Published on Dec 07, 2020

Video Transcript

[INTRO MUSIC] JOHN WHYTE: Welcome, everyone. You're watching Coronavirus in Context. I'm Dr. John Whyte, Chief Medical Officer at WebMD. Today, I want to talk about wellness. How do we maximize our health, and what does that even mean, during the pandemic? So, to help provide some practical advice, I've asked Jesse Pavelka. He's been our guest at least once before. Some would remember him from The Biggest Loser, but Jesse has been involved in wellness for more than 20 years, and he is the founder of Pavelka Wellness. Jesse, thanks for joining me.

JESSE PAVELKA: Thank you, John. Thank you for that great introduction.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, let's start off with, what does wellness mean nowadays? It's got to be different in the setting of COVID than it was, say, last year.

JESSE PAVELKA: Yeah. I mean, I actually like to use the word well-being. I think that it invites a new relationship and a new perspective. And when we look at the standard dictionary of well-being, it's a state of comfort happiness and health. And I think that that's, for most of us, aspirational. And the interesting thing about that definition is it looks different for everybody, right? How we achieve comfort happiness and health is going to look different for me than it does for you. However, we both want that.

And I think, in the era of COVID, we've really had to step back, re-assess our well-being practice, our wellness practice, and figure out how it aligns to those three areas of our life. Comfort happiness and health, which is an opportunity in itself, but it's definitely going from pre-COVID to now COVID-living. The struggle is part of the process.

JOHN WHYTE: You've been interested in fitness your whole life. Have we focused too much on physical fitness in the past and not enough about mental fitness? We've been talking about we're going to have a mental health crisis. Where does the role of mental fitness fit in, and have we been ignoring it too much in the past?

JESSE PAVELKA: Yeah. I think fitness has always been appealing because it doesn't feel threatening or as though there's a vulnerability that comes along with it. It feels like it's action, it's physical, it's a series of behaviors that are easy to identify. Like when I think of fitness, I think of the gym, I think of exercise, and it stops there. And so, I think looking at the opportunity to expand our awareness of what fitness health, wellness, well-being really is, it's the journey that we're all on. And I think, when we look at mental health especially, there's obviously stigmas and taboos around that as well.

And it's overwhelming for some people because we think, oh it's mental health and there must be an illness. It's not the absence of mental illness. It is your daily routine. It's how you feel. It looks different for everybody, and each and every one of us define our mental health in a different way. So, I think it's getting to that place where the journey that I think we're on is getting to that place where mental health doesn't just happen over here. Your social health or your community fellowship-driven approach to wellness doesn't just happen over here.

Your physical here, and your nutrition over here, it's all coming together, and we have to embrace it all, and talk about it all, and share, and show our practices out in the open, because that's what the world needs right now.

JOHN WHYTE: But how do we pull it together on a daily basis? Take us through maybe what it looks like to you. Should we be doing Sudoku, or if that is about practicing gratitude? How do we incorporate all of this, Jesse, in a typical day, when some of us are in lockdown, quarantine, there's a lot of things where we're trying to balance with kids, and spouses, and extended family members? Is now the time to be doing it? That's what people could say. I've got enough on my plate. Now, you want me to do more? I'm just trying to get by.

JESSE PAVELKA: Yeah. Yeah, I think part of this is about sharing and showing. It's about sharing stories, sharing state, showing your routine and your practices, and for some of us, doing a breathing exercise in a team setting. I'll give you an example. We were doing some breathing exercises with one of our clients and it was a really interesting moment, because you had some people who brought that routine into their daily experience. So, shutting your eyes, connecting to your breath was something they felt OK doing on a virtual call.

The other portion of them were like, this is the weirdest thing I've ever done. I don't know if people are looking at me. My family is over here as well. I think we want to get to the point where if you see someone shutting their eyes and taking a few deep breaths, that's cool. Like, we need that. And so, as much as you can make your practice visible, as much as you can talk about your story, your struggles, how you're overcoming them, the easier it is for all of us to access these approaches, the realms of well-being.

JOHN WHYTE: So, you want me to do breathing exercises? It's your practice, I'm practicing. What other advice do you have? You've been very involved in corporate wellness, in helping leaders promote the idea of being.


JOHN WHYTE: So, what other tips and tools can you give us? What have you been talking about to leaders? And, how do employers and others help everyone stay well while at the same time stay safe and continue productivity?

JESSE PAVELKA: Yeah. The reality we're in right now for organizations, leaders, to these individuals and organizations is, organizations have to put people over profit. I know it was something that's been talked about. It's a nice concept. But for a lot of organizations like, yeah we get that, but we don't really know how to do that. And I think now, we're living in a time where you have to figure out how to do it, and it starts with leaders and teams, and the individuals in that team. So, if you're looking at, if you're a leader, you're no longer-- the old model, the old formula of leader won't work anymore.

And, the idea, I think, for leaders now is to get as close as you can to your people, and it's not easy because you're not in the same room for the majority of leaders and teams. So, it's about asking the right questions, getting to know your people, on your team, on a deeper level, understanding their struggles and defining their needs, and that's going to look different for everybody. And it's not going to be easy, but that's kind of the position that leaders are in right now. It's like an upscaling of well-being, right?

