From lockdowns, work-from-home policies, company shutdowns, mass unemployment and retrenchments, it is no lie that the global Covid-19 pandemic has affected every aspect of our lives, creating a dark chapter in our history. During this time, the pharmaceutical industry is one of the few industries which has experienced both ends of the stick. CEOs of some of the largest pharmaceutical companies have seen revenues like never before, while those working at the frontline such as doctors, nurses and pharmacists have been working tirelessly to combat the deadly and ever-evolving virus.
On the frontline, a study conducted by MedAdvisor, which surveyed pharmacy owners in Australia, found that 50% of the respondents felt “stressed or overwhelmed.”
During a recently held MedAdvisor webinar by the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS), an organisation consisting of a network of pharmacist volunteers looking to support colleagues and other pharmacists in the industry, pharmacists Kay Dunkley and Curtis Runhau shared their experiences of managing stress and how it has affected their lives both professionally and personally.
All respondents who took part in a survey that measured how COVID-19 had impacted their stress levels said they would be willing to seek professional help if they thought they needed it, making a service like PSS even more valuable, especially in such unpredictable and challenging times.
Dunkley shared her findings about people’s priorities during the pandemic, presenting her findings in the form of a pyramid.
“At the top of the pyramid is basic safety, moving into our physiological needs and then our emotional wellbeing of connectedness and meaningful work,” explained Dunkley, adding that an example of basic safety would be the implementation of wearing masks in public areas.
Runhau, who owns and runs an Amcal Pharmacy with his wife in Emerton, Western Sydney, shared his personal experience of running a pharmacy during the pandemic, delving into the impact it has had on his career, his relationship with his wife, and his overall mental and physical well-being.
Recently, they've started providing Covid-19 vaccines
“We're inviting people in and performing, with their permission, an intensely intimate procedure where we're actually injecting, as far as they're concerned, some unknown substance into their arm. And we have to reassure them that we're doing this because we believe it is absolutely the best way forward out of this, but it takes a lot,” Runhau said.
Like many pharmacists, Runhau does not remember the last time he had a good night's sleep, saying
“Sleep, eating well, taking regular breaks, exercise, fresh air, what's that? Relaxation, I remember that word from pre-COVID. I am not particularly familiar with it at the moment.”
A staggering 70% of the respondents from our survey could relate to Runhau, stating they felt like their workload had increased dramatically since the pandemic began.
When it comes to his work, Runhau for a long time found it difficult to find purpose in his work, and it wasn’t until his pharmacy started providing vaccines to patients where he started feeling valued. Sharing his experience, Runhau said,
“The work does feel meaningful and I'm sure I'm not the only person that got a bit of a wash of emotions as we started our vaccinations, thinking that this is us really playing our role in that. But so much of our work is difficult and it feels like it's unloved and unappreciated and it's very difficult.”
When it comes to stress, Dunkley explained
“Your logical mind gets lost and you become caught up in the emotion. And it's very hard to see clearly and see beyond the anxiety and fear that you might have at that time.”
Dunkley emphasized that it is in such situations where “taking some deep breaths and just slowing your heart and giving yourself a moment to respond, is the best option.”
Dunkley classified stress as being both short-term and long-term. Short-term stress is something that is much more manageable according to Dunkley.
When exploring ways to combat stress, she suggested those facing short-term stresses to practise the following:
According to Dunkley, another important thing to note is the difference between stress and burnout.
Burnout is a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained and unable to meet constant demands.
Dunkley believes that long-term stress, something which Runhau and many other pharmacists have gone through during the pandemic, is something that can lead to burnout and is much more difficult to manage without seeking professional help.
During the webinar, Dunkley said that coping with stress is
“Not something we are going to be able to do instantly. It's always a work in progress. At any stage of our lives, we can improve and change the balance so that we have a better quality of life and are able to really enjoy what we're doing, without feeling so under the pump that we're not able to perform as well as we could.”
As such, one of the most important things every human should consciously take care of is their personal sustainability. Dunkley expanded on this matter saying,
“I think this is important at all times in our profession as pharmacists, that we need to live and work in a way where we're able to keep going and we don't get to the point of burnout.”
Ensuring you are regularly
“taking time to reflect and review and plan, and having a support network, as well as having your own tribe of people that you communicate with” is vital to remain sane even in the most dire of circumstances.
This is obviously much easier said than done, with Runhau labeling his own personal sustainability management as poor.
“Look, if I had to choose a single word for how I manage my personal sustainability, it'd probably be poorly, but it's like a lot of things in our lives, this is a work in progress. We are dealing with stressors that we never expected, that we didn't have in place. We had business continuity plans that didn't involve the level of upheaval that we've dealt with,” Runhau said.
Based on his personal experience, Runhau recommended seeking professional help if you are finding difficulty in coping or managing your stress levels.
”For those of you who are thinking about [seeking professional help], do it, it's amazing. The ability to speak to somebody who is not emotionally involved in your situation, but who personally cares about your resilience, is an amazing thing,” Runhau said.
He did warn that the first meeting may not be anything of value.
“Just understand that the first meeting that you go to, you're probably going to feel like I did. I walked out of it and I went, 'Somebody owes me an hour. I spoke for an hour. I talked about everything that was bothering me and I feel like I'm no closer to it.' and hang in there, whether it's talking with a friend, whether it's talking with a psychologist or somebody else. That first meeting, you often feel like you get nothing out of it. But the second and the third meeting, it really did bring some perspective and helped to ratchet down that tension.”
If you are struggling to cope with or manage your stress or are wanting to seek professional help, contact the Pharmacists’ Support Service anytime at 1300 244 910.