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In this together: Self-care and the holidays during COVID

Loneliness and social isolation can be as damaging to your health as smoking pack of cigarettes a day, according to Kris Hooks, a behavioral health trainer with LifeMatters.

As with all personal issues, “The longer we struggle, the longer it takes to get better,” Hooks said during the December 10 CALS LifeMatters Lunch and Learn: Self Care During COVID. She said it is important to reach out for help when we need it and pointed to the LifeMatters website mylifematters.com offered through the Employee Assistance Office (EAO) at UW-Madison.

“This year has been more emotionally intense,” she pointed out. “We miss being able to be up-close and personal with people, especially at this time of year.”

Hooks said some of the ways to cope with holiday stress include evaluating four areas in our lives: Dealing with change, identifying your core needs, recognizing imbalance, and restoring that balance. Our core needs, she said, include health, work, family, social interaction, finances, and the rate of change in our lives. Our triggers can be broken down into the acronym HALT, or Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired.

“Check in with yourself and look for triggers,“ Hooks said. “Physical, emotional, cognitive and behavioral triggers can be identified if you look for them. For instance, do you crave comfort foods rather than healthy food? Are you sad or more irritable these days? Have you been gaining weight? Sleeping more, or less, than is normal for you, or suffer forgetfulness or have problems with concentration?”

How we deal with those triggers has an impact on our health, she said “For one thing, alcohol sales are up 55 percent and rising because people are drinking so much more at home.”

Hooks said some strategies include:

  • Restoring balance: For instance, your mindset or attitude will benefit if you look for gratitude in your life.
  • Habits and actions: Can you go for a regular walk or plan to exercise in another way?
  • Maintaining relationships: Can you connect with friends and loved ones through phone, video calls, or writing letters?

In an earlier webinar, Five Strategies for a Safe and Enjoyable Holiday Season during COVID, health educator Misti Myers suggested the following strategies for self care:

  • Develop a game plan: This year, we must have conversations about our holidays that we never had to have before – how will you celebrate? Try to keep your routines but modify them. Innovation is key.
  • Make efforts to eradicate loneliness: Think of others who might be lonely and send them a card or letter or drop off a porch surprise.
  • Channel healthy nostalgia: Choose to engage in positive nostalgia and carry good traditions forward.
  • Be prepared for provocation: Who pushes your buttons? This year is a good opportunity to prepare yourself to not engage and avoid topics that will result in arguments. Perhaps just listen without responding.
  • Shift perspective: Take the approach of helping someone you know who may be in need in some way – send a gift or anonymous donation.

In addition to viewing COVID-related webinars and information from LifeMatters, the UW-Madison EAO hr.wisc.edu/employee-assistance-office/ offers both personal and work-related help through personal counseling, workplace consultation, and well-being coaching and training. All services are confidential.