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Self Care Week is an annual national awareness week that focuses on establishing support for self care across communities, families and generations. It runs next week from 12 - 18 November. This year’s theme is ‘Choose self care for life.
What is self-care?
The Self Care Forum’s definition of Self Care is:
The actions that individuals take for themselves, on behalf of and with others in order to develop, protect, maintain and improve their health, wellbeing or wellness.
Case for change
An estimated 57 million GP consultations take place annually for minor ailments at a total cost to the NHS of £2 billion, which takes up, on average, an hour a day for every GP. A King’s Fund report tells us that approximately 15million people in the UK have a chronic disease like Diabetes, Arthritis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Hypertension. People with long-term conditions now account for about 50 per cent of all GP appointments, 64 per cent of all outpatient appointments and over 70 per cent of all inpatient bed days. 26% of adults in the UK are now classed as obese, and with it bring additional risk of co-morbidities. There is significant scope and potential for embedding self-care strategies into our clinical practice, it has the potential to prevent and delay the manifestation of chronic disease, to improve QALY for our patients, to reduce morbidity and complications, whilst also having a significant impact on workload over time.
My self-care journey
I’ve always been on the stockier side. For as long as I can remember throughout my adult life I’ve been on one fad diet after the next combined with short stints of exercise from time to time and I’ve managed to do this fairly successfully. However, the diets would end and the weight would always pile back on. I convinced myself that long working hours and having busy stressful working days, meant the working life of a doctor didn’t easily lend itself to cultivating healthy habits. I’d treat myself for all my hard work with chocolates, cakes, sweets and tell myself I deserved it after the day I had. That combined with my general love for food, tendency to stress eat, two miscarriages and many jars of Nutella later (my coping strategy at the time), last year age 34 I found myself at my heaviest ever at 90Kgs. I was tired a lot of the time, looked dumpy, finding clothes that fit were a struggle and my mood was all over the place secondary to my energy levels. I also have a family lineage filled with heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, diabetes and high cholesterol. This was my aha eureka moment, I knew I had to do something and this time it had to be for life.
My personal journey was focussed around healthy living. My goals were simple, they needed to be sustainable. I wanted to be fit and healthy, I wanted to feel strong and I wanted to look it. I didn’t want to be breathless when taking a short flight of stairs, I wanted clothes to fit better, and I wanted to have more energy. There was no magic recipe, so I took it slowly to begin with. In January 2018, weighing 83.5Kgs I took things up a notch; I decided to invest in a personal trainer and started planning my meals carefully, consistency being key. I now weigh 70kgs and am a happy size 10-12. More importantly, I can run up a flight of stairs, walk, row and run for miles, squat reps of 10 with a 55Kgs bar on my back and leg press 160kgs. Goal posts and aims keep moving, but overall I am content with the consistent gains I have achieved this past year. I leave home every day with my gym bag and most weeks manage to squeeze in four to five sessions at the gym, anything from a run to a pilates class to a structured personal training session or a swim. I stand by the saying “you are what you eat” and do put a certain amount of thought into the food I eat. Stress can really mess with your body, eating habits and general regime, so I do try and build some meditation and yoga practice into my week. Furthermore, there is something therapeutic about a boxing class, a long run, or even a session with heavy weights after a long hard day at work. It burns away the week’s stresses and you leave with your emotional resilience restored and a few hundred calories blitzed.
Other gains for me have been being an emotionally resilient and physically healthier doctor, more relatable to my patients, able to offer realistic, tried and tested advice on diet, fitness, general health and wellbeing.
So how can we empower our patients?
Whilst varying levels of financial commitments are made to embed these concepts into the NHS, a general principle which we can already engage with is making every contact count, and utilising every patient contact to reinforce messages that promote self-care. Whether that be through a poster displayed at the surgery, a focussed discussion at the next medication review, using social media to share self-care messages or even by signing your practice up to be a parkrun practice or hosting a community gardening space.
Encouraging our patients to look after themselves is something that should happen all year around. During Self Care Week consider how you can embed and develop self-care strategies and communications all year round and build up the self-care resilience in your community over the long term. RCGP has created an e-learning module which equips practitioners with the knowledge and skills to conduct a ‘self care aware’ consultation for patients with self-limiting minor ailments, you can access this here.
We would love to hear how you have empowered your patients to take control of their health, you can tweet us @BMA_GP with your top tips, use the hashtags #selfcareweek #selfcareforlife or email us at [email protected]
Where you can get more information
Self-care week resources
Self management UK
RCGP Bright Ideas
The NHS weight loss plan
Couch to 5K
RCGP GP Parkrun practice initiative
The Blood sugar diet, Michael Moseley method
British society of lifestyle medicine
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Let them know it is unwise to include personal information about themselves, such as their full name, their telephone number, and their address.
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