How does being asked to do a blog remind me of a buzzing fridge? Well simply, a buzzing fridge was the image, along with the above facial expression, that came to my mind when Dr Ross Warwick, Lead for the Clinical Health Psychology Service, asked me to write a blog as part of our service promotion. His request provoked feelings of anxiety accompanied by forgotten memories of a much wanted, all singing, all dancing fridge purchased years earlier to make my life complete. Instead, it had left me feeling bewildered and anxious with all my attention and behaviours being taken up trying to fix the BUZZ that emanated from inside the fridge. Automatic thoughts predicting my imminent failure resurfaced: the BUZZ was back!
My initial catastrophic thoughts, images, feelings and behaviours reminded me of how uncomfortable it is when we are asked to do something that feels overwhelming or out of our comfort zone. Avoidance is often how I try to resolve these feelings of distress and discomfort but I can’t think of a time when that solution has actually helped! So with Ross’s words of encouragement ringing in my ears (“It’s good for your development”) and a reminder to myself that “avoidance doesn’t help” I decided to feel the fear and do it anyway. (Practise what you preach Elaine!).
For the past three years I have worked as a Psychological Therapist in the Clinical Health Psychology Team. Prior to this I worked as a Mental Health Nurse in busy wards and community settings. During my career I have not always been given the opportunity or support to look after my own psychological and emotional needs in the workplace. On reflection this impacted on the enjoyment and satisfaction I gained from my job. This affected my ability to live true to the values that had brought me into the field of mental health, i.e. helping and supporting the psychological wellbeing of my patients. From this experience grew a passion to look after not just my patients but also the emotional wellbeing of my fellow workers.
Part of the Clinical Health Psychology Team’s values and philosophy is the inclusion of colleagues in the work we do to develop and facilitate lasting psychological change in patients with long term health conditions. Crucially this includes helping staff think about their own emotional wellbeing and how we can do this in busy, chaotic and at times distressing working environments. In a nutshell if we look after ourselves, our patients get a better service.
This takes me back to my buzzing fridge. It too was meant to add something to my life but like some of my earlier working experience it became a source of annoyance, frustration and sadness with all my attention focused on the aspects I disliked about it. My attention drifted to the high pitch buzz and it started to taint my entire view of it. The pleasure and excitement began to be replaced by frustration that no matter what I did, I couldn’t stop the buzzing. Shaking it, turning it on and off, opening and closing the door, and finally shouting at it made no difference. Thoughts rushed in “I can’t even pick the right fridge!”, “The shop has sold me a broken fridge, I’ve been conned!”
It was at this point my friend popped in for a cuppa (too early for a cocktail). She admired the new fridge. How dare she! I pointed out the buzzing and she said “Sounds fine to me; how are you?” We got talking about family, friends, work, hobbies, and nights out and generally putting the world to rights. When she left I suddenly remembered the buzz from the fridge. I tuned in and yes it was still there. Curiously it didn’t seem so loud and it didn’t seem to annoy me as much as it had done earlier. What had changed? I realised that I had stopped focusing in on the buzzing because talking and sharing with my friend was of much more value and importance than listening to my new fridge. I had put my energy into doing what mattered. The more I had talked about what was important to me and my friend, the less I had noticed the buzzing. I had enjoyed sitting in my kitchen with the fridge that buzzed. The buzz eventually became a low level necessity which assured me all was in working order with my new, shiny fridge.
My buzzing fridge has once again melted into the background. Why? Well simply because I have chosen to get on and write this blog and whilst doing so I have remembered why I enjoy coming to work every day. I get the opportunity to work with people like you who are passionate about their jobs but like me have buzzing fridges of their own which can leave them feeling distressed, disillusioned and unable to do more of what matters to them in their working days and home life. My job allows me to remind you that you are important.
If you and your team would like to know more about the training and consultation we offer, that may improve your own personal psychological wellbeing which in turn assists us to care for our patients and each other, please get in touch.
To quote my boss “you don’t need to be a psychologist to provide psychological care”. My friend wasn’t. So maybe I would add another question to Robert Barton’s list from his blog, the one that my friend asked me … How are you?
Elaine Ferguson is a Psychological therapist for the Clinical health Psychology Service at NHS Dumfries and Galloway