Workshop your way to wellbeing
Charity Pharmacist Support now offers workshops to help pharmacy professionals improve their wellbeing. Helen Tester shares some advice on how to manage a busy workload and minimise stress levels.
If you feel under pressure to meet targets, overwhelmed by emails or overworked and understaffed, you are not alone. A recent survey of more than 790 pharmacists and pre-registration trainees by the charity Pharmacist Support found that 44% of respondents often feel stressed, with almost 80% attributing this to “all work” or “work more than home” (see infographic).
To help pharmacists, pre-registration trainees and pharmacy students improve their mental wellbeing, Pharmacist Support has been running a series of wellbeing workshops, funded using the legacy of community pharmacist Robert Wardley (see ‘The Wardley wellbeing workshops’).
The workshops allow pharmacy professionals to discuss any issues and enable them to find solutions in a safe environment. Skilled trainers introduce some established techniques that people can use to help them cope better with stressful situations. So what kind of tips do they offer?
Break it down
Some problems or tasks can feel huge and overwhelming. The more you think about them, the bigger and more daunting they become. Chris Williams, professor of psychiatry at the University of Glasgow, likens it to eating an elephant — it would be difficult to know where to start. However, if you cut it into manageable chunks, you would get through it eventually. By applying this principle to a huge task that you have been putting off because it feels too big to tackle, you can begin to see how a series of smaller tasks feels a lot more achievable than one big project.
These smaller tasks can be devised and prioritised using a chart divided into four categories — urgent and important, urgent but not important, important but not urgent, and not urgent and not important. This method of analysing tasks can provide a clear picture of what you need to achieve and how quickly tasks need to be done. It can help you take control of your time and become more effective in achieving or completing those essential activities. Additionally, you may be able to delegate some of the least important things on your list, or decide that some tasks (for example, in the not urgent and not important category) have such a low priority that they do not need to be completed at all.
Taking a minute in your day to focus your attention on your breathing can be a helpful way to experience a moment of calm in the midst of the pressure. Mindfulness is based on the principle of being in the here and now — not looking back or forward, but stopping and paying attention to the present. It can help people become more aware of how their body responds to thoughts and feelings so they are better able to manage these instead of feeling overwhelmed. Evidence indicates that mindfulness-based therapy may reduce the symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Take time to worry
Optimists may say that worrying is a waste of energy, but if you are prone to worrying it is difficult to stop. The secret is to set aside a specified time to worry so that it is better contained. Use a notebook to write down concerns throughout the day and then put them out of your head until the specified time, when you can allow yourself to consider each of your worries. Is it still an issue? Can it be resolved? Do you need some help with it?
Have a rest
It is certainly easier said than done, but it is important to take regular breaks. In a recent research project, Hannah Family, a psychologist and lecturer in pharmacy practice at the University of Bath, looked at the impact of what she terms ‘mental fatigue’ and how it impacts performance in the pharmacy. She conducted various experiments on the ability of the brain to cope with the demands that pharmacists face during a working day.
She concluded that the brain needs a break from the constant barrage of information that is thrown at it to allow it to function efficiently and accurately. Try five minutes of mindfulness, a short walk around the block, a cup of tea or a chat with a colleague about the weekend. This will give your brain the break it needs so it can process information and be less likely to make mistakes.
The Wardley wellbeing workshops
In 2012, Pharmacist Support received a legacy in memory of Robert Wardley, a community pharmacist from Kent. The terms of the legacy stated that it should be used to help relieve the stress that pharmacists experience. In line with these wishes, the charity conducted surveys and arranged focus groups to find out the pressures that pharmacists face and which type of services they would access to manage their stress.
Following this research, Pharmacist Support developed wellbeing workshops, which are being held at various locations across England, Scotland and Wales. Additionally, the charity has trialled — and will soon be launching — an online e-therapy service to help clients challenge their own unhelpful behaviour and negative thoughts.
The workshops have been evaluated to ensure their effectiveness and the results indicated that there had been a statistically significant improvement in participants’ subjective wellbeing, anxiety, depression and general functioning.
For a number of individuals, the most valuable aspect of the workshops was the opportunity to share experiences with peers. Participants reflected that they felt less isolated by their stress because they realised they were not alone in struggling to cope with situational pressures, such as workload or exams.
The charity is also able to offer further support, which includes a range of online factsheets and information, a Listening Friends helpline, specialist advice in debt, benefits and employment law, and addiction support via the Health Support Programme.
Citation: The Pharmaceutical Journal DOI: 10.1211/PJ.2014.20066999
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