JoCo on the Go Podcast: Healthy Holidays

JoCo on the Go wraps up the year with episode #150! As we navigate through the holiday season and embark on some cold winter months, get some valuable tips from county experts on protecting your physical and mental health. You’ll hear from employees who work in public health, mental health and community wellness, who share important suggestions and resources to help keep you and your loved ones healthy through the holidays and winter.

JoCo on the Go Webcast: Healthy Holidays

Look for JoCo on the Go where you regularly listen to podcasts.


Time Subject
00:37 Introduction
03:10 RSV: The basics
05:27 Mental health during the holidays
10:24 Helpful tools for a healthy holiday
14:09 JCPRD wintertime activities
16:35 More winter health tips
21:54 Mental Health Center resources


Jody Hanson 0:00 

As we approach the end of the year, holidays and the start of winter, we have some important tips to help keep you and your family healthy. On this episode, we've got Johnson County experts in public health, mental health and community wellness, all here with great information promoting physical and mental health well-being to help us get through the next few months.

Announcer 0:22 

Whether you live in or just love Johnson County, Kansas, JoCo on the Go has everything Johnson County. Here's what's happening and what's coming up in the community you call home.

Jody Hanson 0:36 

Thanks so much for joining us for JoCo on the Go. I'm your host Jody Hanson, a Johnson County resident and employee of Johnson County Government. I am joined today by three other county employees who are here with some really good tips to keep us physically and mentally healthy over the coming months. First, I'd like to introduce Norma Gatica with the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment. Thanks for joining us, tell us a little bit about your role.

Norma Gatica 1:05 

Thank you for having me. I am a registered nurse with the health department's Nurse Family Partnership Program. I meet with first-time mothers from pregnancy until their baby turns two years old to provide support, encouragement, guidance. It's a free program for Johnson County residents who meet income requirements.

Jody Hanson 1:27 

Great, thank you so much for being with us today. Next, I'd like to introduce Sierra Wright with Johnson County Mental Health Center. Sierra, tell us a little about your role.

Sierra Wright 1:37 

Yeah. Thanks so much for having us today, Jody. So I'm Sierra Wright. I'm a team leader within the Children and Family Services Division of Johnson County Mental Health. And my team specializes in working with youth who are dually involved with both the criminal justice or juvenile justice system on the kids side and also have mental health needs.

Jody Hanson 1:58 

Great. And finally, we have Alison Smith. She's with Johnson County Parks and Recreation District. And same first question, tell us what you do for the county.

Alison Smith 2:08 

Hi, very happy to be here today. Thank you so much for having me. I am the corporate and community wellness coordinator for the district. So I do all things wellness, it's a lot of fun. There's a little bit of different things every day, every day is a party over here at Parks and Rec. I do community wellness programs, I work with the Kansas City Corporate Challenge team as well, and do a lot of corporate community wellness and employee wellness with their employees. And then I also do employee wellness for our employees over here at JCPRD. And that's a lot of fun. I love it.

Jody Hanson 2:43 

All of you sound like you've got great jobs within the organization and are really benefiting the community and employees. So thank you for that. Norma, let's start with you. You know, over the past few months, we have been hearing a lot about RSV in addition to maybe some other viruses out there. So let's start with RSV. Tell us a little bit about that. Who does it impact? And what are some of the symptoms to look for?

Norma Gatica 3:10 

Great question. RSV is a respiratory virus that typically infects most children by age two, and can cause serious illness in infants, especially preemies and older adults. However, this year, we are seeing children of all ages and adults being infected with RSV. The usual symptoms include runny nose, decreased appetite, coughing, sneezing, fever, wheezing or difficulty breathing.

Jody Hanson 3:38 

So are there certain levels of severity depending on the person?

Norma Gatica 3:44 

Yes, the person's immune system is taken into consideration. And it's depending on that, on age, on medical history, the virus can affect you differently.

Jody Hanson 3:55 

Okay, great, thank you. So hand in hand with that, you know, we still have COVID-19 in our community, and it's winter. So we also have the flu to deal with, you know, like many other winters. So kind of looking at all of those. What levels are we seeing here in Johnson County right now and what can we expect as we continue to go through the winter?

