The COVID pandemic had a huge impact on the UK’s wellbeing. Successive lockdowns barred lots of positive mental health coping mechanisms, while increasing stress levels. Nowhere was this more true than for healthcare workers.
Even before COVID, rates of burnout were already climbing within the health service. And they skyrocketed over the course of the pandemic. A 2019 NHS staff survey found 40.3% of respondents reported feeling unwell in the past 12 months as a result of workplace stress. That was up from 36.8% in 2016. In the 2021 version of this survey, 44% of staff had felt unwell from workplace stress in the past 12 months.
Traditional wellbeing tools – such as meditation, breath work, yoga and time in nature – bring huge benefits. Studies show, for example, that meditation can lower the inflammation response caused by stress. However, lack of time and a negative view of these activities can stop people taking part in them.
As burnout increases, we need to find more creative ways to support wellbeing. And that’s especially true amongst key workers such as NHS staff.
Enter: creative wellbeing and wellbeing in virtual reality!
Medicine meets creativity
One NHS medic looking to remedy the way in which the NHS sees wellbeing is Dr Efosa Michael Uwubamwen. He’s a medical doctor with a background in major trauma. He also has 8 years of experience working within the creative industries. Efosa now specialises in creative wellbeing. And he believes it can change the future of wellness for NHS staff, patients and the whole UK population.
“Stress is an epidemic with proven causative links to a range of non-communicable diseases,” Efosa points out. “This not only costs us our health. It also places significant financial burdens on communities.”
That’s why he believes we need new tools for supporting wellbeing. “It’s true that we do live in an increasingly fast-paced society. And while stress is on the rise, so are our options to arm ourselves against it.” He’s working on several projects which use the creative arts and virtual reality to enhance wellbeing amongst NHS staff.
“Creativity, art and design have a pivotal role to play in the the world of health and healthcare”
Creative wellbeing uses “tools such art, music and photography to both actively and passively cultivate wellbeing.” It’s a new branch of public health which gives more ways to care for our mental health.
Efosa is the founder of an initiative called Healthpush, which offers “group art and exercise gatherings, specialised careers counselling and therapy, mentorship schemes and more” to NHS staff. It’s a radical attempt to combat the culture within healthcare where, he says, “exhaustion is worn as a badge of honour.”
“As understanding and research surrounding wellbeing through the arts becomes more commonplace, I hope it can be taught and implemented effectively through public health initiatives and appropriate social prescribing, allowing everyone to take control of their health.”
Wellbeing gets virtual
Alongside his work on NHS access to creative wellbeing, he’s also part of a pilot for virtual reality wellbeing. “The concept is based on a study carried out at Brunel University in 2021. It measured heart heart variability and the feelings of participants among healthcare workers using wellbeing-focused VR experiences. The new pilot is running in collaboration with the King’s College Hospital wellbeing team. It features VR mindfulness experiences that are 6-10 minutes in length, can fit in a coffee break, and are specifically designed to reduce workplace stress and anxiety.”
“Countless studies show the positive effects of performing mindfulness practices regularly, however many of us find ourselves unable to stay consistent, easily distracted or just doubtful that we’re ‘doing it right’. These experiences are our proposed solution. Immersing the user in a calming virtual reality environment, free of distractions and lowering the barrier to entry for effective mindfulness practice. It’s mindfulness, streamlined for those who need it most.”
Part of the Elevate toolkit
Efosa is working with Elevate to bring creative wellbeing into companies’ wellness toolkits. Get in touch for information on workshops with Efosa, as well as how the Elevate team can support your employees’ wellbeing needs.