During busy days of managing client care and admin work, one thing that can often fall short is your own self-care. When you dedicate your day to helping other people, the last thing you want to worry about when you come home is helping yourself as well.

But to be the best version of yourself (and to provide the best possible care to your clients), proper self-care is essential.

To help you take the first step towards taking care of yourself, we sat down with Archna Patel, an award-winning acupuncturist from London to talk about all things well-being for private practitioners. 

In our conversation we covered: 

Hey Archna! So lovely to get to chat with you. To get us started, could you give us a quick intro into who you are and what you do? 

Of course. My name is Archna Patel and I’m an acupuncturist with a successful award-winning clinic located in the heart of London. My whole career has been spent in the health sector – I studied medical laboratory sciences at university, with a specialism in haematology before joining the Haematology Department at St Thomas’ Hospital.

I became interested in acupuncture when my son was diagnosed with severe asthma at five months. Nothing seemed to alleviate the symptoms or the effect they had on him.

It was the moment I nearly lost him to an acute attack when he was 7 years old that I understood every future asthma episode might kill him, that I knew I had to look at other treatment options and I was willing to try absolutely anything within reason.

I took my son to see an acupuncturist and it made an immediate and tangible difference to his life. It started with small things – he smiled a lot more, he was happier, more talkative, less introverted. After that we began to notice that his asthmatic episodes had lessened in frequency and intensity. He no longer needed antibiotics and he was less dependent on his inhalers.

The impact of acupuncture on his life soon had me asking questions, and it didn’t take long or very much research to convince me to study acupuncture.

I trained at the prestigious College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, graduating in 2001, and I have been in private practice ever since. I treat a wide range of conditions that include stress and anxiety, insomnia, migraine and headaches, hay fever and musculoskeletal pain but specialise and have a particular interest in the treatment of women’s health issues. 

I’m a member of the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) where I have also been a sitting committee member, the Acupuncture Fertility Network (AFN), the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) and the British Fertility Society (BFS).

It’s also important for me that I pass on my knowledge and expertise to other acupuncture practitioners, and to that end I teach an online course in endocrinology and female health that is designed for acupuncturists and other professionals who are interested in learning more about how traditional Chinese medicine helps treat female health conditions.

Before we get started talking about how to improve your wellbeing, I wanted to touch on one thing briefly. I can imagine that a lot of practitioners either feel like they don’t need to work on their own wellbeing or they feel selfish because their job is to help their clients, not themselves. What would you say, to your fellow practitioners, why investing the time into something like this is so important? Now but also in the long-run?

That’s a question that potentially has a lot of answers, so let’s see if we can break it down a bit. 

The first thing to say is that if, as practitioners, we’re not working on our own health outcomes – either because we don’t think we need to or because we think we don’t have the time – we risk being in a situation where we are not only damaging our own health but we’re also not in the right place physically and/or mentally to help our patients.

As health care professionals it’s also important that we’re able to speak from a place of truth. How can we legitimately encourage our patients to make the right choices if we have no experience of the benefits that come from that? 

We all provide care based to a greater or lesser extent on evidential outcomes, and that care is much more powerful if we have a personalised context for that evidence in terms of how our own improved wellbeing promotes healing and increased resilience or immunity. In contrast, if we don’t walk our own talk, then are we really caregivers, or are we simply passing on or facilitating received wisdom?

And, of course, there’s also the unequivocal truth that investing in our own health improves quality of life over a longer period of time, allowing us to hopefully make the most of this amazing human existence for the longest possible time.

Alright, so wellbeing can obviously be quite the overwhelming topic for anyone who is just starting their journey of trying to take better care of themselves. It can encompass so many different elements, so could you give us a quick overview of what we’re actually talking about when we refer to “wellbeing”?

I always think there are two dimensions to our health, whether that’s our physical health or our mental health. One is passive health and the other is active health.

Let’s look at passive health first. For me, this is an almost negative state – the absence of a diagnosed illness. Everything is functioning – your heart beats, your blood pumps, your lungs work, your digestive system does what it needs to do. But this is very much about functionality and not about optimal health. To be passively healthy is really about allowing your health to ‘happen’ to you, rather than taking control of it.

Active health is where wellbeing comes in. Actively healthy people are those who understand that health is a choice state and how they live their lives and the choices they make have an exponentially positive or negative impact on their wellbeing.

For me wellbeing is about integrated thinking – about using all the tools and resources available to you to promote optimal physical and mental health, whether that’s through eating healthily and exercising or taking a yoga class, or taking regular acupuncture treatment, or going for an annual check-up with your GP. Wellbeing is a lifestyle that puts optimal health at or near the top of your personal priority list.

