Piano lessons, and 5 ways to Wellbeing with Hot Topics delegates

One of the highlights of my week is my piano lesson, now by Zoom of course, with my teacher John. I took up piano at the age of 55, never having had a music lesson in my life...

Despite being what I am sure music teachers would describe as a 'heartsink' (tone-deaf, rhythmically challenged, newly apparent deficiency of R-L brain synapses and hopeless hand-eye co-ordination) I am blessed in that John must be the world’s most patient man. And thank goodness that I have an electric piano with headphones, otherwise the family and neighbours would've all left long ago.

But despite my glacially slow progress and having to hear the same boringly repetitive excuses about lack of practice time each week, John has somehow got me past grade 2. Now this is the piano teacher equivalent of teaching me to do a liver transplant in the surgery. John needs every medal going. For me it is time that is fun, it challenges me, it is exciting to learn something new which is nothing to do with medicine and it takes my mind away. Time at the piano always makes me feel better and helps to put things in balance and perspective.

In short, it helps to top up my emotional well-being tank.

We discussed burnout a lot on the courses last year, and this year I really want us to be talking more about wellbeing and self-care. As every clinician knows, we can't begin to effectively look after other people unless we are looking after ourselves. So, on the last couple of live Hot Topics webinars I've done I've asked the delegates what they do to keep themselves healthy and sane.

It's been really interesting to see your responses. It's clear that we GPs, nurses, and pharmacists are as diverse and interesting a bunch as our patients are! As well as making industrial quantities of cakes and sourdough (and then doing LOTS of exercise to burn it all off), we embrace nature, music, languages, and the arts. We must have very fit dogs. I wonder if needlework, knitting, and gardening are the new mindfulness. And I am in complete awe of the delegate who says, 'I do 20 minutes yoga every morning at 5.15 am, 30 minutes dog walk whatever the weather, 30 minutes hard exercise after work and read, music, knit and chat!'. Like, wow!

Reading the responses reminds me of the classic Five Ways to Wellbeing. These 'five ways' (with the awful acronym of CLANG: Connect, Learn, be Active, Notice, Give) were developed a decade ago as a 'set of evidence-based public health messages' to improve mental health and wellbeing. I have no idea what this evidence is, but to be honest some things are so barn-door obvious and sensible they don't need evidence to back them up. What they do need though is making sure that we remember to carve out that precious time to do them.

We often feel guilty for taking that 'me' time but to give the best of ourselves to others (to family, friends, patients, strangers…) we need to take it. And time itself is such an interesting concept. On one hand, it is relentless in its immutable metronomic progression. We cannot alter it. And yet, our perception of it is so elastic. And our perception of time we can learn to alter through pausing, learning to notice, and developing a sense of heightened awareness.

So, how are you all keeping your emotional well-being tank filled up? Here are just a few of the responses: learning Māori, making jewellery, running, yoga, baking, sewing, wild swimming, cycling (this is another really big one for me, and just in my practice we have 4 pedalling medical MAMILS 'middle-aged men in lycra'), mindfulness, mandolin, inline skating (I had to google this one, looks fun!), calligraphy (‘So I can write take away ideas in fancy lettering’), rowing, teaching metalwork, poetry, music, dancing, singing, surfing and 'whatever just having FUN and LAUGHTER!'

I just hope that John is paying as much attention to looking after his wellbeing as you guys obviously are!

This post was originally published on: www.nbmedical.com 

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Dr Simon Curtis

Simon is the Medical Director NB Medical Education, an NHS GP in Oxford and Hon Senior Clinical Lecturer in General Practice, Oxford University.

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