Following on from the previous story, “It’s Ok to be mentally unwell as a GP; you can get better,” here are some strategies that have enabled this GP to stay successfully in work after being unwell and that have helped her to stay “well”.
Be open & honest with colleagues
“I would advise them to be open and honest with their colleagues. I was very fortunate that my colleagues offered me a lot of support and enabled myself to leave on time to attend for appointments.
I would also advise to keep colleagues appraised of how you want the problem to be dealt with. There can be nothing worse than having someone ask you how are you doing today, which can be a constant reminder of the fact that you have not been so well. Instead, when I felt I wanted to get on with things again, I just told them I would talk to them if I wanted further support, so I could feel more normal again.
Making changes at work
We looked as a practice team about the pressures we were being put under and tried to reduce them by employing more locums at tight spots and we have also added as standard two break slots to every morning surgery, for catch up time and one to the afternoon.
We have set up a task system – to make the receptionists work on our behalf more, relaying messages to patient, rather than the expectation that a GP would contact them back, to be more time efficient.
Making changes at home to minimise stress
To try to make life as easy as possible for yourself, buy ready meals, get a cleaner, put the kids on school dinners, delegate to a spouse if possible, get more childcare, as you need to focus on getting well, rather than worrying about what the family are going to eat. General Practice is hard enough without also having to worry about the mundane things in life, and no-one will think less of you for this. In fact, no-one cares!
I would also advise people to book all your holidays at regular intervals, so you have something to look forward to.
I also would advise taking time out in the day even for 15 mins to do something for yourself, like buy a lipstick or look at holiday destinations.
When paperwork became too much, I would stop, and go home and come back in the morning, when I was feeling more positive, as working tired and hungry always feels worse.
I stopped watching the news or looking at the negative news items on GP Survival – when life is tough, you take things to heart too much. It ruins your day to hear on breakfast news how poor we are as GP’s. Try to keep your outlook as positive as possible.
When I felt low and as if I wasn’t coping I reflected upon the positive feedback I had had over the years, and how much I could offer patients. I tried to re-frame comments that were said to myself and try to find the positive in them, and realise that you can’t please everyone all the time, no matter how hard you try and with some people it’s best to accept this and invest time in others who may benefit.
Managing side effects and changes in medication
I do have side effects from the medication of a dry mouth, so I suck sugar free sweets and constantly have water on my desk. I also have short term memory problems, so I write everything down in a diary to prevent me missing things, though the memory problems are improving.
Changing medication was one of the hardest things I have ever done, as the wash out period in between medications was horrific. I tried to coincide these with holidays, which was a shame in a way, as I didn’t enjoy my holidays, as I felt so low and anxious, but equally at least I didn’t have to face patients or staff during these times.”
For me, these strategies all illustrate the importance of reaching out to others and creating space in your day for yourself, even if only for 10-15 minutes. They are practical suggestions that compliment Dr Dike Drummond’s burnout prevention matrix by looking at ways to reduce stress at work and home.
These strategies have enabled this GP to stay successfully in work, despite facing some enormous challenges.
As before, if you have any thoughts or questions, or even a thank you to the author for sharing her story, please do comment below. It takes a huge amount of courage to share something like this. (You will need to sign in here to do so if you don’t already have a WordPress account).