Balancing Productivity and Self Care During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Adam Martin, founder of The Fit Pharmacist, discusses how to balance the demands of daily life and self-care during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Aislinn Antrim: Hi, this is a Aislinn Antrim from Pharmacy Times. Before we get started today, one of our top articles right now is about case studies highlighting the use of tele-diabetes to manage type 1 diabetes cases in adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. So there's more of that on Pharmacy Times. Adam Martin, founder of The Fit Pharmacist, is back today to discuss how to use this time that we have to build new healthy habits. So, Adam, just with the everyday chaos of running around and birthday parties, things to go to, we don't have that anymore. So what sort of things could people be implementing right now?

Adam Martin, PharmD: Excellent question, thank you for having me back on, Aislinn. So with this, we have the gift of time, and what to do with that really depends on the individual. And one thing that I want to really urge people to be cautious of is the trap of comparison. So, literally, comparison is the thief of joy. But what you have to realize is that everyone's in a different place. While we might all be going through the same traumatic event through COVID, we are all coming to this with different experiences. Some people have been through trauma before, so they have experience with how to handle and deal with this. Other people may not have or may have gone through some things that aren't as extreme as what we're going through now. So having grace and really focusing on processing it, doing things that will help them both mentally and physically, that would be their focus. So, if you see people doing things like hustling, grinding, versus people doing Netflix and chill, it's not a comparison, it's not a contest. You really need to take time to reflect on where you are and see what would be of best service to you, to your family, and to your patients. The source of the other two all stem from you, so you really have to have that question answered of where you are and what would be of best interest to allowing you to get through this time.

Aislinn Antrim: Definitely. So, we've seen people trying to implement, you know, new healthy habits while they have the chance. Can you talk a little bit about habits and how they work, and how people can use that knowledge to help them?

Adam Martin, PharmD: That's an excellent question. So, when it comes to habits, a lot of times we think of, like, biting our nails or going to the same restaurant every day of the week or something like that. But really who we are as individuals is actually determined by the habits that we do throughout our time, and I'm going to break down what habits are as simply as possible. So, looking at habits, we have different ones, right? We have eating habits, we have our habits of, like, getting up in the morning or nighttime routines—whether they're good or bad. And what those are is you might have tried to change it before, you might have had to have tried to create a new habit that's better or helpful for you and you might have been stuck, because regardless of your effort you feel like you're in the same repeating loop over and over again and there's a reason you feel that way. It's because habits are actually called habit loops, and with those comes breaking them down. So, if you want to create a new one or change an old one, you have to understand how habit loops come to be made in the first place. So, that's what we're going to look at real quick. So, a habit loop has three parts: the first one is the cue, the second is the routine, and the third is the reward. So, number one in a habit loop is the cue, and what I mean by cue is this is a trigger that tells the brain to switch to automatic mode, because it takes a lot of energy. It drains your willpower to make decisions and choose between A and B, one and two, three and four. Your brain is all about being efficient, so it wants to do things on autopilot. The routine is the automatic response or ritual that you've adapted in your daily life, and that can be physical, mental, or emotional. So, when you see a dog, if your heart just melts, or you see ice cream [and] you just start getting really excited, that would be an emotional routine response. The third part of a habit loop is the reward, and that helps your brain determine if the routine was worth remembering it for the future. So, a lot of times you think of this and you think, “Well, Adam, I emotionally eat overnight and that is causing me to gain weight and making me feel bad about myself. How is that a reward? That's self-sabotage.” Well, actually, short-term you might have overwhelming emotions, especially during the time that we're in right now. So, wow, long-term overeating and choosing less than ideal food sources is causing weight gain in the short term, in the right now. In the “you have to survive” framework, it's giving you relief by giving you that comfort through food. So short term, it's good. It's the long-term effects that are long standing after you eat that's the not-so-good. But again, the brain is wired for survival, so that's where these habit loops come from. Three parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward. So, with that being said, if you're experiencing a habit that you would like to change, going back to poor eating choice behavior, let's say even biting your nails. Okay, this is something that I have overcome through many years. You have to recognize the loop cycle that you've been in, whether you've consciously or subconsciously created it. You'd have to identify the loop cycle you're in so you can change the actions you're going to take. Coming back to biting your nails, to still get the reward you subconsciously seek—that being stress relief. Okay, now your habit loop directs you to conform to the same pattern day after day, even if you attempt to change things up. So, if you ever tried to order something different at your favorite restaurant—you guys know what I'm talking about, I do this, still. You go to your favorite restaurant and you say, “Oh I always get this, but I'm going to try something new today. I'm going to get something different.” And then you look through the menu and what do you end up doing? Ordering the same thing that you've always had. It's still good, you still enjoy it, but you walked in with a different intention. But your habit loop creeped in. I'm sure this resonates with you guys because this is still something that I do to this day. So, that's something just to consider and be aware of. And if you find yourself ordering into that ritual, okay. So, in order to lessen the amount of willpower that you use, to make things easier, your brain literally wants you to be on autopilot. That's what I said in the beginning, so that's the rationale, the reasoning, coming back to our primitive brains of why have loops happened. Our brains are wired for efficiency and survival, so when you get this you can kind of understand where habit loops come from. So once we understand how they work then we can get to the work to changing them into something that we actually want, into something that we desire rather than getting stuck in this endless habit loop cycle. Okay, so this is just something to be aware of, something we could definitely work through, but this is how habits happen and if you understand that you can construct what you want to create.

