Why I hope social prescribing by doctors won’t be around for long

Why I hope social prescribing by doctors won’t be around for long

Social prescribing is becoming a popular concept in healthcare and treatment. GPs in England can prescribe dance classes for people who are lonely. Doctors in Shetland, Scotland can now prescribe nature.

The UK Prime Minister Theresa May has also launched the government’s first loneliness strategy saying that ‘social prescriptions would reduce demand on the NHS and improve patients’ quality of life’.

 

But what is social prescribing?

 

How can it help people with their physical and mental health? Is it just another fad that will come and go?

According to the Social Prescribing Network here in the UK, social prescribing ‘is a means of enabling GPs and other frontline healthcare professionals to refer patients to a link worker – to provide them with a face to face conversation during which they can learn about the possibilities and design their own personalised solutions, i.e. ‘co-produce’ their ‘social prescription’- so that people with social, emotional or practical needs are empowered to find solutions which will improve their health and wellbeing, often using services provided by the voluntary and community sector.’

I get that definition, but I’m not sure it’s user friendly to the person who will receive the ‘social prescription’.

 

So here is my definition of social prescribing

 

Social prescribing is when a medical or healthcare professional prescribes a non-medical activity which could improve your health and wellbeing. The non-medical activities could meet a range of needs such as the need to be more physically active, eat more healthily, be with people, improve your mood, manage stress, participate in an activity we enjoy doing, feeling productive and more.

All of these non-medical needs can have an impact on your health. For example, when you are living with chronic fatigue or pain, that can impact your ability to work and hence have a knock-on effect on your financial independence, having a roof over your head, etc. The worry causes stress, stress can exacerbate symptoms. Your health can become worse.

Or if you don’t know how to cook and so rely on take-away food outlets near your home and ready-made meals from the supermarket. But your diet has led to weight issues and you’ve been diagnosed with diabetes.

Another person could help you decide which non-medical options would best meet your needs and find them, i.e. the ‘link worker’ mentioned above.

 

Social prescribing can include learning how to cook healthy meals. Picture of a salad of lettuce, broad beans, asparagus, avocado, chicken, parmesan and croutons

Social prescribing can include learning how to cook healthy meals. A tasty and easy to prepare salad of lettuce, broad beans, asparagus, avocado, chicken, parmesan and croutons.

 

Social prescribing would aim to help you find non-medical solutions to issues you have

 

It helps you identify the changes you can make in various parts of your life which will contribute to improving your long-term health and manage the impact of any long-term conditions you have.

For example, what local flexible working opportunities could there be for someone with chronic pain or fatigue. Or a local cooking class to learn how to cook simple healthy meals. Or a gardening club for someone who experiences depression, anxiety and/or loneliness.

The aim is to prevent health issues from getting worse, reduce the financial burden on the NHS especially primary care, i.e. GP service.

All good stuff. There are some very real issues to consider when social prescribing such as whether the activities being prescribed are accessible, do people want to take part in the activities, do they have the confidence to take part, and the cost of such activities when government is cutting investment in local services. Despite that, I feel that social prescribing is a worthy effort.

 

Social prescribing - Being on or near the water is recognised as being beneficial to our health. A picture of me kayaking in Chichester Harbour.

Being on or near the water is recognised as beneficial to our health. Me kayaking in Chichester Harbour.

 

But I hope social prescribing won’t be around for long

 

Shock, horror at reading that, right?

Here is why I think that.

I hope it becomes so popular and embedded in the medical world’s and society’s way of doing things, it becomes the ‘done thing’. In fact, I hope it becomes the go-to option where possible before doctors prescribe medications are medical interventions (when that’s possible).

Through this, society can learn that they have these options to improve their mental and physical health. People learn that these activities become their first go-to options in self-managing their health and wellness.

That is my dream for social prescribing.

 

However, reality means we may need social prescribing for some time to come

 

As a society we have done a good job of medicalising everything. In the last century and even in this new one there have been so many advances and many more are on the horizon. The random control trial is the gold standard in research, the aim is to find medications that help and treatments that cure. Life has been extended. That is good.

Society has also gotten used to the medical model. When you’re unwell or injured, you go to the doctor and hope s/he gives you a prescription or recommends another medical intervention to sort the issue out. For some people, they feel it is the doctor’s responsibility to sort the issue and their role is to follow (maybe) the doctor’s instructions. So the patient’s role is passive.

