The Weekly Wellbeing Round-Up #18: a weekend of wellbeing in Valencia.

When I was a medical student our favourite lecturer was Dr Andy Sparrow. Not because of his subject (which was anatomy) but because at random points throughout his slides he would show us pictures of his holidays – a bit of light relief in the midst of gruesome detail.

I am currently at around 30,000 feet as I write this blog post , returning from a weekend in Valencia with my friends. We are all part of a GP learning set and this was the group’s 19th annual trip. It’s been a great weekend in a fantastic city that I will definitely return to.

During our time away we each prepare a topic to discuss. We do these throughout the weekend, combining continuing professional development with eating, moving, (some) sleeping and plenty of relaxing. My topic this year was Lifestyle Medicine and Wellbeing. I shared my journey thus far and how learning about the importance of this has transformed how I feel about my job and purpose. We discussed models of wellbeing including the four pillars that I have already mentioned.  I had recommended to the group that we try to all read Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s Four Pillar Plan before the trip. We also added another pillar: connection. So for this week’s blog I hope you will indulge me as I share some of our experience how it relates to wellbeing for real life. With a few holiday snaps thrown in.

Eat

One of the pleasures of the trip is finding nice places to eat good food. We like to go on local recommendation, backed up by Trip Advisor. The highlight for me this year was a day spent on a farm learning how to make proper valencian paella and sangria. It was of course terribly gruelling but we did end up with a certificate which I will show to my appraiser next year. Learning about the origin of the dish and what the correct ingredients are (apparently if there’s sea food or chorizo in it then it’s not paella, just rice with things in it) was interesting but the best part was how paella is served up and eaten. First of all everyone makes a point of thanking the cook (whether it tastes good or not!) and then everyone sits round the table with a spoon (not a fork) and eats from their segment of the paella dish. If you want a bit in someone else’s segment you negotiate for it. You can put bits you don’t want in the centre for anyone to take. And you never, ever turn the dish round to take something you want, not unless you enjoy getting stabbed in the hand with a fork by one of your neighbours.

Connect

What struck me is how important this is for a key pillar of wellbeing: connection. The food is cooked from local, seasonal ingredients. The meal is communal. Everyone shows their gratitude. Food is shared together over what will doubtless be good conversation, helped perhaps by a little sangria. It was a wonderful experience that our hosts were very happy to share with us, and send us away as paella ambassadors! Interestingly, the valencians consider paella to be a dish that you only eat at lunch, and as it can be quite heavy then they enjoy their siesta afterwards and tend to have a light evening meal around 10pm, often with tapas dishes. In Valencia, anyone eating paella for dinner is definitely a tourist.

Sleep

In the interests of full disclosure, sleep was a bit of a mixed bag. There is time-stamped photographic evidence on our WhatsApp group of some deep and meaningful discussions taking place in a bar in the early hours of friday morning. However, we were quite sensible for the other nights. What is always striking when going to Spain is the siesta. In his book Why We Sleep, Matt Walker explains how we naturally have a biphasic sleep pattern as humans (i.e. we do best if we sleep twice a day) and so to have a siesta is consistent with this. In the UK we have forced a monophasic sleep pattern on ourselves with a masochistic long working day…which results in less productivity, not more. When Greeks stopped their siesta at the height of the financial crisis, cardiovascular deaths increased significantly as a result. We also get a surge in these events when the clocks go forward and we lose an hour’s sleep every year. The EU will stop the twice yearly changing of the clocks in 2019. It will be interesting to see if population health benefits can be demonstrated. After Brexit (the only topic we banned for the whole weekend) the UK could be the control arm of this large-scale population experiment!