So, you've got to get help with that as a leader, you've got to understand what works for you, you've got to ask the right questions your team members. What's going on in your life? How can I support? How can I serve? Leaders are the new coaches. Leaders are here to serve now, and I think that that is the direction things are going, which is a great opportunity for anybody interested in well-being. Because if you're focusing on people, what's the most important thing? Their well-being.

JOHN WHYTE: Is it about making services available when people are able to come back? Is it about the amount of hours one has to spend each day in the office versus virtually? What are some of those examples?

JESSE PAVELKA: Yeah. I mean, I think it has to be an ecosystem of resources and other support that people have access to. And it is about directing the individual to the right place so that they're aligning their needs to a support that is going to give them some kind of transformation. I think that if you're an organization, it's about having a variety of those resources, a variety of how to's that everybody has access to. It's not one solution. It's not one size fits all. It's one size fits one. And so, having that variety ensures that everybody has something.

But I think at the core of that, the core of this ecosystem, of wellness resource is a conversation that has got to get-- that has to start, that invites vulnerability, that invites authenticity, and just allows people to be real. And then, from there, that's where you get to know where people need to go. OK, this is what's going on with you, here's this resource. I suggest you talk to this person. You know so-and-so on the team? They were struggling with that too. Why don't you guys have a conversation?

JOHN WHYTE: We're going to get real with Jesse Pavelka then, right now.

JESSE PAVELKA: (laughs) Men.

JOHN WHYTE: These different pillars, what are you struggling with? I can say, I'm struggling now. I'm eating a lot of chips and foods that I know are unhealthy, but I keep doing it in the evening, and I'm seeing the results of that. Trying to incorporate mindfulness is challenging as well. But we're talking about you So, tell us. What are the real challenges that you face? You're very knowledgeable in all these things, that's part of your life. What are the challenges that others might learn from?

JESSE PAVELKA: Yeah. I mean, I'm not afraid to share my struggles because they're part of me. And I know that there are things that come up for me when crisis hits, and I noticed when COVID came that those things flared up. I trust things, I have issues around trust, that my past gifted me. Mental health is something I have to be on top of, for myself. I can get easily stress, anxiety can get turned up pretty easily. And so, I have to be proactive in making sure that that doesn't get out of control, and that's usually a story that's created, that just turns into something big and overwhelming, and not based on fact.

And so, exercise helps me. Yes, I've always gravitated to exercise. Nutrition and exercise, I got it from an early age. I loved it. It helped me perform. So, I got that. My evolution was, OK what is this thing? Mental health, OK, people that exercise mental health in certain positions and wear certain clothes, and I don't I don't wear those clothes, and I don't sit in those positions. And the same thing with when it came to social well-being. It was a community, fellowship, those kind of things were like, that's for know people that are broken.

And so, my journey was waking up to this idea, and I had to start small of mental health is no different than physical health. It is exercise. It is practice. It's a part of your daily routine. The same thing when it comes to social and/or spiritual well-being as well. It is exercise. It's practice. It has to be a part of your routine. And it wasn't until I brought those practices and routines into my life that I actually experienced relief from certain things that I wasn't getting relief from. And that was story, and that story was around trust. It created anxiety. And during COVID, I noticed that got turned up. So, I really had to--

JOHN WHYTE: That's what I was going to say. Doesn't COVID make all of this harder? These are all difficult to do under normal circumstances. COVID just blows everything up. Some people can't go to the gym, can't afford groceries as much as they could have before. It's just we're overwhelmed by stress and inability to sleep. So, is it good to try to focus on one at a time, all of them together, baby steps? What other accounts do you have?

JESSE PAVELKA: Yeah, one thing I did want to say is that I don't do this. My work is interesting because I do it because I have to. I love it but I was forced into a position where this is a part of my life and I want to share with people.

JOHN WHYTE: You are forced into it, why? Why are you forced into it?

JESSE PAVELKA: Because of my own struggles. Because of my own knowing that I needed certain elements of wellness in my life that I wasn't embracing. So, I made it just like everyone else. I have my daily struggles just like everyone else, and they can be overwhelming. So, I just wanted to add that in there. A lot of the work I do as a research is me search. And so, it's all part of the journey for me. But as far as your question around, focusing on these things one at a time, or collectively. It just depends on what it is.

Like, if I'm sitting down at the dinner table having a healthy meal that I prepared, or the family prepared, and I'm sitting at the table, and I'm having a meaningful conversation with a loved one, you know that's nutrition, that's connection. These things are happening organically just in one experience. And I think that bringing the elements together, eat and connect, in that experience is great. Same thing when you go for a walk, right? You're moving the body, it's physical. You might be in nature, you might be connecting to something greater than yourself, like nature, but you're also taking care of your mental health as well.

And so, I think it's just identifying the benefits and appreciating them. We are engaging in each of these routines. It's one thing to do it, it's another thing to experience the impact and really appreciate the fact that you're doing it.

JOHN WHYTE: Well, I want to thank you for sharing your insights. I want to thank you for sharing your personal story. I mean, these are challenging times for folks, and helping to promote the concept of wellness, of well-being, goes a long way. So, thank you, Jesse.

JESSE PAVELKA: Thank you, John.

JOHN WHYTE: And thank you for watching Coronavirus in Context.