Wellbeing and compassion in the era of COVID by Dr Simon Fleming

Our guest blog sees the return of the truly wonderful Simon Fleming. Simon is a Trauma and Orthopaedic sugeon usually to be found on the ‘Pott rotation’ in London. You can discover his many roles on his previous guest blog spot posted here on Dec 2018. Right now though he is part of the COVID-19 team working in the Nightingale hospital in London, and is leading on establishing a compassionate working environment for all who work there.

Wellbeing and Compassion in the era of COVID – Dr Simon Fleming

I won’t lie, I am absolutely knackered and am sometimes guilty of not putting thing into practice things that I tell others to. For example, I talk (a lot!) about the need for a kinder culture, a more caring and compassionate one, for others and for yourself. But I don’t feel like I always live my values in terms of my own wellbeing….

I know a bit about burnout. I know that fatigue is a significant contributor and I also know that I am not sleeping properly. Another contributor to a lowered wellbeing is not exercising (which I am not doing as I normally would), and I know that other stressors such as anxiety about my own future are surfacing, so I can get some pretty intrusive thoughts about what may or may not happen.

My head is good at tripping me with other stuff too as I experience guilt because I feel like I’ve not done enough. I feel selfish because I wish I had not had my big holiday or conferences cancelled. I am scared because I don’t know when I will be able to get back to my PhD, or how that will work with time lost. I also know people are sick, and dying, and struggling way more than me… so, it feels like a very “first world problem”.

I also know that all of this is normal and I accept this as part of my life’s experience. There is so much going on in the world, so much loss and trauma and grief, that its ok to have these feelings, to acknowledge them and to share them if you want, and keep them to yourself if you don’t.

Right now, work and life is about wellbeing and compassion. For me, wellbeing practice has to have robust underpinning within educational and psychological theory; interventions need to be designed by people who know what they are doing, and involve – in real terms – those it’s aiming to support. This might mean co-design at the front end, and definitely a constructivist approach within the learning environment.

Perhaps because wellbeing is core to all I hold dear, I believe it should be incorporated into existing systems, offering supportive interventions for all who wish to engage with them. While our current situation has shone a spotlight on the need for wellbeing provision, if I was a slogan generator, I would say that wellbeing is for life, not just for COVID.

I think there are some key things that have become emphasised during COVID. They are as true now as they ever were, but still, here are mine to share with you…

I tell myself this first one all the time: I am not alone. Nor are you. The struggles I am facing, both personally, professionally and otherwise are happening all over. None of us have faced something quite like this before. Everyone is struggling in their own ways and its ok to be afraid. These feelings are normal. It is a scary time.

I will never stop harping on about this second one…. Kindness and respect are key influences on wellbeing. Being kind and respectful to one another and to ourselves is vital to get through this in one piece; scuffed and bruised, maybe, but not completely broken.

Perhaps now, when everyone is under stress, a little moment to say “how can I help” or “thank you” or “sorry” will make differences that mean everything to someone else who is also struggling. Looking after ourselves and one another has always been important. COVID has highlighted that and, you know what, that can only be a good thing.

This last one one is tricky and not everyone agrees, but – I think its ok to embrace, and perhaps, even thrive within some aspects of this pandemic. It seems almost abhorrent to admit this. Selfish to find some semblance of joy in the biggest crisis of our lifetime. But we are all learning during this. We are growing, changing, and putting to use the skillsets we have been developing throughout our careers. I sometimes feel huge guilt that I have had a good day at work, during all of this. But a good day at work means I have grown, and I have helped out. And its ok to be ok with that.

I still don’t know what the future holds. That scares me. But if I take care of myself and those around me, and everyone else does the same, then I reckon we will be ok.