How to Achieve Balance in Work and in Life

Drug Topics JournalDrug Topics March 2019
Volume 163
Issue 3

 Identify and overcome burnout before it impacts you. 

March Cover Image

“No, it’s mine!”

After listening to my children argue regularly for hours, my nerves were frayed and I was frustrated. I looked around the messy house: toys scattered everywhere, piles of clean laundry to be folded, and a sink piled high with dishes. I was looking forward to going to work that evening because I knew that I would feel more in control of things at work than at home. As a floater at a chain store at the time, I sprinted out of the house when my husband got home and happily drove to work.

But that evening, I wasn’t particularly in control at work, either: A seasoned tech was out sick, and the pharmacy was staffed with new hires who were limited in capability. The staff was 100 prescriptions behind when I walked in the door, and I knew immediately that there was no hope of having a good night. Every prescription was rejected or had some kind of problem, and every patient needed a flu shot. Although I knew how to resolve every issue, there was no way of catching up and keeping up.

I felt overwhelmed-my home life felt out of control, and I was feeling the same way at work. I wanted to be a Pinterest mom, one of those women who seem to juggle work and family life effortlessly, who send their kids to school with perfect bento boxes and craft Instagram-worthy art together.

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Pharmacy is an incredibly stressful job, where any mistake can be fatal. On social media, you can see the reality firsthand. As a group, pharmacists are more stressed out, burned out, and overworked than ever. The 2018 Drug Topics Salary and Job Satisfaction Survey reveals that for the third year in a row, pharmacists report higher workloads, more stress, and less overall job satisfaction despite individual incomes that are twice the national average than those of most entire households. Two-thirds of pharmacists say they have more stress compared to last year, and 72% said workloads are higher, too. (Search “survey” on our website for the full survey results on compensation and professional satisfaction.)

Searching for Balance

What is work-life balance, and why is this elusive paradigm so important to our mental health and physical well-being?
Stress levels soar when work life and personal life are unbalanced. According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, the consequences of poor work-life balance include:

  • Fatigue, which can lead to reduced productivity as well as inability to think clearly, which can in turn lead to dangerous mistakes.

  • Poor health, since stress can compromise the immune system and worsen ongoing medical conditions. It also increases the risk of substance abuse.

  • Lost time: Working excessively and missing family events can leave one feeling left out and may harm relationships with loved ones.

  • Increased expectations: Those who work extra are often given more work and responsibility, creating a never-ending cycle.

According to a 2017 article in Harvard Business Review, the psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees cost the healthcare system between $125 billion and $190 billion per year.

Jennifer Surak-Zammitti, LCSW, a psychotherapist and a certified school social worker at Baker Street Behavioral Health, says stress tends to be difficult to avoid at work. “This stress can trickle down into our personal lives, causing havoc among our relationship with others and ourselves,” she says.

She says preparing for the day is important. Taking time before work to relax by having a cup of coffee and breakfast while watching TV, listening to music, or reading, is a great way to start the day.

Even the choice of clothing can help. “Dressing for success is about dressing for the success of feeling good-pick out some nice clothing that makes you feel good,” Surak-Zammitti suggests. For example, even if you wear a uniform, consider small things such as fun socks, unique jewelry, or even new underwear. “This might sound silly, but these small things are shown to improve our mood, which will in turn help keep stress at bay.”

Surak-Zammitti also recommends making your bed before you leave, as this is the first step to completing a task for the day. While commuting to work, listen to music, blast it if you want. Whatever music makes you feel upbeat and motivated is the perfect music for your drive.

Once at work, be sure to greet your coworkers, and ask about their evening or weekend. Small talk helps set the mood for the environment, making it relaxed and less stressed.

Now that you have set the stage for a less stressful day, be ready to focus on your work. Although there is no way to avoid the work ahead, having tools that help you cope on hand can be helpful. Having a piece of candy or gum, or a favorite drink on hand can make a bad moment better, even if briefly. Imagine having a stressful day and then you remember that your favorite drink is in the refrigerator, so you grab it, and for a few moments you feel a bit of joy and relaxed.

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Knowing that finding time to eat a meal or even use the bathroom can be difficult in many pharmacy settings, Surak-Zammitti offers pharmacists some small tips.

Whenever possible, taking small breaks throughout the day, such as bathroom breaks and fresh air breaks, if your workplace allows you to step outside, will help you recharge. Although on many days you may not be able to take a 30-minute lunch, take a few minutes to sit down and eat a sandwich.

Making jokes and laughing with coworkers throughout the day is another huge key to making the workplace happier. “Laughter is proven to boost our moods, which will then improve our productivity,” she says.

When the day is over, take time to decompress “The drive home is our tool to transition,” Surak-Zammitti explains. Again, blast your favorite music on the way home and sing along. Surak-Zammitti suggests taking a longer route or driving around the block a few times if you have a short commute to reduce stress before walking into your home.

Since work is filled with stress, it is important to have a home filled with as little stress as possible. Having a clean and organized home is essential. Hire a cleaning service and/or even a laundry service to help you free up some time at home. Planning meals ahead of time is also helpful, Advance meal prep, slow-cooker meals, or quick and easy recipes can help with those mealtimes that you are too exhausted to cook.

Surak-Zammitti advises: “Being honest with your family is also key. Let your significant other know about your stress and what will help you when you come home. Same goes for the kids, letting them know about your day and how you may need some time when you get home helps build empathy in them while helping reduce stress for you.”

Once the night comes to an end, crawling into the bed that you neatly made that morning will feel extra relaxing, as sleeping in a bed that was made has been shown to improve sleep. Sleep quality can also be improved by changing your sheets weekly, keeping your bedroom dark and cool while sleeping, and investing in a comfortable mattress, sheets, and pillows.

Surak-Zammitti recommends that on your days off, do whatever makes you happy and feel at peace. “Do your best not to discuss work and if you bring work home, hide it out of sight,” she says. Plan fun outings with spouses, family, and friends because looking forward to such events during the week can help reduce work stress. Surak-Zammitti knows that it may not be possible to make all of these changes at once, It also may take a while to implement enough changes to feel a difference in your stress level to the point where you are enjoying a healthy work-life balance. Making even a few of these changes can help reduce stress.

If your stress levels are serious, try talking to a social worker or psychologist, who might be helpful for offering personalized advice and coping skills as you navigate toward a healthy balance. 

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