Move

Walking from cafe to bar to restaurant was, as you can imagine, absolutely exhausting. Somehow we managed. We did take in the sights as well, hitting 10,000 steps most days. There are beautiful museums, markets and churches in Valencia

Having to walk up and down four flights of stairs due to a broken lift was very helpful in this respect. We must write a note of thanks to the hotel. On our last morning I went for a run with my friend through the park that runs along a dry river bed in Valencia. It’s a lovely setting and despite being early it was practically rush hour with the locals in running clubs, walking dogs and riding their bikes…Valencia’s equivalent of Park Run. Running with someone who is a better runner than me really helped me go further and faster than I would normally. I made a point of thanking them for this through only slightly gritted teeth. Incidentally, did you know that Park Run is a global thing? Apparently some people do the Park Run Alphabet challenge finding cities all round the world where it takes place. It takes place in both Mile End and Milan. I suspect the starting letter and hosting Park Run are the only thing they have in common. There’s also a UK version.

Relax

We are not usually short on relaxation during one of our trips. The key idea that underpins very trip is the idea of “me time”…that as human beings we all need and deserve some me time. Our group is very fortunate in being able to do this for a whole weekend once a year. What was interesting is that sitting round the dinner table and talking about which pillars we find easier and which we need to work on, the commonest area for improvement was in relaxing. One of our group described their child had complaining to them that they couldn’t sit in their lap if there was a lap top already there.

It’s great to have an opportunity like this once a year, but probably more important, if you had to choose, to have five minutes every day. We talked about what we found relaxing: reading, listening to music, walking the dog, eating a meal as a family or watching our favourite TV show with them. We discussed practising mindfulness, being present and limiting screen time and I showed some of our group how to use Do Not Disturb and night-shift functions on their phones, before we finally turned in for the night.

By the time this post is published I will be at my desk in the surgery on a cold, busy monday morning. I will feel a bit sad that our trip is over for another year. However, I have got more CPD points for my appraisal, a new background photo on my desktop, more fond memories to add to the nineteen year collection, and a date already in the diary for next year.

Thank you for allowing me to share this with you. I hope that making it personal has been useful. Like James Bond, the weekly Wellbeing round-up will return. Until next week, take care of yourselves!

Dr Richard Pile

The Weekly Wellbeing Round-Up #15: making a plan to improve your wellbeing.

When I first became a GP, I decided that many of my patients who needed to make lifestyle changes also had undiagnosed conditions that resulted in problems with their understanding,  memory and planning processes.  There must be something wrong with them, so my reasoning went, because they left my consulting room chastened by me about their lifestyle choices,  concerned about their impending doom, and clearly intent on turning their lives around….but when I saw them again they hadn’t done anything.   In fact, some of them were even more unhealthy than before.   Some cases stood out, like the man who was still popping out for fag breaks in between ward rounds on the coronary care unit after he’d had his heart attack.  Or the elderly lady with furred up arteries in her legs who looked me straight in the eye and told me that she was more scared by the thought of life without cigarettes than she was by the below knee amputation that she was heading relentlessly towards.   Surely the only explanation was stupidity or a death wish?  Or so I thought.

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Years have gone by and I have learnt a lot about people, which is an inevitable and highly desirable side effect of working in primary care.  I have spent time talking these things through with patients.  I have read round the subject of behavioural psychology (I highly recommend Nudge, Inside the Nudge Unit, and Think Small for a good grounding in this area), met with people from the Nudge Unit (or Behavioural Insights team, to give them their proper name)  and spent time discussing these issues with psychologists and other colleagues.   At Thrive Tribe, we are working with the Centre for Behavioural Change to ensure that all our practitioners are appropriately skilled in this area to help their clients, offering a service that is more than just education about giving up smoking or losing weight.

For the purpose of today’s blog post, I am going to share with you a small but important part of what I have learnt over the years.  It’s not very clever or surprising.   Neither is it difficult.  Everyone can do it.  It’s about having a plan.

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Why do we need a plan?

