Now deep in the midst of the busy Christmas holiday season, we are all processing and grieving the challenging impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives and now our holiday traditions.

We mourn with many families from our local, regional and national communities who have lost loved ones to COVID-19. Despite the enormous losses, exacerbated stress and disrupted rituals, we notably have so many valuable opportunities to pause and reflect on the true meaning of the holidays and the importance of our personal, family and overall community welfare. Evidence-based public health practices, novel therapies and emerging COVID-19 vaccines inspire hope of our collective recovery from the unprecedented, tragic pandemic.

Yet, the ongoing public health threat posed by COVID-19 mandates we stay vigilant and continue to exercise common sense, while taking special precautions this holiday season.The concepts of self-care and compassionate regard for others carry significant weight at this time.

Here are a few ways we can each make smart investments in our personal health.

Help mitigate the spread of COVID-19: While we cherish our time with family now, we must be mindful of the risks of COVID transmission and thus keep gatherings small.

High-risk individuals should remain homebound but hopefully can participate and stay connected to gatherings virtually. When possible, we should take festivities outside.

We also need to continue to wear masks, practice handwashing and social distancing, limit travel and engage in good hygiene. The importance of seeking care and following appropriate COVID testing, contact tracing, travel management and quarantine guidance when one has been exposed or is experiencing any symptoms of infection cannot be overstated.

Manage your stress and get enough sleep: As cheerful as the holidays are, they can be quite stressful and exhausting, even for the calmest and most energetic amongst us.

If you find yourself feeling a bit anxious, take a breather from the hustle and bustle. Make an intentional effort to get enough sleep.

Stay present and connected: We know that the holidays can be very difficult for some people, especially those who have recently lost loved ones. If you find yourself experiencing mental health issues, please reach out and seek help.

Visit your doctor: Many people receive generous paid time off from work during the holidays, which makes it a great time to schedule checkups, examinations, laboratory tests, mammograms and vaccinations.

Our health care delivery systems are taking extra precautions to promote safety in our patient care delivery systems and telehealth options are now thankfully available in most provider settings. If you haven’t gotten your flu vaccine yet this year, please make immediate arrangements to get it.

Avoid overconsumption: Unhealthy eating options are near-limitless during the holidays, and while it’s fine to indulge in all of our favorite homemade sweets and ethnic dishes, we should be careful to not overdo it.

Drive safely: We need to trust each other complying with undistracted driving. Stay rested and avoid driving when exhausted.

Exercise: Stay as physically active as possible during the holidays and continuing into 2021. A few extra laps around the mall during your next shopping excursion, opting for the stairs over the elevator at work and going for a walk outside on your lunch break can make a big difference in your physical health over time.

Again, we all recognize this is a holiday season like no other. However, there’s no reason why we can’t thoroughly enjoy ourselves, as long as we’re mindful of our health and the health of those around us.

On that note, I wish you many blessings, health and good cheer. Happy holidays!

Linda Thomas-Hemak, M.D., a primary care physician triple board-certified in pediatrics, internal medicine and addiction medicine, leads The Wright Center for Community Health as CEO and serves as President of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. She lives with her family and practices primary care in Jermyn. Send your medical questions to news@thewrightcenter.org.

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