Put on your own oxygen mask before attending to others

I’m not sure the Mental Health Foundation could have timed the Mental Health Awareness Week any better: the end of lockdown is on the horizon, there are barely any COVID-19 reported deaths and people can actually hug their families and friends from next week. So, we decided to spend the week thinking about mindfulness, meditation, nature and all things that improve our mental health. Our Wellbeing Group at Compton produced a wonderful week’s worth of wellbeing sessions, including talks and yoga sessions. It has been a truly inspiring week and I can safely say that I feel in a better place from spending the week thinking about my wellbeing and the dangerous habits that I’ve adopted over my years of working. Here are a few things I’ve learnt from each session: 

Look after yourself 

It seems an obvious thing to say, but in the middle of a global pandemicit’s easy to forget that you have to look after yourself. A colleague of ours was brave enough to kick off the week by talking about when the pressures of work became too much and she had to take six months out of the business due to stressWe heard how at the beginning of her struggle she felt physically and mentally broken; for me it was fascinating as this colleague was in such a dark place only six months ago, yet has come back as the strong woman I now know. She cites meditation, mindfulness and surrounding herself with nature as being the best tools for helping her get back on her feet. She said something wonderful that resonated with me – when you’re on a plane heading to a holiday destination (can you remember what a plane and holiday is?!) you are told to put your oxygen mask on before attending to others. She reflected on this as a mantra for life; how are you meant to look after those who depend on you if you’re not looking after yourself? It was a truly inspirational talk that had plenty of colleagues in tears. 

“I’m no longer ashamed. I’m proud of where this experience has led me and if my speaking out encourages just one person to open up about their mental health, then it will have been worth it.” 

Talk about your feelings more 

The next day Simon Caulton took time out to talk to us about his wellbeing journey, after his daughter was diagnosed with Infantile Leukaemia and was given a 50% chance of survival. Thankfully, his daughter is now doing well, but the whole experience affected him mentally. There were so many things to take out of his talk, but the aspect I found most inspiring was how he wants to encourage men to talk more, to turn the stigma of emotional men being weak on its head. It was a wonderfully poignant talk and has made me realise how much I need to encourage the men in my life to talk more. The talk was fantastically cyclical as his daughter’s diagnosis was the reason he suffered mentally, but the fact that he was looking after his daughter and she depended so heavily on him was the reason he pulled himself out of his ‘downward spiral’. 

We also heard from our very own Medical Director, Fran Hakkak, about a tool they use on the Inpatient Unit called SCHWARTZ Rounds, that encourages staff to come together and talk about the emotional toll of a situation at work; not to focus on the clinical side of the patient, but how the case is making the member of staff feel. This is certainly a method that we will be using in my next team meeting.  

Take time to relax 

I have done yoga in the past, and it’s a great way to wind down and feel like you’ve stretched your body in ways it didn’t know it could stretch. But I haven’t done it since I had two kids and a full time job, because when do you have time? All staff were offered free yoga sessions in the evening around the 7pm mark. Whilst originally I thought this was bad timing as when would I cook dinner?, it was genius timing as it forced me to take 40 minutes out of the evening and just spend it focusing on me.  

Analyse your work ethic 

All the conversations around wellbeing encouraged me to talk to my manager about my work ethic and the concern that I often work over the hours that are expected. We work with patients and families affected by incurable conditions, and we all work for Compton because we’re passionate about helping those who need our support at one of the most crucial part of their lives. But sometimes this passion drives us to have unrealistic expectations of our work. It’s important we keep talking to our managers, colleagues and the people we live with, about what is totally acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to working above and beyond for the cause.   

Look for peace in unusual ways 

The week concluded with a session where our staff and volunteers were able to pet animals, including Mable the Rabbit, stick insects and Gary the Giant African Land Snail. People who attended the session claimed that animals were a great stress reliver! On a regular basis our clinical team will find themselves in a distressing or emotional situation and they found the process of petting an animal removed them completely from the situation they had just left. We also had the pleasure of meeting a patient who used Virtual Reality goggles to help improve his wellbeing and decrease his pain. But we’ll be sharing more about that in future blogs.  

There was a small coincidence in this week that our coffee shop, Crumbles, located at our Compton Hall site, opens on Monday 17th May and they decided to trial the food on the staff and volunteers. So many people came out in force to support the coffee shop and I had the chance to chat with so many people I’ve never met before. I also managed an al fresco lunch with my team and I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in a long time.  

Sarah Pickstone – PR and Marketing Manager  

Clinical Enquiries: 01902 774570, General Enquiries: 0300 323 0250.