Westport Health Notes — toward a happy, healthy and harm-free holiday

Posted 11/27/23

Welcome to Westport Health Notes, a monthly column from the Westport Board of Health (BOH). The goal is to share information with our community about local issues and projects, public health alerts, …

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Westport Health Notes — toward a happy, healthy and harm-free holiday


Welcome to Westport Health Notes, a monthly column from the Westport Board of Health (BOH). The goal is to share information with our community about local issues and projects, public health alerts, and facts about the scope of responsibility that local Boards of Health manage.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA), harm reduction is an approach that incorporates community-driven public health strategies including prevention, risk reduction, and health promotion. The goal is to empower individuals and their families with choices to live a healthy, self-directed, and purposeful life for those struggling with addiction. This model can also be applied to all aspects of public health and to individuals struggling with other life stressors. Harm reduction practices have proven to prevent death, injury, disease, overdose, and substance misuse and have been effective in addressing public health epidemics of substance abuse, as well as infectious diseases.

It is important to think about harm reduction during the holidays. Stress from expectations and increased activities, overindulgence in eating or spending, family conflict, and increase alcohol consumption, can possibly lead to emotional or physical harm. During the holidays various accidents increase in frequency. Back injuries and falls from ladders while putting up decorations, Christmas tree fires, children choking on small toy pieces, heart attacks, and automobile accidents while driving under the influence of alcohol increase during the holidays. And of course, this is also the season of viruses that can be “re-gifted” if we do not think about harm reduction by washing our hands, wearing masks in crowded enclosed places, and getting vaccinated at least two weeks before joining in the festivities with friends and family. Staying home if not feeling well can also prevent passing on viruses to others, thus reducing harm.

On the opposite side of the spectrum is the stress of not having the money or the food needed for day-to-day life, let alone celebrating and gifting during this time of year. And rather than feel connected, many feel more alone and lonelier during the holidays. Unmet needs increase the risk of harm by interfering with both mental and physical health. Being aware of those in our community who might need more support during this time and reaching out can really help them, and your own sense of well-being.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 3 in 5 Americans feel their mental health is negatively impacted by the holidays. Coping with stress becomes key to feeling well during this time of year. Setting boundaries on what you can and cannot do can help insure your physical, emotional, and financial health. It can also help prevent harm and decrease tension in your relationships by asserting your needs in a calm, simple, and direct way without shaming or blaming the other person. This can also work if conflict arises during a family gathering where difference of opinion could escalate and cause tension. “I appreciate how strongly you feel about this issue, but I want to enjoy

being with everyone and think it’s best if we change the topic,” may be one approach to taking care of self, and the relationships that are important to you in your life.

The holidays are times families and friends come together, celebrate, and enjoy all the good things that happen during this time of year. To reduce harm, think about ways to stay safe. Increase self and environmental awareness, plan and practice ways to decrease stress, enjoy food and drink in moderation, don’t drive if you imbibe, and find ways to feel connected and purposeful. These are all useful strategies for harm reduction during this eventful time of year.

From all of us at the Board of Health, we wish everyone a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season.

Donna Amaral, Tanja Ryden and Phillip Weinberg

The signed are members of the Westport Board of Health.

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Jim McGaw

A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.