Pharmacists are frontline health care workers, too. Much of the media focus over the past few months has been on the physicians and nurses in hospitals who are treating patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Treating acute COVID-19 patients creates health risks for frontline health care workers and their work is genuinely heroic; however, the role of the pharmacist is equally noble.

Right now, some health care providers have closed their out-patient offices and clinics, as they are only providing virtual patient visits for non-acute patients. As a result, pharmacists have been filling the gaps in patient care and their role as a caretaker has expanded in ways that many may have never thought possible.
 
Patients are worried about whether they will be able to get their prescriptions refilled on time and some may not be able to pay the co-pays for these prescriptions. As a result, pharmacists are in a unique position to find a solution for them.

Pharmacists may have lost patients to follow up or may have even lost some patients to COVID-19. The added stress caused by the expanding role of the pharmacist in patient care has also likely caused additional strain to their personal lives as well.

Pharmacists are routinely putting others ahead of themselves and may not be sure how to find time for self-care, which has become non-existent or intermittent at best.

Regular exercise routines have been pushed aside in favor of homeschooling activities or other urgent tasks. Sleep routines have been sacrificed, as many are trying to catch up on work into the late hours of the night.

Healthy nutrition habits have become less of a priority in favor of convenience foods. It's time to move out of triage mode and start stabilizing your routine.

Remember, when the air masks deploy on an aircraft, the instructions clearly state that you must secure your oxygen mask before helping others. Your loved ones and your friends deserve the best of you, not what's left of you.

How can you begin to shift the focus to more self-care?

As nutrition coaches, we've had a front row seat to witness just how COVID-19 has affected our clients' lives and we have felt it. We believe self-awareness, coupled with small changes in behavior, are crucial steps in making positive changes.

Here are specific suggestions for female pharmacists on how you can start to improve self-care right now. Looking back over the past several weeks, can you identify a few things that went well related to self-care?

Can you identify some areas in which you'd like to improve? Have you made time to move your body (exercise) intentionally? Have you set boundaries around your work schedule?

Have you started cooking more meals at home? Are you able to carve out some quality time with your family or friends? How have you made your mental, emotional, and physical health a priority?

Our most successful clients have followed these steps under shelter-in-place guidelines.
 
  1. Accept. Our clients realized that the way they ate and how they exercised needed to change. Let's be honest, everything has changed. The sooner they accepted that their weight loss and health goals needed to be adjusted and that there was no guarantee on when they could go back to the way things were, they could move to change their habits.
  2. Adapt. Our clients started to find ways to work out at home. They explored options until they found what worked for them in the current environment. They tried new recipes. They embraced learning how to cook, even if the meals were simple. When they surrendered to the idea that changes were likely to continue, they were able to make something work just for that moment, that day, or that week. See our previous article, Shifting Your Fitness, Nutrition Expectations During Shelter In Place.
  3. Adjust. Our clients have adjusted their methods and timelines, but not their health and wellness goals. Giving up was not an option for them, but they have been able to focus on small wins that lead to a more extended period of progress.

Here are 5 suggestions to help you create some space for self-care in the coming weeks and months:
 
  1. During a break, take a walk outside. If another pharmacy staff member takes a work break at the same time, commit to walking with each other every time you work together. If the weather doesn't cooperate, you can do some air squats in the break room. If you walk for 10 minutes per day for 5 days, that's less than an hour spent on self-care.
  2. Make groceries as easy as possible. Use delivery services such as InstaCart, Imperfect Produce, or Amazon Prime. If you have healthy options available, you're more likely to choose them.
  3. If you work in a retail pharmacy setting, make it a goal to find the healthiest snacks in the store and eat those. It can be tempting to grab the chips or the candy bar, but you can grab Greek yogurt, a protein bar, or some fruit.
  4. Pack your lunch. One of the most underestimated steps to success is minimizing meals from restaurants. When you make the meal, you have 100% control over the ingredients. It's easier to say "no" to your colleagues if they want to order take-out or delivery when you have your meal prepared. You can still sit down and eat with the pharmacy staff, but you'll be eating your healthy food.
  5. Start a contest with the staff. Have everybody choose a personal goal for staying healthy over the next few months. Maybe you would like to eat fewer sweets, drink more water, and exercise at least 3 times per week. Post something in the break room so that you can track your progress and have some fun with creating healthy goals.

Whatever you decide to do, start small, celebrate your progress along the way, and remember that self-care allows you to show up as your best self for your patients, family, and friends. It all starts with you, but you have to start.

Beyond The Box Nutrition is starting a 60-day Reclaim Your Health group program on June 15. If you would like to learn more about how this program or our other nutrition coaching services can help you, please click this link for more information.

Gwen Holtan & Sheena Lawrick
Co-founders Beyond The Box Nutrition
Reclaim Your Health Program