Expert: Mindful Art Practice Can Help With Wellbeing, Stress Management for Pharmacists


Tracey McGrath, PharmD, pharmacy manager at Sam’s Club, shares strategies to continue exploring art and play as an adult with a busy professional life to help maintain mental and emotional wellbeing.

Pharmacy Times® interviewed Tracey McGrath, PharmD, pharmacy manager at Sam’s Club and founder, mindful art teacher, and meditation coach at Bliss Arts Co, on how she incorporates, her mindful art practice, meditation, and play to help support her wellbeing outside of the pharmacy.

Pharmacy Times®: How do you manage the stress of your community pharmacy practice and maintain your overall wellbeing?

Tracey McGrath, PharmD: I mean, one important part for my well-being has always been to be able to disconnect. So when I'm not in the pharmacy setting—even though I'm the manager and there's some aspects that I always have to kind of be aware of—when I'm at home, I'm not checking my work email. There's minimum contact with my staff just so that I can disconnect and have that time away, because I think getting that time away helps me be better when I am there, and not building this resentment of, like, I'm never getting any time for myself.

And then also, I have, over the years, developed a pretty broad self-care practice that includes meditation. I actually became certified to teach meditation because I was so impressed with how it could help my well-being. Also, I try to exercise at least like a 15-minute in the morning—yoga- or pilates-type—nothing too strenuous, but just something that gets me active and keeps my body flexible.

And then, also just having fun. I mean, I try to do a lot of soul searching as to what I really enjoy, and paying attention to those things, and making time for those things. And by making disconnection a focus, a priority, I allow myself time to do those things. So painting is one thing that I enjoy, and that helps me kind of create an identity outside of the pharmacy and outside of being just a pharmacist. And I think that helps my overall well-being. And then, spending time with friends and socializing, because I think that's important too, to just get outside of ourselves, outside of our own lives, and interact with other people that we enjoy. But that's pretty much it.

Pharmacy Times®: Could you tell me more about your hobbies and why you became interested in them as a community pharmacist?

McGrath: So, a big part of how I spend my free time is with art. And I actually started a side business teaching other women how to do mindful art activities. So, it kind of helped incorporate meditation and mindfulness into art and just developing that playfulness with art, because I think we lose that. We, as children, we're all artists. And then we grow up, and art doesn't seem to have a place in our lives. But it can be super great for our well-being and stress management. And so that's a hobby of mine. I do oil painting as something that I just enjoy doing. And then the mindful art stuff is more like coloring or very basic non-artist type activities. You don't have to be trained to do those. But that's probably my favorite thing to do.

I also enjoy reading and watching movies and a lot of self-help books. But lately I'm trying to read novels, just to kind of provide that other outlet for myself to expand that relaxing time during the day—at least do like a 10-minute reading before bedtime.

Other hobbies? I mean, I love being outside, I like gardening, I love just walking around in the woods, I love being in nature. So one of my goals for this year is to make that an even bigger priority. Maybe pick up a sport or something that I can do outside because I just love being outside. And then I think in the pharmacy, it can feel very isolating. You're always inside there during those days, at least I am for my long shifts. And just being able to get outside when I'm off work really makes a big difference for my mindset.

Pharmacy Times®: How have you addressed uncertainty when starting a new practice?

McGrath: I say start small. I mean, I love the book, Tiny Habits and Atomic Habits. Those are—I love those books—and a big focus of those is just, start tiny. Take a tiny bit of something that you are interested in and do that and then just build on that, but knowing that that little, tiny bit that you chose is the success. So, if you want to try meditating, start with 1 minute. And then, you know, if you grow to 5 minutes, well, all you really need to do is that 1 minute to be successful at it. Just like art. If you want to pick up something like that, or play in that, or see how that feels, just get a coloring book—not even an adult coloring book, like a kid's coloring book and some crayons—and start there. Just see how that feels. Start tiny. Even with exercise, just walk around the block. Like, just start small. And I think that gives you an easy win to build on and give yourself some confidence, but then also gives you a starting place where, okay, I can do this. That was easy, I can do this.

Pharmacy Times®: How do you address thoughts that come up critiquing the quality of the art you’re making and its imperfections?

McGrath: Great question. And that is a huge part of the mindful art practice that I teach. That's basically what it is. It’s kind of like in meditation where you're just noticing your thoughts, if you're familiar with that, without judgment. So, as you're doing an art or creative activity that you technically aren't good at—which is totally okay—you just notice the thoughts that come up and start to question those and get curious and think. Why am I thinking that? You know, why would I expect it to look like Rembrandt when I've never painted before? Where is that pressure coming from? What voice is that? Is it even mine? Is it someone else's from my past? And that kind of allows you to separate from that voice a little bit, so that you can then play and let go of the result, and kind of get into the process. And then that opens us up into the opportunity to get into that flow state, which is great, because that feels good. And it allows us to use our other side of our brain that we don't use at work a lot. And I think that can allow a lot of that stress to be released.

So, I think that that's a great question. But it does come up. And I think art is a big trigger for a lot of people. And that's what interested me about it in this context. Because, for some reason, we all, as we get older, think that we have to make it beautiful. It has to be perfect. But then who's perfect is that? And what is it? Why is it you are looking or putting that pressure on yourself? I guess, questions to just ask. But that's part of that process, it’s getting curious and disconnecting from that voice and learning to be less judgmental of ourselves.

Pharmacy Times®: What is your work outside of community pharmacy in the mindful art space?

McGrath: Well, I have an online course where I'm teaching the techniques and go into how to create healthier habits and overcoming your beliefs and thoughts that are holding you back. But I also teach classes, like art classes at my home here, which basically it's doing simple art projects that are designed for non-artists and then mindfully watching, like, what are your thoughts? Why do you think that's coming up for you? And using it as a way to play and looking at how we can all be creative and how we can use that experience to expand ourselves and to let go of the idea of the end result and to be in the process, which is, you know, an analogy for life. To be in the process, rather than thinking about I've got to get to the next thing.

And I think as pharmacists, we—or health care professionals in general—are generally overachievers. And so we're always thinking about the end result rather than being in the process. At least I know, for me, when I was in school, it was all about getting out of school. You know, doing really well, getting to the test, making the grade. And I missed out on a lot of the fun in the process of that. And the things that I teach kind of help people to get back into enjoying the process, even though it can be really uncomfortable. Because when those thoughts start to come up like, this does not look good, I'm terrible I can't, I can’t draw, I can't draw a stick figure or whatever—you miss out on the fun of just being in it. And I think that can create a lot of stress in our lives if we're not having fun in the process. Because otherwise we're just waiting to the end, and we all know what happens in the end.

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