Stress, Burnout and Prevention, Tips and Tricks from Harpreet Chana
And whilst this is a very general sweeping statement, it is also VERY true! Ask yourself, do you know any pharmacist that isn't stressed and/or buckling under the crippling workload and expectations of the job? I certainly don't. And it was precisely this realisation and my own experience of stress that got me thinking. Why is it that pharmacists suffer from so much stress? Is it just the demand of the job or is there more to it? I put it to you: it is the very nature of the job that predisposes us to stress.
Think about it: We do a job that's very purpose is to check the accuracy of everyone else. We are the failsafe before the medication is given to the patient and this pressure of having to be accurate in everything we do leaves us with the need for everything to be ‘right' and perfect. This perfectionism can lead us to have really high unrelenting standards of ourselves and others which can cause huge additional stress for us at work.
Why? Because when you are constantly pushing and striving for perfectionism, in all you do, the burden of this can be seriously overwhelming. Then we have the additional burden of taking on more work than necessary. For if others don't meet your high standards, you can end up taking on their work believing that it will just be easier, quicker and done more accurately if you just did it yourself. Plus, as the person ultimately responsible for signing things off, it means that you can keep things within your control. (This also goes some way to explain why we as pharmacists can struggle so much with a delegation!)
And then we add to that, the fact that as healthcare workers, we are used to putting the needs of others before our own which means we struggle to say no to people as we feel we are ‘letting them down.' All of this results in a huge amount of worry, guilt and stress on top of doing the already stressful job of handling the increasing workload and demands from our bosses as well as the patients.
I've experienced this first-hand, having dealt with stress and burnout as a senior national pharmacist and I now see this all the time with the pharmacists l coach in my group programmes and on a 1 to 1 basis. I joke with them that if you were ever to cut through a pharmacist like a stick of rock they would have the words, ‘worry' and ‘guilt' written through them!
But this is no laughing matter. The increasing demands of the job coupled with these personality traits that are being left unchecked are causing huge problems for our sector. A recent survey carried out by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Pharmacist Support showed that 89 % of respondents stated that they were at high or very high risk of burnout.
Whilst pharmacists are happy to admit this anonymously if you ask them directly, very few will admit that they are suffering with stress. There is still a huge stigma associated with ill mental health within our profession. I run regular stress and burnout workshops for pharmacists and ask attendees why they don't feel confident in speaking to someone about how they are feeling and the top 2 answers are always, ‘it might be used against me' and ‘I'm worried about stigma and what people will think'. And so, they keep quiet and suffer in silence until they end up having to take considerable time off because they have reached the point of breakdown.
I am seeing this more and more and it really worries me. This is exactly where I was 5 years ago. Looking back, I had been struggling with stress and burnout for so long but I ignored the signs and symptoms. I ignored the trouble sleeping, trouble switching off at home, working incessant hours and the constant inner chatter telling me I needed to work harder, not let people down and not to grumble because everyone was managing to cope, so what was wrong with me? And so I carried on. Until one day I just couldn't force myself to get up and keep going and I ended up at breaking point, resulting in me taking a few weeks off work for the first time in my life.
I know many of you will be reading this, nodding and thinking gosh, that's me! I want to help you. I want to make sure that others never reach the point that I did and it's why I have now dedicated my work to doing just that, through The Mental Wealth Academy and coaching/training pharmacists on building their self-leadership skills and learning how to self-regulate better.
So, I wanted to leave you with 3 tips that you can start working on today to help you combat stress!