This challenging year is ending on a positive note – coronavirus vaccines are being administered across the United States. But as the country embraces winter and the holiday season, it’s important to remember that many continue to struggle.

Heather Luper, social work program manager, and Randy Moler, program analyst and licensed clinical social worker, offer tips for Veterans and their caregivers to stay well. Their work and tips come from the VA Office of Community Engagement.

First: It’s OK for things not to feel OK.

“The holidays are not just a date on the calendar,” Moler says. “There’s a lot of emotional connection, a lot of memories, a lot of evaluation of where you are in your life. One of the things Veterans can do to practice self-care is recognize that things aren’t easy right now.

“You’ve got to allow yourself grace and realize that this is a challenging time. We all have this idea that we should be happy and thankful. But sometimes there’s a disconnect with that message and how a person actually feels.”

Luper adds that many people are struggling with guilt about missing family gatherings or are struggling with financial uncertainty. It’s natural that these feelings would affect people’s mental health.

That’s where physical health can play a part

“Make sure you’re taking the time to take care of yourself, whether that’s relaxation techniques, your diet or some time disconnecting from technology,” Moler explains.

Moler and Luper recommend that Veteran caregivers find time for a short check-in with their loved ones, just to make space for a discussion about any struggles. Caregivers should also remember to take care of themselves.

Check in with other caregivers, schedule a regular time to have a debrief or venting session. VA’s Respite Care services can also help.

Another tip, Luper explains, is to manage expectations around the new year. 2021 could be off to an uncertain start, so even small resolutions are meaningful.

For example, instead of resolving to lose weight, just try to go for a 20-minute walk each day, which will help your physical and mental health.

Family and friends happy moments in video conference in lockdown quarantine.

Manage expectations around the new year: 2021 could be off to an uncertain start, so even small resolutions are meaningful.

Practicing gratitude is important for mental health, too.

“Try keeping a journal or memory log to document your experiences and interactions,” Luper continues. “If you’re isolated from your family but do video calls, take a quick picture of that screen. Start documenting in a different way so you can look back on this as an extraordinary time and see how you creatively adapted to the challenge.”

Luper said she was able to teach her father, a 79-year-old Vietnam Veteran, to coordinate a video call with members of his church.

“That led to a great feeling of accomplishment for him. He proved he could change, learn, and be creative.”

Here are stories about OCE partnerships that support Veterans’ physical and mental health and caregiver services.

Dr. Tracy L. Weistreich is a nurse executive in VHA’s Office of Community Engagement.

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Published on Dec. 30, 2020

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