Aislinn Antrim: Wonderful, so now we have that understanding. I've spoken with pharmacists who say they're busier than ever, they're taking care of patients, they're not working from home, they're not wearing sweatpants like a lot of us. So, even for those that don't have a ton of downtime, can they also implement some new habits right now?

Adam Martin, PharmD: So, excellent, excellent question, and this is going to sound a little ridiculous if you've never heard this before, but until you put it into practice it will change your life. So, Aislinn, you asked the question with so much downtime, how can we do these habits? How can we do these things? And this might be as simple as self-care, as watching a movie with your family or reading ten pages a day, whatever that might look like. And it's this: You have to make the time by scheduling it. And a lot of people will get put off by that. “So, you're telling me that I have to schedule quality time with my family?” Well if it's important to you. Because I'm sure that you schedule when you go to work; I'm sure you schedule when you get your hair cut, back in the day when we could get our hair cut, right? So, if it's important to you, you'll make time. If not, you'll make an excuse and that can cause a little burn, that can cause little, like—I'm not saying this to be mean, but I'm saying this to really have you think about this—if you want to implement more quality time with your family, time with yourself in terms of self-care, whether that be exercise or meditation or just cooking healthy meals or watching a movie, you have to schedule it, because if it's on the calendar it's going to happen, right? You aren’t late to work all the time. Do you forget to show up to work? No, you show up because if you're not there you’re done. Treat your family, treat your self-care time in the same way. You have to schedule it to make it happen. And if you've never tried this before, again, I know this might seem ridiculous. You want me to schedule time to watch a movie? Yes, I do. You need to really make sure that what you want to change, what you see as being important is put as a priority, and by putting that on the calendar that's ensuring that it will happen.

Aislinn Antrim: Definitely. So, what sort of specific healthy habits are you recommending that people can really implement, that are realistic. That aren't, you know, I'm going to lose 200 pounds, but are realistic that people can actually work towards?

Adam Martin, PharmD: Great question, and this is actually going to be a fun exercise. So if you guys are watching this, you're listening to this, I urge you to get pen and paper and write this down. There's so much power to writing things because it takes it in your mind, puts it on paper, and really makes it real, and we talked about this in the last segment. So, what I want you to think about is all the times when you were leaving the door, going to work, but thought, “Oh, I really wish I had just 30 minutes more or 60 minutes more to do fill-in-the-blank.” Or you're going to bed at night and you're thinking, “Man, if only I had an hour more in the day to do this or that.” What's that blank, what's that this or that think of that? And write down all the things that you wish you could do and fill it in. Literally, this is a fun exercise, it's a creative exercise. Okay, write down all the stuff that you wish you could do, that you'd like to do, but time has always been the reason that you've given to why it hasn't come to be, why you haven't been able to do these things. Now think about some other things that you really, really would like to make a part of your life. Going back to the last interview, we talked about what your ideal life would look like. Look at that list and say, you know, “Which of these things really get me excited?” If you say it out loud, you feel yourself getting pumped up about it, that's what you should do. And that might be just being chill. I mean, how many of us are busy in the pharmacy—and this is before COVID, now we're all really busy. Like you said, how many of us would really just like to go and relax and sit on the couch, maybe with a glass of wine watching some Netflix or maybe just doing nothing and just sitting with ourselves and processing life right. How many of us have wanted to do that, but we've been so busy and never had time, we've never done it? That might be what you want to do. You might want to have a new ritual where, when you come home from work or if you're working from home you log off at the end of day, but for one hour, or if you're a parent 30 minutes, or maybe if you're a busy mom five minutes—whatever that realistic frame is—schedule that and make that your new ritual. And that can be just lying on the couch and doing nothing, there's a lot of beauty in that. So, it really comes down to where you are and what you want to experience, and that's the gift of right now. Yes, there's atrocities, yes, there's terrible challenges that we're dealing with that's going on. It's the reality of the world, but there's also an opportunity to use this gift of time to do things that we've always wanted to do, but it felt like we never had the time to do it. So this is a personal answer that you should really get creative and excited about. What have you always wanted to do that you’ve never had the time to, because now you have it.

