By Dr. Cynthia Feldman, PharmD, MBA
As fall blurs into a long holiday season, lots of things can make us feel pretty icky, and we pharmacists are trained to be battle-ready. In any year, the holidays seem to kick off all sorts of health challenges, and we expect COVID in the mix will be a complicating factor.
And yet, we can’t cancel Christmahanukwanzakah (though the CDC strongly recommends avoiding all travel), and we can’t neglect our social and emotional connections to others – especially this time of year. So whether you’re boarding a plane for the first time in months, or heading over the river and through the woods by car, here’s some guidance for staying healthy this holiday season.
First, you know this, but I’ll say it again. You can’t care for others if you are suffering. Managing your own mental health is critical every day of the year. But add too much shopping, excess partying and the pressure of trying to do a synchronized Thanksgiving Zoom meet up, and you’re probably going to be stressed.
You can maintain good mental health in lots of ways. First, sleep. Stay on or develop a good sleep regimen because when you’re rested, you’re battle ready. If that sounds easy and isn’t, don’t hesitate to get help. Work with a pharmacist to determine if there’s a CBD or melatonin product suitable to you based on your current drug regimen. Often patients find these products helpful in establishing sleep schedules.
Giving yourself permission to care for yourself also means you don’t skip your anti depressant or anti anxiety medicines. Don’t try to “tough it out” or forget your refills. Mental health is driven in large part by brain chemistry. If a physician has prescribed something to help you, take it.
In fact, this is the time of year when compliance is most at-risk. Changing work, school, social and travel schedules can lead to missed doses. (Another reason sleep schedules matter: they often guide your morning and evening dosage cues.) Make sure you’re taking yours – and administering your loved ones’ – medicines correctly. And if you fall out of rhythm, jump back in.
Another guidance we’re giving patients is to go ahead and be merry, safely. You can maintain social distancing in small groups, especially outdoors. Gather around a fire pit instead of an indoor fireplace; oyster roasts are probably safer than restaurant brunches. We can figure this out!
And don’t forget your elders. The holidays are typically a time of year when they can rely on seeing loved ones. But maybe not this year, at least not in the way they are used to. So help your parents or grandparents maintain their own good mental health this season. Connect to them in any way you can – even if it means opening gifts from two sides of a glass window. COVID has been especially hard on the elderly, and we need to amp up our vigilance for them this holiday season.
On the other end of the spectrum, your kids may need a little extra care, too. Many parents take children off ADHD medicine during school breaks. Check with your physician first, because there may be unexpected consequences “detoxing” the kids without guidance.
Also pay special attention to their diets this time of year. Like you, they’re tempted by big buffets and stuffed stockings. We get consulted about lots of stomachaches every December 26th!
This is a great time of year to boost your household’s immune systems. Vitamins and supplements can play a role. But don’t start the day before a trip. Two weeks of quality products like Vitamin C, elderberry syrup and such can boost your immune system and guard against what the world throws your way. Consult your pharmacist for guidance; supplements are definitely one place where you get what you pay for.
Finally, whether you’re traveling or hosting this season, remember your new COVID essentials. Stock up on hand sanitizers, wipes and masks. Lots of masks. Not to get too personal, but healthcare workers have learned we need to say this: you wouldn’t put on yesterday’s dirty underwear, so think twice before you put on yesterday’s mask. Change them daily to maintain their health benefits! (In fact, masks make great stocking stuffers…especially some of the fun holiday styles we’re seeing.)
And there you go! A COVID-friendly, travel-easing, holiday-check list. With a little planning, this season can be as merry and bright as any. Promise!
Cynthia Feldman owns Sweetgrass Compounding and Pharmacy in Mount Pleasant, and will open a second location in the spring.