Humans are not rational creatures.  We assume that because we have been well in the past we will be so in the future.  We cleverly avoid joining the dots with all that we know about what is likely to happen as we get older.  We know that there are theoretical risks of things happening, like heart attacks and cancer and road accidents, but we assume that somehow we as individuals are exempt from this risk,  unlike everybody else in the world around us.   I’m sure you can see the potential flaws in this reasoning.  When things unravel, they can unravel quickly.  Even when things are not yet seriously unravelling health-wise, people are often still aware of their wellbeing issues.  When people fail to make changes that are needed, it isn’t because they don’t know what to do.  It’s beause they either don’t know how to do it, or they do know how to but have no plan in place to make it happen.   I know that I would like to catch up with my brother for breakfast over the next few weeks.  I also know based on the endless games of message-tag we play that via text, facebook messenger, what’s app and email unless we actually make a plan, it will  never happen.   It’s better to have a plan.  It could be written on paper, or stored electronically – just as long as you can refer to it and review it whenever you need.

Do wellbeing plans work?

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Plans are not foolproof.  Otherwise we wouldn’t refer to the best-laid ones or talk what the road to hell is paved with.  They do, however, increase our chances of making and sustaining the changes that we want to.   There are various reasons for this.

Accepting the need to make changes

Firstly, making a plan to change means that we have generally (perhaps grudgingly!) accepted that there is a change that needs to be made.  Maybe you’ve been along to see your GP, practice nurse or health care assistant and a few issues have been raised that you concede might be worth a look at – that weight you’ve been meaning to lose for years, your need to quit smoking or reduce your drinking because of the effect it’s having on your health,  or perhaps your worries about getting a bit fitter as you move into middle age.

Being specific about the changes

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Vague plans are not much good.  “I will lose weight/eat fewer biscuits/do more exercise” might work for a small minority, but for more people it will never translate into anything.  Why? Because they have leapt straight to the desired outcome and are too vague.  We need to be clear about what we are going differently that will result in those outcomes.   Each step in the process needs to be considered, broken down into even smaller steps if required, to see how realistic it is and what needs to be done in what order.  A plan makes it easier to achieve than a one-off mental note to self or vague intention.

A plan makes us accountable for the changes

If we have a plan, it means that we are accountable.  Not just to ourselves, which helps a bit, but potentially to others, which significantly increases our chances of success. Letting other people know what you are doing and even asking one or more of them to be a referee and hold you accountable means you are more likely to follow through.

A plan helps us to measure success as well as failure

If we have been specific in terms of what we want to achieve, how we will achieve it and how we will measure our success, then this will help us by encouraging us when we achieve what we have planned (which increases the chances of making further changes and sustaining what we have already done) as well as maybe challenging us with the areas where it hasn’t quite worked out yet.   The plan can always be changed when we learn as we go.   Putting rewards into the plan for when we achieve each stage of success can be quite motivating as well.

My top tips for making your wellbeing plan

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  1. Make it for yourself and only if you really mean it.  Not to make your GP happy.  If you’re not ready to make changes, let them down gently as early as possible and perhaps keep an open mind for the next time you have a wellbeing conversation.
  2. Make it simple.  The more complicated it gets, the more likely you are not to achieve bits of it, which can be disheartening.  Better to have simple success and build on it.
  3. Make it specific.  Losing weight might be the overall desired outcome, but break it down into smaller chunks e.g. cycling or walking to work, cutting out snacks, shopping for and preparing more of your own meals, not eating after a certain time of day.
  4. Make it achievable.  If you are inactive at present and break into a sweat at the thought of breaking into a sweat,  don’t aim for 150 mins of exercise a week from the outset.  Start with 5-10 mins a day every other day.  If you want to learn about mindfulness, start with 5 minutes a day on your smartphone app or just spend the time reading a book or listening to music.  I know a lot of people who say “I tried that” by which they mean they gave it a go a couple of times and gave up because it was too difficult or not immediately rewarding.  Changes are more likely to be made if they are easy, accessible, social and timely.
  5. Make it rational.  Think about what changes you can implement that are compatible with every day life and easy to sustain.  It needn’t involve hours of your time every day or expensive kit, diet plans or gym memberships.  It could be walking more briskly to the shops or whilst out with your dog, taking the stairs at work or working in the garden.
  6. Make it measurable.  It might be weight lost, minutes of activity completed, amount of sleep you have obtained or personal goals achieved (e.g. taking part in a social activity with your friends or playing football with your children or grandchildren)
  7. Make yourself accountable.  Tell people what you are doing e.g. work colleagues, friends and family, social media groups.  Consider asking someone to be a referee who will check in with you regularly.  Some people might ask their spouse.  Some might prefer a friend or colleague depending on how much they enjoy being nagged!
  8.  Make it a work in progress.  Your objectives are likely to change over time.  You will succeed in some areas and maybe not others.  That might simply mean not giving up and then trying again, or it might mean learning from what has worked well and not so well, and coming up with a better plan for the future.

