It's important for the pharmacy workforce to recognise burnout and look after our own mental health and wellbeing, writes pharmacist Ashley Cohen

The past 14 months have been a huge challenge to all in our sector, not only for ourselves and our pharmacy teams but of course for our own families. So much has been said in previous blogs and articles about the Herculean efforts we have made and contributed to fighting this pandemic.

I wanted to address a situation that is often difficult to discuss. I wanted to make sure that every pharmacy professional is coping well with the additional burdens and pressures we are facing every single working day.

From my observations our workforce has gone through a rollercoaster of emotions. Anxiety, stress, exhaustion, despair, financial uncertainty, physical illness for those who have been affected by Covid-19, along with the emotional issues with having to balance all the work pressures with family life and the demands of home schooling and managing our children’s own health and wellbeing. It has been and continues to be a tough time for us all. How are we managing with the uncertainty, how are we coping with the additional pressures both operational and financial?

We are not robots; We are not immune. We have had to buffer and absorb most of the impact working through these challenges over many months without a break. It’s so important that we recognise burnout and look after our own mental health and wellbeing.

We spend so long caring for our own staff and our communities that often we neglect ourselves. We are good at advising others of how to improve their own health and wellbeing, but will we listen to our own advice?  Below are some easy steps for all of us to work through and a good discipline to keep ourselves physically and mentally well.

Keep active

Regular exercise can boost your self esteem and can help you concentrate, sleep, and feel better. Exercise keeps the brain and other vital organs healthy and is a significant benefit towards improving your mental health. This does not need to involve training seven times a week to become an Olympic triathlete, but walking, jogging, and a moderate cardiovascular workout a couple of times a week will help you feel physically and mentally fitter.

Eat well

Your brain needs a mix of nutrients to stay healthy and function well, just like the other organs in your body. A diet that is good for your physical health is also good for your mental health.

Talk about our feelings

Talking about your feelings can help you stay in good mental health and deal with times when you feel troubled. It is not a sign of weakness. Its part of taking charge of your wellbeing and doing what you can to stay healthy.

Drink sensibly

I have heard over the past 12 months about individuals consuming significantly more alcohol during different stages of lockdowns to help ‘cope’. We often drink alcohol to change our mood. Some people drink to deal with fear or loneliness. But remember the effect is only temporary. If you recognise that your own drinking habits have changed over the last year, it is important to take positive action.

Take a break

A change of scenery or a change of pace is good for your mental health. It could be a five minute pause while at work to get some fresh air and a walk round the block, or more structured breaks during the week. A few minutes time out can help to de-stress you. Give yourself some me-time. Now that it is getting lighter later in the evening its good to switch off after a busy day at work and get some fresh air.

You may also need a few days away from work to recharge the batteries, reconnect with the family, and catch up on non-work-related activities. The common answer I hear often is ‘I can’t afford to be away from the pharmacy’, but you can’t afford not to. Looking after yourself should be the single most important area you invest in.

Do something you are good at

What do you love doing? What activities can you lose yourself in? What did you love doing in the past? Enjoying yourself can help to beat stress. Doing an activity, you enjoy probably means you are good at it, and achieving something boost your self-esteem.

Ask for help?

None of us are superhuman – even pharmacy teams! We all sometimes get tired or overwhelmed by how we feel or when things do not go to plan. If things are getting too much for you and you feel you cannot cope, ask for help. Your family or friends may be able to offer practical help or a listening ear.

Pharmacist Support are an independent trusted charity which is always available to you and your teams to support you. Their vision is clear – No one in our pharmacy family will face challenging times without us by their side. Email them [email protected] or call one of their freephone numbers 0808 1682233.

You cannot look after your pharmacy team and your local community if you do not look after yourself. It is OK not to be OK.

Keep well and keep safe.