Awesome! You had mentioned before that you often break wellbeing down into a physical, an emotional and a mental component. I feel like physical wellbeing is often easiest for people to understand because it can be actionable and hands-on, so let’s maybe start there. Can you give us some more detail on what exactly physical well-being is and what it encompasses?

This really expands on the last point I was making. Physical wellbeing isn’t just about your resting heart rate being 80bpm, your blood pressure being 120/80 or all your tests coming back clear. Physical wellbeing is about how that translates into how you feel physically.

I know people who have made different and better choices in their lives and have seen all sorts of great and encouraging results. For example, they might lose a significant amount of weight through healthier eating and a sensible exercise regime – but where they really notice the difference is not necessarily in the shrinking waistline or the new size 10 jeans, but in the absence of aches and pains and the sudden renewed physical capacity they have to make the most of life.

There’s also a huge mutual overlap here between physical wellbeing and emotional or mental wellbeing. Being physically well is known to aid mental wellbeing, and vice versa, so although we’re able to talk about the mental and physical dimensions of health as two different things, it’s important to understand that each is vitally important to the other.

How can someone start to assess their own physical wellbeing?

I think it’s important to start by asking yourself simple questions. How healthy or not is my weight? How much sleep am I getting? How do I feel about my physique or physical condition? How susceptible am I to illness and infection? Do I listen to my body? How much mobility do I have compared to what I would expect to have at my age?

There are lots of free online tools to help you gain a better picture of all sorts of areas of your health, but I think we all have an instinctive understanding of where we are on the health scale. The difficulty, often, is finding a way to do something about it.

For many people, there is a sense of overwhelm. They take a good hard look at their physical health and wellbeing and the task of really getting to grips with it and doing the necessary work seems too much. But everything starts with one step, and it’s important to see goals as targets to be achieved over time rather than overnight.

What are your favorite tips/tricks to start improving your physical wellbeing?

I’d love to be radical and come up with an answer nobody’s ever heard before, but the secret to better physical wellbeing is about improving lifestyle habits and making better choices.

There are all sorts of areas where people can introduce small changes that, cumulatively and if maintained over time, can have really tangible benefits – little things like going to bed a little earlier and reducing or eliminating blue screen time for a while before turning the light out can significantly improve the quality and length of sleep, which is proven to aid better physical wellbeing.

But really, the three key things people can do to improve physical health are the obvious ones: eat healthy – regardless of your current weight, forget about fad diets and weight loss hacks … just eat a healthy, well-balanced diet; take regular exercise – you don’t need to join a gym or do spinning classes or pump weights … just walking and getting your heart rate up is good for you; and while it’s better to cut out caffeine and alcohol completely, if you really can’t live without that morning coffee or evening glass of white wine, make moderation your friend.

Alright, next up we have emotional wellbeing. What are the basics that we all need to know there? 

Emotional health is so important for our happiness. For me, emotional health always comes down to the connections you have with yourself, with others and with your place in the world.

As a society we have often been taught to bury our feelings because recognising our emotional frailty has always been seen in some way as a weakness.

Luckily, awareness of emotional wellbeing and its importance in societal health has grown rapidly, especially in the last 20 years and we’ve seen a positive shift in the conversation about self-care, self-expression and self-awareness.

But there is still work to be done here and it starts with self-recognition and understanding not just that it’s okay to see and accept the emotional challenges we face and work to resolve them, but also an acceptance that we must express those things in ways that are most likely to lead to positive outcomes.

How can someone assess their own emotional wellbeing?

Well, it’s when we fail to recognise when we are and aren’t facing emotional challenges that the problems really start, so there’s no doubt that self-assessment is crucial in the journey to positive emotional wellbeing.

But emotional health is such a vast and complex landscape that it’s difficult to know where to begin and that can be overwhelming to the point where we decide, subconsciously or otherwise, that inaction is preferable to action.

But again, as with physical wellbeing, if we can break that assessment down into component parts, it becomes less daunting and is more likely to lead to better outcomes.

Again, start by questioning yourself and giving honest answers. Am I consciously aware of my emotions and the reactions they provoke? When I express my feelings, do I do it in a way that is appropriate for the situation I’m in at the time? If not, why do I react in the way that I do? Do I act in haste and repent at leisure – or put a different way, do I often regret how I have chosen to deal with my emotions? Do I have a balance in my life? Do I feel stressed a lot of the time, and do I deal with that stress well? Do I feel that I have purpose and meaning? Are the connections I have supportive?

When you have a handle on where there might be a problem it’s much, much easier to find solutions that you can implement, either with the help of others in the shape of talking or complementary therapies, or on your own.

Do you have any favourite tips/tricks you recommend to improve emotional wellbeing?