Wellbeing planning in the real world.

I thought I would finished with some real life examples.

  1. Last year, all the GP practices in my area took part in a local Cardiac Prehab scheme which I had designed with some of my colleagues for our CCG.  Part of the service included identifying patients at higher risk of having a heart attack, stroke or developing diabetes and inviting them to an educational event at their GP practice.  The evening included a presentation on wellbeing and finished with each patient signing up to their own personal wellbeing plan.   These plans were collected and scanned into each patient’s records.  When they were reviewed a few months later, the doctor or nurse they saw reviewed their plans with them and discussed what had worked well or not so well.  The majority of the patients I reviewed had achieved at least one of their intended outcomes and were really pleased to see how well they had done, which encouraged them further.  This year the scheme has been rolled out across our entire clinical commissioning group, with a patient population of over 600,000 people.
  2. Those of you that are kind/enlightened/fortunate enough (delete as applicable) to read my blog posts regularly will know that I talk a lot about Rangan Chatterjee’s Four Pillar Plan.  Inspired by this, I have started to develop a welbeing plan template for EMIS (our computer system) which is based on this.  I have shared it with my practice colleagues and am now using it to enter data into the patient’s record and give them a printed copy after our consultation, so they have something to remind them of what we have agreed and to document their progress. Rangan Chatterjee and Ayan Panja did an excellent presentation on Prescribing Lifestyle Medicine at last week’s Emis National User Group conference at which they showcased an early version of their own lifestyle medicine template which is currently in development and  which will no doubt be snazzier than mine when it’s finished!

And finally, my own personal wellbeing plan

It is only right, of course, that I practice what I preach.  For years I have meant to lose a bit of weight.  For years I have surveyed my profile in the mirror in the morning, disappointed in myself for not having achieved anything and disappointed in the Six-Pack Fairy for not having visited overnight as I had hoped.  So in the end, I made a plan.  This included eating a lower carb diet (specifically changes to what I make for breakfast, making salads for lunch and cutting back on biscuits), exercising more regularly (getting up early to walk before work, doing HIIT workouts when I didn’t have time to ride or run), and doing press-ups as strengthening exercises each morning).   I am also much better at getting enough sleep, although there is always room for improvement.  I told my wife about this as I knew full well she would remind me if/when I lost track.   The results?  I have lost just over half a stone without feeling that I am depriving myself.   I feel fitter and have more energy.  I still don’t have a six pack and have decided that I was probably born without one, so maybe I will leave that out of the next version of the plan.

That’s all for this week from me.  Weekly Wellbeing Round Up #10 will be out next week.

Please do make a comment on the blog if you have enjoyed it, if you feel it could be improved, or to suggest future topics for me to work on.  I want to make it as useful as possible for all of you.  Please feel free to share the blog with your friends/colleagues/pateints/family members and sign up to it to receive updates automatically if you haven’t already.

Until next week, take care of yourself!