In the process of all this, we have forgotten the non-medical treatments we can use to improve our physical and mental health – a walk in nature, attending activity groups, taking up a new hobby, spending time with people, and regular exercise are just some examples. We may have gotten used to being in a passive role and giving up some of our personal power.

 

Picture of a man sitting on a sofa saying that the biggest thing he learned was how much he has to do and is responsible for regarding managing his health issue, but that he has to be because he is with his health issue 24/7.

 

I think social prescribing is the reminder that non-medical treatments have just as much value in improving our health as medical treatments.

 

Social prescribing encourages a holistic focus on treating mental and physical health issues. Not all health issues can be solved by medical intervention alone. Changes in other aspects of your life can make a significant contribution to improved health. And given it is our life, I feel it is up to us to take control and play a significant role in identifying and making those changes. Some of the changes we can make, such as a walk/roll in nature for exercise, are free.

However, I have to remind myself that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day.’ It will take time to embed this holistic approach to making positive changes to our health in our society. And individual responsibility for it. That is not a small effort. So I think social prescribing will have to be around for some time.

And I am ok with that.

 

Picture of a woman saying she likes to swim but does yoga in bed when she is having a flare-up and a man saying he has to think about which non-medical interventions would help improve his health and wellbeing.

 

What about you?

 

What do you think of social prescribing? Have you experienced it yet during the course of your or a loved one’s medical care? Leave a comment below or email it privately to me using the contact form in the sidebar.

If you are living with a serious health issue or are caring for someone who is, and would like support to find non-medical ways to improve your sense of wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Help with research on acceptance

 

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more. And in exchange, I offer you a free 1 hour coaching session.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I wrote this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to spread the ideas, click on the icons to share.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2018

 

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How to find a hobby to improve your mental health

How to find a hobby to improve your mental health

A month ago I wrote a blog on the 10 ways in which a hobby can improve your mental health when living with the impact of a serious illness or injury.

But after writing the blog, I thought of something I did not address in it. It was a question put to me by someone living with a neurological condition.

 

How do I find the right hobby for me?

new hobbies after serious health issue

Finding new hobbies after a serious health issue changes your life.

 

Great question! You may not have a hobby or have found the right one for you. You could be busy with the routine of your health issue, work, family and/or life in general. Which is normal and happens to a lot of people.

But maybe you are at the stage that you like to find a hobby to give yourself a break from illness, family, work, whatever. Or you may want an activity just for yourself or to restore a sense of normality in your life.

So in this post I am going to continue the theme of how a hobby improves mental health by answering that question.

 

How do you find the right hobby for you?

 

First, a recap from the previous blog the 10 way in which hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life.

 

hobbies improve mental health

10 ways hobbies can improve your mental health

 

These 10 ways provide an insight into the criteria or questions you can ask yourself when selecting a new hobby. Not all may be a requirement for you. Nor are they all a requirement for a hobby.

 

1. You are interested in the hobby

 

The hobby has a decent chance of holding your attention and focus. This is particularly important if you are hoping for the hobby to provide a distraction from your symptoms for a time.

 

2. You can use existing skills which you value using

 

This can be a powerful reminder of your existing strengths, which we can sometimes forget about when we are in a difficult place. For example, I enjoy research because it allows me to use my brain in a way I value. A new hobby I picked up whilst seriously ill was genealogical research. Another advantage of that hobby was I wasn’t required to move too much, which was good because I couldn’t due to the illness.

 

3. You will be able to physically do the hobby or adapt your approach to it

 

Sometimes after a serious health issue, our bodies can permanently change and we may no longer be able to do previous activities or we must adapt how we do them. For example, a friend had a heart attack and due to having angina as a result, returning to their hobby of running was not possible. They chose a new hobby of photography as it would allow them to walk whilst taking photos.

 

4. The hobby can provide an opportunity to learn and get better

 

Learning a new skill or developing an existing skill further provides a sense of satisfaction and mastery, which contributes to improved mental health and quality of life.

 

5. There is an opportunity to achieve something

 

And do you value that kind of achievement? For example, knitting can result in a finished product like a scarf, hat, jumper or blanket that you can use or give as a gift to someone.

 

6. The hobby provides a sense of belonging

 

Does the hobby provide an opportunity to socialise with others in person? Or to connect virtually with people? Which do you prefer? As I said in the previous blog on hobbies, being with others fosters a sense of belonging, which can be very powerful as it reduces the isolation that can result from having a serious health issue.

However, you may want a hobby that allows you to be by yourself and that is ok too.

