MADIGAN ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. – The holiday season is a cherished time of year for many; it brings family and friends together to celebrate, share stories about the present and reminisce about the past. With COVID-19 surging, this year will be different. With precautions necessary to keep our community healthy, people are feeling more distanced than ever.
Over time, limited social connection, dwindling recreational activities and increased isolation can affect the mind and body, which are intricately intertwined. Our efforts to limit the spread of the disease, combined with the Pacific Northwest weather, can take a toll. When one area of health is affected, often both are.
However, during these extraordinary times there are many things we can do to protect our mental and physical health and ensure we still enjoy the holidays.
The medical professionals at Madigan Army Medical Center on Joint-Base Lewis McChord, Wash., are devoted to the health and well-being of their patient population, Service Members and their families, retirees and Reservists. Two of these individuals are Col. Christopher Perry, the chief of the Department of Behavioral Health and Lt. Col. Julie Rylander, who is the chief of the Nutrition Care Division.
“COVID-19 has perpetuated the fragmentation of society,” said Perry, “and the holidays will definitely be difficult for many, particularly our single Soldiers.”
Perry shared his views regarding the strain the pandemic has placed on genuine relationships. He discussed the use of modern day technology to stay in touch with loved ones, while stressing the importance of real human connection made outside of screen time.
Humans are, by nature, social creatures; and research in the behavioral health field has shown that increased isolation can be detrimental to our mental health. Some of us are in positions where we still go to work and have some amount of in-person interaction, which can be fulfilling. For those who do not have opportunities for personal interaction, one of the many social media platforms and applications can provide that sense of togetherness during times where people are physically far apart.
“Our Service Members need to spend time virtually with their family and friends,” said Perry. “But don’t forget to also strive for authentic relationships where you are.”
Perry said that while many social distancing precautions are necessary, it is important for people to still spend time together within the limits of the current restrictions.
He also encouraged people to “honor your traditions,” even if it must be done from afar this year.
One of those traditions might be related to tasty holiday treats that most of us enjoy. Rylander shared her perspective on that topic.
“Moderation is key,” she stated. “Having a healthy, well-balanced diet as a base is essential, but don’t deny yourself treats this season.”
A well-balanced diet includes things like lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables. Many of us know this, but a proper diet is incredibly important in order to support our performance, mental health and immune system.
As the pandemic rages on, many people have looked to nutrition to help boost their immune system. The typical holiday diet for many of us includes desserts, highly processed foods and excess alcohol, but these items are not going to help. These foods cause inflammation in the body and reduce our ability to effectively fight infection. Some of the vitamins and minerals that can boost our immune system include zinc (found in meat, shellfish, legumes, seeds and nuts), vitamin C (found primarily in citrus fruits), and vitamin D (found in fatty fish such as salmon, egg yolks, and red meat).
Vitamin D in adequate amounts may be challenging to get in even the best of diets, and is primarily produced from sun exposure. Rylander acknowledged that sunlight exposure in Washington isn’t always easy to get, especially at this time of year.
“Given the winter weather here,” she said, “it may be beneficial to supplement with vitamin D.”
People who want information on what vitamin supplements to take should check with their dietitian or other medical professionals.
Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, we should remember to care not only for ourselves, but also for others during this time. We may do a fantastic job of maintaining our own mental and physical health, but what about those around us? We are seeing less of each other, which makes the importance of connecting and reaching out that much more critical. Check in on those you love, those you work with, and simply those you know. It could make all the difference.
Perry emphasized that sentiment with a reminder.
“We are our brother’s keeper," he said.
In the military, that “brother” is our fellow Service Members, their families, the civilians we work with and the community we serve. We are all responsible for one another.
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