Dr Richard Pile

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The Weekly Wellbeing Round-Up #13: digital wellbeing.

Any doctor reading this who had a pound for every patient who has uttered the words “I think I need an MOT, doc” would probably be reading this from the deck of their yacht, floating on the Mediterranean.  Usually when this is said, it’s in the context of a physical and sometimes interrelated mental health concern.   No one, however, has ever come into my consulting room and said they need an MOT for their digital wellbeing.   This doesn’t mean there is not a problem…it just means that they are not aware of it.  When a health professional asks questions about a person’s health, they will usually ask about things like physical and mental symptoms, smoking, alcohol, sleep, diet, work and social issues.  But how often do we think about our digital health?  The topic of my blog this week was prompted by the news that YouTube has created tools to help users manage their digital wellbeing.  Here is the official YouTube blog on this topic.  Users can now monitor how much time they spend watching YouTube, set reminders to take a break, reduce their notifications to once a day and disable notification sounds and vibrations.   So today I will be focussing on digital wellbeing – the scale of the challenge, the signs and symptoms of digital health problems and how to increase your wellbeing so you feel better as a result.

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Is there really a problem?

Don’t get me wrong..digital technology, the internet, smartphones and social media can improve our lives significantly.  However,  when all of this stuff was invented, no one was sitting down thinking “we can do this, but should we?” or  “how should we use it best?”.  The genie is out of the bottle, and the times, they are a changin’.   In 1996, 16% of households owned a mobile phone.  In 2017 it was 95%.  95% of people between 16 and 34 years of age own a mobile phone, 51% up to the age of 64.   I got my first mobile in my twenties.  The average starting age of smartphone ownership is now 10.3 years.  We have other mobile devices now with software that also allows us to always be connected.  My household has five people in it and between us we own 5 mobile phones, two ipads, 5 laptops, a kindle, a desktop computer, two apple TV’s, a games console and various ipods.

“So what?”, I hear you ask.  The way we live is changing.  People have been predicting the end of the world as we know it on a regular basis since time immemorial.  Is this just another example of moral panic?  Sadly, I don’t think so.

In 2014, Ofcom reported that britons spend more time on screens than they do asleep.  When it comes to devices, the same report found that 6 year olds had the same level of knowledge about them as 45 year olds.  It’s not that hard to believe.  Over-reliance on devices has significant potential drawbacks including the effects upon our ability to maintain real life relationships, concentration levels, being present and  in touch with real world.  This article in the Independent in 2017 reports on the findings of  a study that the average briton touches their phone 10,000 times a year or 28 times a day.  That number may not seem particularly high but other studies claim that there are some groups of higher uses who touch their phone thousands of times a day.  Just think about the implications of that in terms of the time spent checking the phone for new updates and content, never mind the time spent reading some of them.

There is increasing evidence to suggest that activities done without a screen are generally associated with increased happiness and screen based activities are generally associated with decreased happiness.    More specifically, the case is being built for increased social media use being related to unhappiness, having consequences for us both personally and professionally.  A good friend of mine has worked in recruitment for various large companies over the years and has seen the consequences both in terms of its impact upon productivity and professionalism at work, and people’s inability to communicate properly when applying for jobs, struggling with simple things like eye contact and a handshake.

One of the most significant impacts on our wellbeing is how devices and being always-on, with the blurring of home and work life, affect our sleep.  This is a particular issue because the type of light (blue/white light) emitted by these screens disrupts out sleep by interfering the natural rise in levels of melatonin that normally occur as the day goes on and natural light diminishes.   The blurring of our boundaries between work and home also means that we find it harder to relax, dominated by the sympathetic nervous system (responsible for our fight-or-flight), at a time of day when our parasympathetic nervous system should be taking over and slowing things down.  A great quote from Dr Rangan Chatterjee, whose Feel Better Live More podcasts I heartily recommend, is that a sympathetic nervous system response for a short burst of adrenaline fuelled fight or flight activity was appropriate when a lion was trying to kill us but now “it’s our life that’s trying to kill us”.