All of the tips I outlined for looking after your physical wellbeing are just as important when it comes to your emotional health. 

On top of that, I would recommend investing in relationships to build a healthy, mutually supportive and affirming network, doing things with other people to create purpose and connection beyond self, and, most importantly of all, focus on your strengths.

Good emotional health starts with self-love, because if you can’t love yourself, how will others love you?

And lastly, we have mental wellbeing. What does this entail exactly? And how is it different from emotional wellbeing?

Strictly speaking, emotional health is one of three primary factors – the others being psychology and social health – that influence and impact your overall mental health.

Inevitably, and as people might expect, there is no binary answer to this question because emotional and mental wellbeing are inextricably linked.

So, with that caveat in place, here’s an admittedly rudimentary way of defining the differences between the two: mental health is about how you process thoughts and feelings, and emotional health is how you express those thoughts and feelings, either to yourself or to others.

A practical example here might be that you discover via social media that someone you consider to be a friend has thrown a party to which you weren’t invited. 

How you process that information speaks to your mental wellbeing: anger, jealousy, feelings of betrayal, depression, stress are all products of information processing and these processing outcomes contribute to your mental wellbeing – in this case negatively, but other examples might produce positive outcomes.

How you express those feelings is about your emotional health. Whether it’s a weapons-grade Facebook rant about disloyalty, a calm, measured and even-tempered call to your friend to find out if you have upset them, or something in between is all about the quality of your emotional wellbeing.

That makes a lot of sense, thank you! So how can you assess your own mental wellbeing and again, do you have any tips on how our readers can improve it?

Inevitably, all of the tips already covered are just as relevant here. But I think the biggest and most positive step people can take is to be mindful. Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword, hasn’t it? But really, mindfulness is just the process of being present with yourself in the moment, and to recognise, validate and reflect on how you feel.

So, my three tips are for how you do that.

First, you need to create time every day to practice mindful behaviour. This isn’t something you can just shoehorn into the five minutes you have before the school run or a big meeting. Find a time when you’re not under pressure to be anywhere else or to be doing something else.

Make sure you have the right environment. It should be a place where you’re physically and emotionally comfortable, free from noise and other distractions and where you can give all of yourself to you.

Finally, don’t be afraid to confront your feelings. This is a time to recognise and acknowledge things that you have perhaps been avoiding or suppressing and to accept that the feelings you have are genuine and valid. This will give you the permission you need to go beyond your feelings and find the right way to deal with them.

Aside from everything we’ve covered, are there any other tips or tricks you have that are helpful specifically for practitioners in a private practice context? Anything that our readers can implement into their daily work routines to help take better care of themselves? 

The one certain thing about life is that it’s uncertain, and we can often find ourselves in challenging situations or periods where we face a lot of downsides and find it hard to see the upside.

One of the most empowering and liberating things we can all do is to practice gratitude. This has become a bit of a fad recently, but it’s an amazing technique, especially after the 18 months we’ve all had, that helps to shift us out of a negative mindset and into one of positivity.

So much has been written about practicing gratitude that it’s impossible to cover all of it here, but it’s based on the simple exercise of regularly affirming all the good that has happened or is happening to us and acknowledging the positive role others play in our lives.

It’s very closely linked with mindfulness and is a great way to set a focus on the positive elements of life, so greatly beneficial to good mental health.

I also love breath work which is a simple but wonderfully effective way of managing our stress response. By practicing controlled breathing, we can switch off the sympathetic stress response and switch on the parasympathetic response.

When we’re stressed or anxious, the stress response can become stuck in ‘on’, which isn’t healthy. The parasympathetic response should be the dominant response for at least 80 per cent of the time.

I tend to use the 4/7/8 breathwork. You can do this by breathing in through the nostrils for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 7 and then exhale through the mouth as though you’re blowing out through a straw for a count of 8. Then repeat that for another 3-4 cycles. 

Of course, there are lots of different breathwork techniques and there are plenty of free online resources that can help people to find the one that works for them.

Okay, great! I feel like that was an amazing overview of the three different components and how we can all get started on taking care of ourselves a little bit better. Aside from everything you’ve already touched on, are there any other final thoughts or resources you’d like to share?

I love to read and there are a great number of books that I found helped me to deepen my learning and understanding of the work I do, but also became great tools for working on improving my own personal wellbeing.

There are too many to mention here, but the key ones that I would recommend people start with are You are the Placebo by Dr Joe Dispenza, The Breathing Cure by Patrick McKeown, and When The Body Says No by Dr Gabor Maté.

That was our conversation with the amazing Archna Patel. Archna’s award-winning London practice is based in Marylebone and Borehamwood. If you’d like to learn more, you can read about her and her work at www.theacupuncturistsltd.com