. Parents instantly seek validation from the world about whether their baby is ok, or fixate on how many ‘likes’ their shared moment can get instead of being fully present in the moment itself.

We continually advise patients about sleep hygiene yet take our work home with us, remotely working into the night

Once upon a time people were protected, now nobody is spared from being engaged in the wider matrix 24/7 from the cradle to the grave.

As GPs we are seeing this evolution first hand. We see how stress manifests in the lives of our patients as they come in one after the other with hypertension, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, mental health problems, autoimmune conditions, insomnia, gut issues, obesity… the list is endless. We manage it all day everyday yet we question it when someone asks about our wellbeing.

The system is flawed, we know this. The pressures are rising, the demands are increasing and none of this is new yet we continue to strive for our patients and disregard our own personal health.

The first piece of advice, as per the guidelines, for non-communicable diseases is advocating lifestyle interventions. We advise our patients to get active, that sitting is the new smoking – yet we opt to do the opposite all day at our desks. We advise our patients to eat well yet we work through our lunches, shovel food mindlessly down our throats washing it back with coffee whilst working through docman. We continually advise patients about sleep hygiene yet take our work home with us, remotely working into the night mulling over the various stressors of the day, wired and so tired and so fed up. Mindfulness… Who has time for that?!

There is a reason why mental health problems are on the rise within the medical profession. We are drowning under the sea of stressors and it’s up to us now to learn to say no when our health needs are being unmet and dispel the idea that self-care is selfish. Can’t we better advocate for our patients when we’re well nourished, when our brains are sharp, free from the distraction of a rumbling stomach or a tension headache? Don’t we deserve – and need – to be at our optimal health?

For me, peak wellbeing = peak performance = peak patient care, and for this formula to work, it’s essential that we doctors bring the best-prepared versions of ourselves to the consulting room.

Dr Punam Krishan is a sessional GP in Glasgow