Symptoms and signs of the problem

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All identified disease have signs and symptoms.   Digital malaise is no different.   Like other diseases, having one or two of these might not necessarily indicate a person has a significant problem.  However, if they begin to add up, it’s a red flag.  These might include:

  1.  Checking your device last thing at night and as soon as you are awake.
  2. Cutting off a face to face conversation or any other form of social interaction with someone to check or answer your phone.
  3. Repeatedly checking your phone in any gap in the day no matter how small (on the loo, in the advert breaks, when you get into the car, when the traffic lights are red etc, whilst waiting for the kettle to boil, the microwave to ping or the download to finish) and regardless of when you last checked it.
  4. Feeling worried if you are separated from your phone.  You know where it is, but somehow it doesn’t feel right.  You list to one side when you walk because it isn’t in your pocket.  You start to wonder if your twitter following has grown in the five minutes since you last checked it, and are now concerned you cannot find this out instantly.  Note this is not the same as actually losing your phone.  My friend dropped his iphone on our bike ride the other day and we spent 15-20 mins calling it and then getting his family to Find My Iphone to locate it on the maps app and then ping it until we found it…..fair enough!
  5. Falling behind with your work and personal deadlines but being bang up to date with having checked and responded to the lastest social media updates.   No point getting a snapchat streak and getting canned at the same time.
  6. You get phantom vibrations.  We’ve all felt that sensation that makes us think we have a call or notification.  However, people who are addicted to their phones are more likely to feel this and check for it.
  7. Checking and answering work emails at weekends/evenings.  Of course we’ve all done it, from time to time.  But do you do it regularly…and particularly late at night?
  8. Meaning to go to bed/do that piece of work, but just finding yourself scrolling through social media for hours, disappearing down various side tracks and rabbit holes along the way.

Tips for improving your digital wellbeing…and the rest of your wellbeing as a result