Sometimes this nature of belonging is looking after something or someone else, whether it be a child, plants, or a pet. Whatever it is, it depends on you to survive and flourish. The process of helping in this way can be very affirming of you and your abilities. This is powerful as often after the onset of a serious health issue, it is common to lose our sense of self-worth as we feel we cannot contribute or look after others as we used to.

 

7. Is the activity something you think you will enjoy doing?

 

When we enjoy something, we often relax. And relaxation reduces stress. A win-win all around.

hobbies improve our mental health

The impact of hobbies on our mental health is a virtuous circle.

 

8. What meaning does the hobby give you?

 

By ‘meaning’ I mean you value what the activity has to offer whatever that is, such as the activity itself, being with people, helping others, creating or collecting something, increasing your knowledge, playing a team game with others, just having fun or something else. Or maybe the hobby allows you to live a value of yours, something that is important to you. For example, baking could be expressing a value of creativity, or community if you share your bakes with others.

 

9. Does the hobby restore a sense of normality to your life?

 

A hobby can provide routine like ‘every Wednesday evening from April through March I go kayaking’ and this fosters a sense of normality.

 

10. Consider what you enjoyed doing in the past, what you are good at and passionate about

 

What we enjoyed doing in the past, and our existing strengths and passions can be the source for new hobbies. Even skills we use at work and our jobs can be used in a hobby.

Hobbies we had as a child may capture our interest again. Or we may adapt childhood interests to what we want to do now. For example, maybe you used to sew clothes but now you want to make quilts.

If you are skilled at organising events, many charities and local neighbourhood initiatives may require this skill. If you are an accountant, maybe you do the accounts for free for a local club or charity or bring that skill to a non-executive position of an organisation. You can channel a skill you use at work towards a cause you find meaningful.

If you are passionate about nature, keeping bees or letting a beekeeper keep hives in your garden, bird watching, or creating homes for hedgehogs in your garden can all become hobbies.

It might be possible to adapt your approach to previous hobbies so you can still enjoy them. For example, if you now have limited mobility and gardening was a favourite pastime, raised outdoor beds or potting and growing plants indoors could still allow you to enjoy the hobby.

Sometimes a hobby can grow out of another hobby. For example, a friend developed a passion for Word War I history whilst doing genealogical research. He has since contributed to his local council’s initiative to commemorate those from the area who fought and died in the war, and may even start leading tours of the battlefields in France.

So based on the 10 ways hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life, these 10 criteria and questions can be your starting point in finding new hobbies. Have fun trying out new activities in your search and when you find your hobby, share it here. I’d love to know what you choose and how you are finding it.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Did you pick up any new hobbies as a result of your health issue? What influenced your choice? And how is it helping to improve your mental health and quality of life? Share below as your comment could help someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although this blog is written in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

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How hobbies can improve your mental health when living with serious illness or injury

How hobbies can improve your mental health when living with serious illness or injury

Living with the impact of a temporary serious illness, chronic illness, or injury can be draining in many ways and adversely impact your mental health. The routine of illness/injury can quickly take over. It feels like the illness or injury dictates your life and is in control. It feels like parts of you are slipping away and you don’t recognise yourself anymore.

This is understandable. When you are living with the impact of a serious illness/injury, it’s not like you know automatically what to do. You have to figure out new ways of taking care of yourself and what works for you. That can be time consuming. Also, life continues to happen around you and you have to deal with that. It can feel like there isn’t time left to focus on fun things like hobbies and personal interests. Life is just too busy or you’re too tired to focus on them.

But hobbies and fun activities can be the very thing that will improve your mental health and quality of life. This is super important when you are living with a potentially life-changing health issue. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

Having been inspired by my own and a colleague’s experience, and others writing about their experience, I share the 10 ways hobbies and personal interests can help you improve your mental health, and restore some normality to your life, your quality of life, and your sense of self.

hobbies can improve mental health

 

How hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life

 

Here are 10 ways in which hobbies improve your mental health and quality of life. Hobbies can:

1. Provide an escape from symptoms

In the early days of living with Transverse Myelitis, I had bad fatigue, neuropathic pain and major sensory disturbance (pins and needles everywhere in my body). I could only sit on the sofa and watch daytime telly, which I found boring.

So I opened my laptop and despite my hands being badly affected, I started genealogical research. I was quickly absorbed and distracted from the pain and fatigue for a time. Even though I made loads of typing mistakes because I had constant pins and needles in my hands and so could not feel things properly (still do just not as bad), I was so absorbed in my work I didn’t mind. My focus was on the hobby, less so on my hands.

