‘Be kind to yourselves at this time.’

How can you shift your mindset from surviving to thriving during these stressful times? Here are some practical, positive strategies from a fellow pharmacist and counsellor

Hundreds of pharmacists and pharmacy staff this week tuned into a webinar hosted by AJP and the Pharmacists’ Support Service, and presented by counsellor and pharmacist Helen Lowy.

Ms Lowy spoke about the impact that stressful situations such as the current COVID-19 pandemic have on our physiology and psychology.

How do our brains respond to unprecedented uncertainty?

“Our brains recognise that there is a threat out there to our safety and wellbeing,” she said.

“But at this stage we don’t know what impact it’ll have on us personally, or our families or community. So our brains are on high alert with this unprecedented uncertainty.”

This threat leads to a ‘fight, flight, freeze’ response in the amygdala part of the brain  – it also leads to the release of the hormones cortisol and adrenaline in our bodies.

“We might be experiencing this in a range of ways,” said Ms Lowy.

“We might be feeling unease, hypervigilant, it might be that many of us are finding it quite difficult to sleep at night. People might be finding they have less tolerance and are a bit more reactive at the moment.”

 Missed the webinar but have time now? Watch the full talk here.

She explained that while our brains are doing what they’re intended to do – keeping us alive and keeping us safe – these responses can lead to fatigue and other difficulties.

Ms Lowy provided the following concepts, strategies and recommendations for pharmacists and pharmacy staff to take into account while struggling with ‘amygdala hijack’:

  • Unplug – Take some control over the amount of media (news and social media) that you’re exposed to and try to switch off from work emails in the evening. “This is more of a marathon than a sprint, and we need to pace ourselves,” she said.
  • Be kind to yourself – Ms Lowy ran through the five stages of grief. “It’s actually completely normal to feel a range of emotions and for these emotions to shift, so be kind to yourself. If you are finding that things are feeling quite overwhelming you can call the Pharmacists’ Support Service – 1300 244 910 (8am to 11pm AEST, it doesn’t have to be a work-related call),” she said.
  • Eat, play, sleep – Make time to get enough exercise, nutrition and sleep. Practise mindfulness – one idea is to take the opportunity when washing hands for 20 seconds to focus on breathing and let go of stress. You can also use apps such as Calm, Headspace, Stop, breathe & think, 10% Happier, Insight timer.

Ms Lowy also shared an idea based on principles of cognitive behavioural therapy “in that what we focus on affects how we feel and how we behave”.

“We can focus on the actions of others or worrying about how long this will last, but these are the things that we can’t control. If we focus on that, it can become quite distressing because we don’t have that control,” she said.

“But if we shift from thinking about the things are worrying us, because it’s not going to change so we might as well focus on what we can control – like turning off the news, limiting social media and the way we treat each other with kindness and compassion – then what that does is shift our brain from a place where we’re worried to a place where we feel empowered and more in control.”

Other topics covered in the webinar included reducing contamination between work and home settings, strategies for self care, pharmacist team care, conflict resolution as well as building psychological safety in pharmacy teams.

“When we’re looking at how to create psychological safety in our teams, it’s things like respect, trust, support, listening to people, encouraging people, communicating,” she said.

“It’s also about making sure you’re approachable. That might be really tough some days, you might be feeling you’re having a really bad day, but if people feel like they can still approach you with issues and problems you’re going to get through the day better.”

The full talk has been uploaded on the AJP website and can be accessed here. Readers are encouraged to watch the full presentation for context and further detail from Helen Lowy, and will also be able to hear the Q&A section of the talk.

Registered AJP.com.au users can earn 2 Group Two CPD credits after watching this webinar, by completing the associated assessment here.

Any readers who are distressed can call 1300 244 910 for anonymous and confidential support from a pharmacist colleague over the phone through the Pharmacists’ Support Service (PSS), available 8am to 11pm EST 365 days of the year.

For urgent assistance when PSS is not available, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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