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  1.  Do not have your phone by your bedside.  Charge it in another room or at least in the corner.  And before you protest…buy an alarm clock.  With red not blue light in the display.  Or an actual old fashioned clock.  Or get your fitbit/other quantifiable self type gadget to vibrate to wake you up.
  2. If you can’t go cold turkey with your phone out of arms’ reach, then at least use the operating system’s do-not-disturb options to stop notifications after a certain time (e.g. 10pm to 7am) and if your phone has an option to cut out blue light (e.g. Nightmode on iOS) then use that in the evenings.  Ideally get into the habit of not using your phone for 1-2 hours before you want to be asleep.  I should point out that if you are considering option 2 because you couldn’t contemplate option 1, that’s a red flag and the reason why you should choose option 1.
  3. Turn off notifications on your phone.  This means you will at least be making an active choice to check for updates, instead of having your phone ping/vibrate/display new updates constantly.   You can be selective and turn off notifications from certain apps if you wish.  I have done this and found it a huge release.   I know my wife or kids will ring or text me if it’s something really important.   The rest doesn’t matter and can wait until I’ve got some free time.  You will be less distracted and able to focus on other things like hitting that work deadline, or the conversation you are having with the person in front of you.
  4. Speaking of the person in front of you, think very carefully before you ever interrupt a real life conversation to check or respond to something on your phone. Doing that says to that person that they are less important than someone or something virtual .  Would you turn your back on someone mid sentence?  Or break off to walk away and talk to someone else?  And before you protest that sometimes the message/update might be “very important”, let’s just think about that for a second.  Ask yourself the question “Am I a super hero with a secret identity who needs to look for a phone box to change in/a highly trained special forces operative/a member of the emergency services on call?”  If the answer to those questions is no then take a breath and get a grip.  Your family,  friends and work colleagues will appreciate this.   I apply this during most of my consultations, when I don’t answer the phone unless I am the emergency doctor.  It tells the patient that what they are saying to me is more important, and whoever’s ringing can try again later.
  5. Think about whether you need to answer that work email.  There is a mistaken assumption that working long hours and answering emails even when you are on holiday or at home with your family that it makes you more productive and a better worker.  It’s not true.  You could consider turning on inbox rules.  For example, you could autoreply to all emails between 10pm and 7 am that you will deal with them the next working day.  Or more radically, auto delete all emails that arrive whilst you are on annual leave, with a response advising the sender who to contact if it is urgent and needs dealing with before you return.  If you are a boss, lead by example.  Think about the culture that you want to create within your organisation. If you need to, make a deliberate decision to get up early the next day rather than staying up late.  You will be better for a night’s sleep and it’s a conscious choice to do some focussed work, as opposed to just browsing your inbox.
  6. If you really need help with self control, you can configure the wifi network in your house for time restricted access.  This can be device specific, using what’s called the MAC or wifi address for each device in question.  If your laptop or tablet can’t connect to the internet, it seriously limits some of your options.  More details on this in a future post about looking after our children’s digital wellbeing.
  7.  Think about whether using certain social media platforms is to your benefit and makes you happy.  If you find yourself irritated by most of what you read, feel bad because people’s lives on Instagram look a lot better than yours, or end up getting into spats with people on a regular basis on your local Facebook Mum’s group, ask yourself the question whether this is really life enhancing and what purpose it actually serves.  Does it make you a better and happier person?  A better parent? A better employee?
  8. Take a digital sabbatical.  Why not try a few days or a even a week without social media or reading your (non-urgent) emails?  Or 24 hours with your notifications turned off?  If you feel that’s too much, start with a shorter period of time.   You may start with suffering from FOMO (fear of missing out), but after you’ve got over that, it can be liberating.  You may like to consider Scroll Free September , launched by the Royal Society for Public Health.  Fear not, you don’t have to abandon all forms of social media if that’s a bit too drastic.  They have lots of options that you might like to consider.   I am taking up the Sleeping Dog (no social media after 6pm) and Social Butterfly (no use of social media at social events….just enjoy the moment) options.
  9. Find other enjoyable stuff to do.  If you spend hours on a screen, just think about what else you might be able to do with that time.  Go for a walk, spend time with your kids, make that call you’ve been meaning to, read a book, listen to some music, cook a really nice meal, catch up with your friends, take up a new hobby.   I stopped reading the news every day a couple of months ago.  It’s always the same old depressing nonsense anyway and leaves me with a jaundiced view of humanity. Just listening to the today program for 5 mins in the morning  once or twice a week tells me all I need to know.  I have spent the time reading instead.  OK, and writing this blog.

If we all did some of these things we would find ourselves happier and healthier, more focussed and with better relationships.  If you have any tips for improving your digital wellbeing, they would be most welcome.  Please do share them in the comments section. If you would like to do some further thinking and listening, I recommend the TED Radio Hour Screen Time podcasts, part 1 and part 2.  Good, thought provoking stuff.

That’s it for this week.   Your comments on the blog would be really helpful.  If you like it, please share with other people…particularly anyone you know who might benefit from a digital detox!   Until next week, take care of yourself.

Dr Richard Pile.

The Weekly Wellbeing Round-Up #2

Welcome back to the Weekly Round Up.  Have you enjoyed the start of the World Cup?  Or are you already counting the days until it’s over?  In our house, we fall firmly into the former category.  My kids have already chosen world cup fantasy football teams and we are planning our family last sixteen sweepstake and what the prize might be for the lucky winner.  So let’s kick off (bad pun fully intentional) with some…

Physical activity

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Resting heart rate (RHR) has long been considered a proxy measure for physical fitness.  I first encountered this as a junior doctor when I met an olympic rower with a resting heart rate of 35 beats per minute.   Does this mean, therefore, that a higher resting heart rate is a bad thing and a possible predictor of increased risk of death?  The answer may be yes, according to the Melbourne Collaborative Cohort Study which found that a rise in resting heart rate over a decade was associated with increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease, cancer or other causes.   Of course this may be an association rather than a cause.  So what can we take from this practically in primary care?  Consider a RHR of greater than 70 in men and 80 in women to indicate a higher risk of mortality and target those individuals not with drugs to slow their heart rate down, but with more intensive lifestyle counselling.  It could be an added dimension to an NHS health check.