Aislinn Antrim: Absolutely. So, sort of on the flip side, I've also spoken with people who've said it's also really important to be forgiving. We're going through a trauma right now, you're not always going eat the healthiest meal, you might grab a cookie. How are you striking that balance between pushing yourself to be productive and making these new goals and just focusing on survival and getting through the pandemic?

Adam Martin, PharmD: This is such an important distinction, because I see, right now especially, through social media there's two groups of people. There's people saying, like, if through this time you don't come out with a new skill and new habit and new way to dominate life, you never lacked the time, you just lacked the discipline. But I also see people that say screw working on your personal development, this is a time of trauma. You need to sit and do nothing. So, there's two extremes here, and I'm not saying either one is right or wrong. Again, the answer to this is personal. Okay, you need to really have an honest conversation with where you are right now, and ask yourself, “Am I a thriver? Like, have I gone through things similar to this? Am I in a place that would not take quality time away from people that need me—one of those people being yourself, by the way—by continuing on this personal development?” So, some people just have to continually give and create things and that's how they're genuinely inspired and lifted up. It's by taking their passion and expertise and melting that into some form of content. I help other people through this time, that's an example. That's me, that's my genuine authentic self. It's how I really thrive and how I feel like I have my purpose, is by creating something to help people in a difficult time, to allow them to see that personal grace and give them a simple way to find that inner light that they've had inside but they've been putting in a clay jar under the bed instead of displaying that on a stand. Because it's when you shine bright amidst the darkness that other people are able to see that and get inspired, that they to have a light. And that's me. Now, I've gone through some deep trauma before, so I've experienced not this but similar things. So, that's one of my gifts is being able to bounce back fairly quickly because of my personal experience. Now if this is new to you, you know, [if you’ve] experienced deep trauma or something, I'm not judging here. Or the other point is you have kids that are home and they need that. You have family, they're affected by this. You're in a role in pharmacy where you have to really give them that time and dedication, so in order to do that you really need to realize that if you do that and you do all this you're going to burn out. And that's something that you really have to have an honest conversation with yourself about. Also, you need to assess have you been giving yourself the gift of time? Have you been really investing in your self-care or is this just an idea of “it would be nice if” or “someday” or, you know, “if things are right.” So, you need to ask yourself, like, is this a time that I need to be doing all these things or is this actually a gift that I need, to pause, accept myself. And, yes, have that cookie, relax, have a time where you can really connect with yourself and maybe with your friends and family. And the thing I want to say is, while these two suggestions seem to be totally opposite, it doesn't mean that you have to do all of one or all of another. You can pick from whatever you'd like. Okay, some people are going to be doing more productivity, some people are going to be doing more relaxation. It's not an either-or decision, it's how can you create a life and structure. Coming back to what we said before, habits that are going to help you feel fulfilled, what’s going to help you get the most out of this time and going to help you be the best version of yourself so that you can be in a place that you can dispense your full potential. So, the answer to that question is really specific to the individual, and that's why it's important to have this awareness of looking. And that's why this gift of time is so great because a lot of times we lose sight or forget or don't think it's important to check in with ourselves and really have an honest conversation about where we are in our life. If that's where we want to go, if it's where we want to be, or if we need to make some changes so that we can keep on towards that progress path. And this is the biggest takeaway. It's not about using this time to be perfect, it's about using this time to focus on progress. And that progress can be coming into a better relationship with yourself or with other people in your life, and that answer is determined by you guys.

Aislinn Antrim: Absolutely. Well, thank you Adam so much for joining us, again. Thank you for taking the time, and now we're going to hear from some of our other MJH Life Sciences brands on their latest headlines.