Pharmacists can benefit from mindfulness practices

Cynthia Knapp Dlugosz, BSPharm, NBC-HWC, has been immersed in the mindfulness community for more than 20 years, learning from some of the world’s leading mindfulness experts. Lately, her two paths—mindfulness and pharmacy—have become intertwined.

“Every so often I would speak to pharmacy audiences about mindfulness and meditation, but for the most part they didn’t intersect,” Knapp Dlugosz said. “And then in the last year, pharmacy recognized the toll that stress and burnout is taking and started looking at some of these different approaches to taking care of ourselves.”

Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, creator of the renowned Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

There are always two things we can do when we’re faced with any kind of challenge, Knapp Dlugosz said. “We can change the situation, or we can change how we react to it.”

It’s clear the situation in pharmacy needs to change, “but we don’t have to keep suffering until that happens. That’s where these mindfulness-based practices can help,” she said. “It’s not about ‘cheerful-ing’ our way out of it—the pain is real, but we don’t have to let it drag us down so much.”

A photo from her family’s ride on the Tower of Terror in Disney World illustrates that it’s all about how we react to the situation. “If you look at me in the photo, you see that I find this ride scary, stressful. And then there’s a kid who’s like, ‘Wheee,’ and there’s another guy who is fixing his hair or something,” Knapp Dlugosz said. They’re all on the same ride, but their reactions are totally different.

Meditation has proven benefits for mental and physical health, but mindfulness is about more than that. It’s also about learning to notice our thoughts and where they take us. Much of our stress and negativity comes from fear-based thoughts about the past and future and reacting in habitual ways. “But you don’t have to believe everything you think,” Knapp Dlugosz said. Mindfulness teaches us to pause and make a conscious choice not to focus only on what’s wrong.

“It can be an elusive concept, but getting experience noticing your thoughts carrying you away, recognizing where that’s taking you, shifting yourself back into the present moment, and trying to choose a different thought or reaction, is very beneficial,” Knapp Dlugosz said.

She urges pharmacists to bring their attention back to what they can do in the moment when they notice themselves getting worked up about a huge line forming or metrics on the computer. Take a few deep breaths—a mini-meditation—and in moments of extreme stress, bring your attention to your breathing and focus on doing what you can right now. “It doesn’t take away the problem, but it gives you a different experience of the problem.”