8 ways pharmacy techs can avoid burnout

Healthcare workers have a lot on their plates. Prioritizing mental health with these 7 tips is essential to staying happy and healthy at work.

It’s no secret that healthcare workers have a tremendous amount of work and responsibility on their plates, and pharmacy technicians are no exception. Doing tasks like dispensing medications and inventory management, their role within a pharmacy is multifaceted—not to mention vital. And with ever-increasing responsibilities, pharmacy techs are feeling stress. In fact, according to an article published in U.S. Pharmacist in 2020, full-time pharmacy employees have reached levels of burnout greater than many physicians. 

So what steps can overwhelmed pharmacy technicians take to manage day-to-day stress and avoid reaching their breaking point? Here are expert tips to help techs avoid work-induced burnout.

What’s the difference between stress and burnout?

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Normal day-to-day stress is a natural response to the challenges of life, such as meeting deadlines or dealing with difficult people, says Dat Nguyen, Pharm.D., founder of Pharmedico Pharmacy in Sarasota, Florida. In small doses, this kind of stress can even be beneficial. That’s because it helps to motivate you and keep you alert, Dr. Nguyen says. 

Stress is typical with the job of a pharmacy technician and tends to ebb and flow during the day, adds Erika Gray, Pharm.D., chief medical officer and co-founder of Toolbox Genomics.  For example, a nurse or patient may be frustrated with a delay in obtaining medication and take their irritation out on the pharmacy tech.

But if stress becomes chronic and overwhelming, it can lead to burnout, a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged or repeated exposure to stressors. It can affect your ability to function at work and in your personal life, he adds.

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Signs of stress that can lead to burnout

Stress is a natural part of any job, but if left unmanaged, it can hinder your ability to carry out work responsibilities and lead to burnout, says Taryn Fernandes, MD, a supervising physician at MEDvidi, an online mental health treatment center. Being under too much stress can lead to physical symptoms such as:

  • Headaches
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Stomachaches
  • Muscle tension 

It can have emotional symptoms, including feeling:

  • Drained
  • Tired
  • Irritable
  • Frustrated
  • Lack of concentration or motivation

These symptoms can lead to reduced productivity, sleep disturbances, emotional instability, a lack of a sense of accomplishment or job satisfaction, and a negative attitude toward work or your workplace, she says. As a result, you may begin to withdraw from social activities and neglect self-care.

How pharmacy techs can take care of their mental health 

It’s common for pharmacy techs to look out for their patients, and sometimes, that might mean neglecting their own needs. But protecting your own mental well-being is equally crucial as taking care of others, says Dr. Fernandes. Techs can prioritize their self-care with the following eight tips.

  1. Adopt a healthy lifestyle. Consuming a well-balanced diet, engaging in physical activity outside of work, and getting sufficient sleep can all help you protect your mental health. 
  2. Taking short breaks during the day. Even a simple five-minute breather after a particularly busy stretch at the register or a difficult customer can do some good.
  3. Managing your workload by setting practical and achievable goals. During periods of high workloads, break down tasks into manageable pieces to help avoid feeling overwhelmed.
  4. Establish boundaries to achieve a healthy work-life balance, encourage a positive work atmosphere, and cultivate a reliable support system. 
  5. Use stress-management techniques and mindfulness exercises. Yoga, meditation, or deep breathing can help you effectively combat stress.
  6. Prioritize effective communication with colleagues; this can fend off feelings of being isolated or unsupported in the workplace.
  7. Seek professional help when necessary. Psychotherapy treatment can be effective in helping manage stress—especially in severe cases of burnout.
  8. Use the Pharmacy Well-being Index to assess your level of stress to help fend off a problem before it’s too late.

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The Pharmacy Professional Well-Being Index 

The Pharmacy Well-Being Index is a free online tool developed by the Mayo Clinic to help pharmacy employees ascertain their level of exhaustion, depression, burnout, stress, and anxiety. It can be used by pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to understand where they may have the greatest amount of stress or burnout.

The Well-Being Index comprises nine questions covering six dimensions of well-being and distress, including work-life balance, job satisfaction, stress level, the likelihood of burnout, social support, and more. By using this tool, pharmacy personnel can identify the root causes of distress—and use targeted strategies to fight it. It can help techs determine specific areas where additional support or resources may be needed.

Pharmacy technicians can track changes in their well-being over time by regularly completing the index, suggests Dr. Fernandes. They can also advocate for workplace changes that promote well-being. For example, if the scores indicate that workload is causing high levels of stress, a pharmacy tech may partner with their supervisor to devise plans for redistributing tasks or hiring additional staff.

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Mental health resources for pharmacy techs

Many resources are available to help pharmacy technicians and other employees manage stress at work effectively, such as:

  • Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) are often offered by health insurance providers and provide confidential counseling, support, and resources to those experiencing stress, burnout, or other mental health concerns. 
  • Continuing education programs focused on stress management and self-care may also be available through your employer.
  • Professional organizations such as the American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and the National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA)  provide resources like webinars, training sessions, and online resources for stress management and well-being. 
  • Support groups can offer a sense of community and support to stressed-out pharmacy techs.
  • Professional therapy or counseling can also be beneficial.

If you’re undergoing a stressful situation, don’t keep your emotions bottled up, says Dr. Gray. Try journaling or reaching out to friends or colleagues. It’s important to know you’re not alone. If you are experiencing severe depression, any thoughts of self-harm, or having suicidal ideations, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988.


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