FALLS CHURCH, Va. - The holidays can be a great time to reunite with family and friends, relax, and recharge. Of course, even during a typical holiday season, extra travel, shopping, entertaining, and memories of lost loved ones may cause stress. This year, the holidays during the COVID-19 pandemic may bring added stress because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends modifying holiday plans by limiting in-person gatherings. Especially in this unusual holiday season, you should take time to think about ways to strengthen your mental health. Here are some tips and a reminder about your TRICARE coverage, which includes mental health services.
“This can be a challenging season, potentially made more difficult with the pandemic,” said Dr. Krystyna Bienia, a clinical psychologist and senior policy analyst at the Defense Health Agency. “It’s important to take care of your mental health, just as you would your physical health, and establish or maintain healthy habits.”
The CDC reports that during the pandemic, “fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions” and this certainly applies during the holidays as well. Making time to take care of yourself may help ease those feelings. Here are some steps to help you take care of your mental health:
Keep up with healthy habits. These may include getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and staying active.
Recognize your feelings and be realistic. Just because it’s the holiday season, doesn’t mean you have to feel jolly. Traditions, holiday plans, and your feelings may be different this year.
Reach out. Seek out friends or family members by phone, text, or video chats. Volunteering your time is also a way to lift your spirits while helping others.
If you’re still feeling depressed or anxious and need some help, talk to your doctor. Tricare offers services to support your mental health needs. In addition, there are many non-clinical counseling and support services that can be very helpful. These include Military OneSource, Military Family Life Counselors, service counseling services, and chaplains.
How do you know when it’s urgent that you ask for help? The National Institute of Mental Health suggests calling your health care provider if you experience the following symptoms for a prolonged length of time:
Appetite changes with weight loss or gain
Trouble getting out of bed due to mood
Loss of interest in things you usually enjoy
Unable to perform usual daily tasks
Thoughts of self-harm or death
If you reasonably think you’re having a mental health emergency, call 911 or your local emergency number, or go to the nearest emergency room. If you or a family member needs immediate help, you can also reach out to a crisis hotline.
Tricare offers a wide variety of mental health support services, from substance use disorder treatment to individual psychotherapy and family psychotherapy. You don’t need a referral or pre-authorization for most office-based outpatient mental health care services unless you’re an active duty service member. Active duty service members must get referrals. Your out-of-pocket costs will be lower if you use a TRICARE network provider, as mentioned in the Tricare Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder Services Fact Sheet. You can find network providers by using the provider directory.
Take command of your health this holiday season. And make your safety and mental health a priority.
For more health information, visit www.tricare.mil.