Mindful Art: A Creative Practice Pharmacists Can Use to Reduce Stress

Article

Pharmacists are cited as one of the most stressed professions and a creative habit can help to improve focus, enhance productivity, and reduce stress.

You’re a busy pharmacist, there are fires to put out all day and ongoing unwelcome information you have to relay to customers. This includes higher-than-expected co-pays, products not covered by insurance, out of stock medications, and outright denials.

Credit: BillionPhotos.com - stock.adobe.com.

Credit: BillionPhotos.com - stock.adobe.com.

Of course, it’s not always bad news, but oftentimes there is anxiety and fear around being the messenger, which builds up over time. Pharmacists are cited as one of the most stressed professions, with a 2021 pharmacist survey indicating 47% of respondents are currently experiencing burnout and 81% self-reported a history of burnout.3

After you close the gate and clock out, how do you let go of the stress that has built up in your body? There are lots of different stress reduction methods out there. Meditation, physical exercise, and journaling to name a few.

These all have amazing benefits, but have you tried some before but just couldn’t stick with it? What was it that felt challenging to you? Are you searching for something that feels relaxing and fun to reduce your stress?

As kids, we’re often encouraged to explore our creativity on a regular basis. Science shows that just the exposure to different colors helps brain development.5 Coloring also helps children to develop critical skills such as visual-spatial perception and focus.

As we grow, the art activities may get slightly more involved, including cutting, molding with clay, and painting. Art education in kids has also been shown to help encourage empathy, improve writing skills and less disruptive behavior.2

But we tend to gravitate away from these creative activities as we get older. Maybe we think we need to dedicate our time and resources to learning more concrete facts instead of spending time just doodling, or maybe we get uncomfortable with the exploration that creative practices allow.

Finding comfort in the black and white of right and wrong is why many find solace in science and math. There are facts to know and equations to get right. We can get that much desired approval that we all crave when we get it right.

But where in a creative practice do you get it right? The good news is the “right” is in the doing. The benefit lies in carving out time to get creative and to allow for space for play.

Your mind is constantly thinking, planning, and remembering. Play and creative time gives your mind a much-needed break and the best part is that no matter what you do, you get it “right.”

Studies have shown that a creative habit helps to improve focus, enhance productivity, and reduce stress.1 So why do we not do it on regular basis?

In my experience, it felt like I honestly didn’t have time to devote to something I thought was just for fun and wasn’t beneficial in other areas of my life. I didn’t fully understand, nor was the research available previously to prove the benefits of these creative activities.

Also, art can make you feel really uncomfortable. As we get older, we like getting approval from parents, teachers, and friends.

We want to succeed, but in art there are often mistakes and things that don’t look perfect. This can feel like something you’d rather didn’t exist. When we show off our artwork, we’re terrified of hearing the dreaded response, “What’s that supposed to be?”

So much so that we often stop pursuing a creative practice before we’ve even started thinking that we’re not good enough. Then you may find yourself saying, “I can’t even draw a stick figure.” You avoid art in order to avoid the discomfort.

But there is so much wonderful self-growth and stress release to be gained in doing art. And it’s fun! It takes practice to give yourself grace in the process and let go of preconceived ideas around what is good.

That’s where mindful art comes in. You can use the discomfort to discover more about yourself, your thoughts and how you deal with emotions. You can also learn to make friends with your inner critic and cultivate more self-compassion.And practicing art actually reduces cortisol levels in your body.1

The difference between just coloring and mindful art is the intention, much like the difference between meditation and mindfulness. You can practice mindfulness anytime and anywhere, but with meditation you are sitting down for an intentionally quiet time to practice.

With mindful art, you are intentionally giving yourself time to be creative. It doesn’t have to be very involved. In fact, I recommend starting with a practice that is both simple and easy, such as doodling or coloring in a kid’s coloring book.

Choose your favorite crayons and a fresh coloring book. Set aside 5 minutes per day to color—that’s it. That intentionally quiet, focused time will create a shift in your mind.You can break free of your normal thought patterns.4

You release stress as you focus on choosing your next color and coloring. You relax knowing for those 5 minutes that there’s nothing else you need to do and nowhere else you need to be.

If you prefer to doodle, grab a blank journal or sheet of paper and keep it simple. Draw lines and shapes to fill up the entire page and you’re done. Just keep drawing the same thing over and over if you’re unsure what to draw next.

The best thing about art is that there are no mistakes. This is a practice for you to feel good. You may feel silly at first but question that feeling. Do you not see the benefit in giving yourself a break? Is there not benefit in free play? Why is it not okay to feel silly?

Mindful art can be a wonderful stress reduction practice. Stress affects so many different aspects of your physical and mental health. Find a practice that works for you, start small, and be consistent to see the results.

About the Author

Tracey McGrath, PharmD, is a pharmacy manager at Sam’s Club and founder, mindful art teacher, and meditation coach at Bliss Arts Co.

References

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5004743/
  2. https://kinder.rice.edu/urbanedge/new-study-underscores-importance-arts-education
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33580662/
  4. https://reset.me/study/study-creativity-can-reduce-stress-and-become-a-habit/
  5. https://www.color-meanings.com/color-psychology-child-behavior-and-learning-through-colors/
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