Weight

obesity

It can be a little awkward broaching the subject of wellbeing with an overweight patient…especially if they are a child.  Here is  a useful video on childhood obesity that has been made by Public Health England to inform and support health professionals in this area.   Take home message – we need to start with women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant to have these conversations.  Additional materials can be found here.

Food 

bowl of vegetable salad and fruits

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Patients and health professionals alike may be aware of the ongoing debate about food related issues such as carbs vs fats and what helps most with weight loss.  In an attempt to provide balance, and to act as an anecdote to the unedifying behaviour sometimes seen on social media in this area, the BMJ will be publishing a series of articles covering this and other contentious areas, looking at both sides of the argument.  This week’s article is on Food based dietary patterns and chronic disease prevention.  You will need to have a BMJ subscription to view the full text.  The key messages are

  • Food based prevention of chronic disease risk should prioritise fruits, vegetables, whole grains and fish and lower consumption of red and processed meats and sugar sweetened drinks

  • Higher consumption of nuts, legumes, vegetable oils, fermented dairy products, and coffee are further likely to confer benefit

Personally I recommend that you use olive oil in salads and dressings, and use other oils such as ghee or coconut oil if you are going to fry food, as they oxidise at higher temperatures than olive oil and other vegetable oils. Make of this what you will, but may I recommend you avoid behaving badly on twitter, wherever you stand?

 

Digital Wellbeing

apps blur button close up

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The Children’s Commissioner has recommended that social media must be made less addictive for children.  The example of “streaks” in Snapchat has been highlighted.  The protestations of social media companies that their products are not designed to be addictive sound very similar to those of Big Tobacco.  No immediate, tangible results here.  My recommendation to my patients in the meantime is that no child should have a mobile phone before secondary school age or access to social media until they are older e.g. 14+.  Parents who roll their eyes and say that they don’t understand technology and can’t figure out how their home wifi works or how to restrict applications on their kids’ phones should be asked whether they would take as relaxed an approach to allowing their kids to have access to pornography, cigarettes or under age drinking.  I will be dedicating a whole blog topic to this.  I think social media addiction is the new inactivity, which was the new obesity, which was the new smoking etc etc etc.

On a related note, Techcrunch reports that Apple has unveiled digital wellness features for children and adults alike.   These include an upgraded version of Do Not Disturb, options to reduce and restrict the intrusiveness of notifications, a regular report of how much time you have spent on your phone and which apps you use the most,  and parental controls to limit screen and game time.  Well worth a read.  Other companies such as Google are making similar moves.  In my opinion, starting with making us aware of just how much time we are spending on our screens is the first step towards us challenging ourselves and managing it better and more mindfully.

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Technology is not all bad, of course.  So to end on a positive note, here are five free apps for mental health and wellbeing.  I particularly recommend Headspace (available on iOS and Android).  I started using it a few years ago when life was quite challenging because of my son’s severe uncontrolled epilepsy and all the knock on effects this had for him and for the rest of us.  It’s designed by a former buddhist monk (although it doesn’t require you to embrace any particular philosophy or belief system) and has different modules for different aspects of your life.  A subscription is roughly the price of a cup of coffee per month.  As a result of getting into the habit of using the principles regularly, I have found it hugely beneficial (disclaimer – I’m not getting paid or given a discounted membership to promote this!).

That’s all for this week.  Thanks for tuning in.  See you next week!