I once heard a story of a person with Parkinson’s whose tremors stops when she picks up a camera to take pictures. There is a respite from the Parkinson’s symptoms for a time.

A colleague with Parkinson’s told me about how when she rides her bike, she is free of symptoms. She forgets she has Parkinson’s and values this sense of freedom. The cycling is also great exercise.

2. Remind you of abilities you still have

Being able to engage in research reminded me my brain was fine even though my body wasn’t. I could still do research and use my brain in a way which I valued.

3. Process of learning and getting better provides a sense of mastery

With many hobbies you learn even if you have been indulging in the hobby for many years. I’ve been doing genealogical research for 9 years now and I am often learning something new about my family or how to conduct the research so I achieve what I am aiming to. That process of improving is very satisfying.

4. Provide achievement

Hobbies enable you to achieve something of value to you whether that is drawing or painting a picture; completing a cross-stitch, book or bike ride; gardening; writing a poem or story; creating music; going for a walk; cooking a meal; winning a game; finding that one rare stamp to add to a collection, etc.

hobbies improve mental health

Hobbies can improve your mental health and quality of life.

 

5. Provide an opportunity to socialise with people

Some hobbies naturally lend themselves to being with other people and may even need others so you can engage in the hobby. Like a team sport. Being with others doing an activity you all have an interest in fosters a sense of belonging. This is hugely important as sometimes when living with a serious illness, you can feel very isolated.

I adore kayaking because it gets me out in nature, it gets me moving, it’s a mindfulness practice for me, it’s hugely relaxing, and most of the time I kayak with other people. I find paddling very therapeutic for my body and mind. As a hobby it ticks boxes of what is important to me.

6. Provide a safe way to deal with unpleasant feelings associated with the changes in your life so they do not end up dominating your life

This is important to do. It enables you to get in touch with the experience of your illness/condition/injury so you integrate it into the story of your life without it being ignored, shut away or owning you in an unhealthy way. I wrote about how you can do this here. 

7. Provide enjoyment

I enjoy genealogical research. I love the process of discovery it provides. I enjoy sharing what I learn with my family.

8. Reduce stress and provide relaxation

When we do something we enjoy that is just for us, we often relax. The stress leaves our bodies as we focus on our hobby. So when you feel stressed, indulging in your hobby is a brilliant antidote to it as @HannahEliza1 finds with playing the piano.

9. Provide meaning

Regarding genealogical research, I feel like I am the keeper of the family stories and it’s my job to record them and pass the on so current generations can do that too. That gives meaning to me and my life. It also allows me to live my value of the importance of family.

10. Restore a sense of normality to your life

Hobbies are part and parcel of life. Most people have them. So they bring a sense of normality. Although your life may have changed substantially due to a serious illness, hobbies can still be a part of it. They may be hobbies from pre-illness/injury days or new hobbies chosen due to the changes you’ve experienced because of your illness or injury.

Hobbies can provide all of this. And do you know what all this does?

 

Hobbies feed your self-worth

 

Those 10 things hobbies do for you are good for your psychological wellbeing. They improve your quality of life. They feed your sense of self-worth.

Hobbies allow you to be you, to do something for yourself, to express all the richness that is within you, and to feed that richness so you can keep expressing it.

So claim back time for your hobbies and interests. Your mental health and self-worth are too important. They matter because you matter.

hobbies improve mental health chronic illness

The value of hobbies to your mental health when living with serious illness or injury.

 

What’s it like for you?

 

Has a hobby helped you to deal with the impact of your illness or injury? Did you pick up any new hobbies as a result? Or are you trying to adapt a hobby so you can still indulge in it or searching for a new hobby to restore a sense of normality to your life? Share below as a comment and you may end up helping someone else.

If you are living with a chronic illness or the after effects of a serious illness, or are caring for someone who is and would like support to enhance your sense of emotional wellness, have a look at how we can work together and get in touch for a free no obligation consultation.

 

Pass it forward

 

Although I write this blog in the context of living with a serious health issue, the ideas contained within are applicable to everyone. If you think someone you know would benefit from reading this blog, or you just want to share it with the world, share it using the icons below.

If you or a loved one experienced a serious health issue in the past 2 years and are struggling or wondering if you can accept what has happened and whether you have to, I would love to speak with you. I am researching the concept of ‘acceptance’ within the context of a serious health issue by collecting people’s experiences with it. Click here to find out more.

© Copyright Barbara Babcock 2017

 

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“Take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
by Martin Luther King, Jr.

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