Holidays can be stressful for Veterans and caregivers. VA Pittsburgh staff offer tips on how to manage added stress this time of year.

Holidays are a joyous time of year for most, but for others, they are reminders of loss, trauma and grief. For caregivers, they can bring on added stress, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

If holidays bring on painful reminders of trauma or loss, Sarah Woodring of VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System’s Suicide Prevention Team reminds you to make time for yourself and know your limits. Some of the ways you can set aside time for yourself include taking a walk, watching a moving or going on a scenic drive.

“Do things you enjoy,” she said. “This will build your resilience and act as a buffer to the ongoing stress that can occur over the holiday season.”

Woodring also suggests you:

  • Set realistic goals and pace yourself
  • Organize your time
  • Be realistic about what you can do
  • Look toward the future
  • Volunteer to help those in need
  • Start a new holiday tradition
  • Avoid alcoholic drinks
  • Spend time with people who are caring
  • Reach out to make new friends
  • E-mail an out-of-touch friend or relative
  • Make safe, healthy choices

Crisis Line for someone to talk to

At any time during the holidays, if you experience a crisis and need someone to talk to, please call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, press 1.

If you are a caregiver, Vanessa Beck of VA Pittsburgh’s Caregiver Support Program reminds you to take time to take care of yourself. As a caregiver, you might be at risk for burnout because you are focused on taking care of others rather than tending to your own needs.

She said simple, small strategies to reduce anxiety and tension include breathing and gratitude activities.

Breathing technique:

  1. Get into a comfortable position, sitting tall, but not too stiff. Close your eyes when comfortable.
  2. Take in a breath for three to four seconds, but not so much that it is uncomfortable. When breathing in, fill with air pushing your belly out.
  3. Breathe out slowly for six to eight seconds. Your belly should go back down as you breathe out. While exhaling, think of a phrase or word that brings you comfort, such as “peace.”
  4. Repeat three more times.

 Gratitude activities:

  1. At the end of your day, reflect on three things that went well that day, and write them down.
  2. Gratitude object: Identify a small object (like a rock) that you like and can carry with you or leave out where you will see it. Throughout the day, whenever you see the rock/object, pick it up and hold it, notice how it feels, and think about at least one thing you are grateful for or something that brings you joy. Do this a few times throughout the day.

The VA Caregiver Support website has more resources and tips to consider. Caregivers can also call the Caregiver Support Hotline at 1-855-260-3274 to talk with someone if needed. For more information, see Caregivers Support Line (CSL) – VA Caregiver Support Program.

By Keith Gottschalk is a public affairs specialist for the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System

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Published on Dec. 21, 2021

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