Living in a university city, this time of year often feels like an opportunity for new beginnings, for rejuvenation, for fresh thinking. Although the leaves on the trees are starting to turn and there’s an autumnal chill to the air, we see students now arriving for the start of the new academic year, shops, cafes and restaurants busy, and people tentatively returning to their offices after many months working at home.
There’s a sense of anticipation and normality to all this, and yet the challenges that were there before the pandemic struck have not gone away; a hugely underfunded NHS suffering staff shortages, overwhelmed health professionals and often-changing organisational structures. For those in senior leadership positions, there continues to be enormous pressure, inevitably leading to exhaustion and disillusionment, and a tangible sense of depreciation.
These realities are a powerful reminder of two things. Firstly, that people working in the NHS are and should remain our heroes. While we all hope that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, NHS professionals now face a new battle against the impact of long waiting lists and delayed operations, of overwhelmed primary healthcare services and an abyss in terms of recruitment and retention of staff.
Secondly, that now more than ever, NHS leaders must recognise that they need to look after themselves as they guide and support their teams through this new battle. A wise person once said, “Applying kindness and thoughtfulness to oneself is a gift to others”. It’s something I’ve written about before – to prioritise selfcare in times of stress and upheaval, no matter how long those times last.
It’s important for those in leadership roles – still working to support frontline staff, still managing challenging budgets, still facing uncertainty in so many facets of their working lives – to take the time to ask themselves ‘How am I doing?’ Selfcare is not a selfish act or introspective. It is about considering your own emotions and needs, your expectations and ambitions. Selfcare can help you build strength and resilience, which in turn can build strength and resilience in the teams you manage.
Over the past eighteen months, we have all, perhaps, been in ‘preservation mode’. We’ve held ourselves, and those we work with and care for, together using whatever tools we have, in the hope that sooner or later thing will return to some semblance of normal.
Now, as the rich colours of autumn begin to emerge and we look to the challenges ahead, let us do it with a renewed sense of value for ourselves; with a resolve to prioritise our own wellbeing, and with the bravery to ask for help and support if that is what’s required. Then, as Mahatma Ghandi famously quoted, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”