HELLO fellow pharmacists and welcome to the first in the 5W2 series.
The 5W2 series is a selection of short articles on strategies and techniques to support our emotional development within our professional roles. Each article includes tried and tested practical self-development tools.
This first article in the series is Five Ways to Manage Stress, and will cover:
Get to know what triggers your stress.
Prevent rather than cure.
Have access to quick and easy remedies.
Use the power of humour.
So, let’s gets started.
We all know that regardless of whichever area of pharmacy we work in, it can be pretty stressful. And although a little bit of stress is beneficial for our performance, too much of it can affect us physically and emotionally. Stress can prevent us thinking clearly, functioning effectively and enjoying what we do at work and also at home, and it’s not exactly a modern day condition!
“People are not disturbed by things, but by the view they take of them” Epictetus, Greek Philosopher.
Put simply, our thoughts (i.e our perceptions) of a situation can be more negative than the situation itself.
Stress management techniques allow us to take control of our thoughts and therefore our feelings and therefore our actions.
I have used many stress management techniques over the years, but for the purposes of this article I will focus on the ones that have had the biggest impact on myself, my patients and my clients.
1. Get to know what triggers your stress Everyone has different triggers that create a state of stress.
For example, two pharmacists could be stuck in the same traffic jam and one of us is enjoying extra time listening to the radio while the other is gripping the steering wheel with such force that they can see the whites of their knuckles.
To diagnose what your triggers are, have a think about your habits and attitudes towards stress.
Is it work deadlines or your procrastination?
Is it volume of workload or your prioritisation?
Is it other people not doing what you want/expect or is it you not being clear with your expectations of others?
A simple and practical way of understanding your personal stress response is to keep a stress journal for one week (handwritten or recorded on your phone) and ask yourself the following questions:
What triggers caused me to feel stress today?
What was my reaction (physically & emotionally) to the stress?
What did I do to make myself feel better?
Once you know your role in creating or maintaining stress then you can take action.
2. Prevent rather than cure
One of the simplest ways of preventing stress is become aware of your language and in particular what you say to yourself; your 'self talk'.
Often our self talk is more negative than we think, but if we retrain our minds to use more positive and resourceful language then this can have a huge impact on our mindset and how we deal with stress when it arises.
Making conscious decisions to change your thoughts to more positive and resourceful ones is a cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) technique that I use regularly with clients and patients.
Here are two simple questions that support positive and resourceful thinking:
What do you want? (not what you don't want)
At the start of the day come up with a positive intention, an affirmation or a mantra that supports what you want to achieve or feel that day. For example:
“I want to be relaxed”, rather than “I don’t want to be stressed”.
“I want to be in control”, rather than "I don’t want to be overwhelmed”.
2. What do you want to think?
You are in control of your thoughts so come up with some positive thoughts about yourself, your work colleagues and your professional role that you keep foremost in your mind. For example: strengths, qualities and things you are grateful for.
If you start each day by answering these two simple questions with positive and resourceful answers you will start to notice a change in your self talk.
3. Have access to quick and easy remedies When you find yourself in a situation where you know you are stressed the following remedies can quickly relieve the symptoms:
STOP – this remedy brings you back to the present moment and de-escalates the stress.
Stop (remove yourself from the situation).
Take a breath (I suggest you take at least 3 focused breaths where you breath in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4 and breath out for 8)
Observe (just look at or think about the situation)
Proceed (take action)
REFRAME — reframing is a technique used in neuro linguistic programming (NLP) where you look at a situation from a different perspective. The easiest way to do this is to ask yourself some questions that will help you see the stressful situation from a different perspective, for example:
What else could be going on here?
What would one of my friends advise me right now?
How important is this situation on a scale of 1 to 10?
4. Self-care Looking after our own physical and emotional wellbeing can help reduce stress and is one of the keys to ensuring we are 'match ready' whatever the match is!
I often ask clients and patients to think of one thing they will stop, one thing they will start, and one thing they will do more of before we meet up again as a way of structuring some manageable personal actions.
So here are a few (probably obvious) suggestions for self-care:
Saying yes to everything.
Spending time with people that drain you.
Taking regular breaks.
Reflecting on people and things you are grateful for.
Do more of:
Getting enough sleep.
Any form of exercise.
Challenge yourself and your teams to stop something, start something and do more of something each week or each month.
5. Use the power of humour Laughter is the best medicine and a powerful antidote to stress. Nothing works faster to return your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. We feel lighter, more focused and more forgiving of our self and others.
So, invest some time in creating a ‘fun list’ that you refer to when you hit the stress zone. Here are some ideas for your list:
Laugh at yourself – none of us are perfect because we all suffer from the same condition: being human! The more we see the funny side of our embarrassing moments and share them with others the less stressed we feel.
Plan reminders to lighten up – locate funny pictures and quotes on your desk, in the dispensary and on the back of toilet doors!
Favourite memory – recall a memory that makes you laugh and run it regularly like a movie in your mind.
Save a Clip – save YouTube clips of your favourite comedians on to your desktop so you can access easily when stressed. Who doesn't laugh at Billy Connolly’s shouting at Wildebeest sketch?
SMILE – if you are struggling to laugh, just smile as smiling is the start of laughter. If you are struggling to smile, just place a pen/pencil horizontally between your teeth and will not be able to do anything else but smile.
Ok that’s it Five Ways to Manage Stress.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article and I hope there is something here that will help you and others manage stress more effectively.
The next article in the 5W2 series is Five Ways to Use Mindfulness and will be with you soon, but in the meantime, if anyone wants to find out more about anything in this article or has any comments please get in touch via the details below.