Norma Gatica 4:18 

Typically, we see a lot of influenza cases right after the holidays, January and February. This year is different. Flu cases took right off after Halloween, and we have yet to see a decrease. Therefore, we could be in for a long flu season. COVID-19 and RSV are circulating too. All three of these illnesses can cause serious illness and hospitalization in high-risk individuals, which could really strain our healthcare system this winter. All three of them at the same time is what healthcare officials are calling a triple-demic.

Jody Hanson 4:55 

Yes, I think I've seen that phrase, and it sounds like something that we want to do our best to put protect ourselves from. And we're going to revisit that piece of it with you a little bit later, talk about some tips that you might have to help us protect ourselves and our families. But Sierra, let's bring you in here. You know, as you know, it's really important to think about mental health, hand in hand with physical health. You know, we are in the middle of the holiday season, a very joyous and happy time for some, but not for everybody. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Sierra Wright 5:27 

Absolutely. And I'm so glad that we're talking about this today. Because I think that for some of us out there, we can feel really conflicted in terms of the holiday season. Like it brings both some really good memories, but then also just kind of depending upon what's going on in our own lives, maybe if we've experienced grief or loss recently, and it's kind of the first holiday season without people that we love and care about, or maybe for just a strained or they don't live nearby, like those things can all make the holidays an additionally stressful time. And I think that things like social media, right? Like it for me, as a mom, like, the mom guilt is heavy in terms of, like, doing all the holiday things and feeling pressured to do that. So I think that there are a lot of contributing factors like social media, as well as financial stressors of, "Oh my gosh, should I get this gift? Did I not?" that can contribute to some of those feelings of being stressed out and overwhelmed. And like I said previously, I think grief and last is a huge piece of that. I know, again, for me, personally, this is going to be my first holiday season without my grandmother, who recently passed away. And grief hits you just in the weirdest moments and when you're not even expecting it. And so I experienced that recently myself, like, doing Christmas cards, and I was like, "Oh my gosh, I don't have one to send to her." And just kind of the processing of that. And, you know, we used to always give a hard time because she would take like 20 years to unwrap one gift because she was of the generation of the Great Depression. And so you saved everything. Like, so long to unwrap one gift, but really missing that. So I think that the key too is, like, giving ourselves grace and knowing that we're not alone in that struggle, that others might also have a hard time this holiday season.

Jody Hanson 7:24 

Well, I really appreciate you sharing that, especially sharing that, you know, your own personal loss with us. And I'm sorry to hear about that. And I don't think it's ever an easy time to have a loss. But the holiday sometimes can make it even sadder for us. So Sierra, what are some warning signs that you could suggest for us to look for? Either within ourselves, or within those around us, coworkers, friends, family, that somebody could be, you know, experiencing a negative impact because of the holiday season?

Sierra Wright 7:57 

Great question. So mental health, we talk a lot about people's baseline. So meaning, like, where are you kind of typically when you're at your, you know, kind of the well version of yourself? What does that look like? And any differentiation from that really is going to indicate that either you or someone that you love or care about might be struggling. So for example, if you're a person who typically doesn't require a ton of sleep, but now all of a sudden, you're wanting to sleep all the time, or conversely, you do require a lot of sleep, and you're not. Same with eating. Different things like that, just really anything outside of a person's kind of baseline level of functioning, varying from that would indicate that something's going on. It's worth asking some follow up questions, and maybe just even sharing, "Hey, I've noticed that, you know, generally, you, you know, are in a pretty positive mood. And recently, it just seems like you're more upset. Is there anything that I can do to best support you?" Just kind of inquiring in a non-judgmental way.

Jody Hanson 9:01 

And then, you know, what about physical appearance? I could see that maybe changes in physical appearance might be another warning sign? That just sort of popped in my head. I don't know if you have any thoughts on that.

Sierra Wright 9:11 

No, absolutely. I think the same is true. So I don't mean to have a diss on teenage boys, but because that's a population that like I typically work with. So we know, right, that showering can be a challenge. So you have to really look at, like, what's age appropriate and where is someone's baseline. So if your child maybe wasn't one that was showering a ton to begin with, coming, you know, from those self-care pieces. If that hasn't changed a lot for them, then perhaps they're just at their baseline. But if someone really did, you know, take a lot of pride in grooming, caring for themselves, and all of a sudden they don't feel like they have the energy to just even brush their teeth or take a shower in the morning. Again, those would all be kind of red flags for us to at least have a conversation with them about.

Jody Hanson 9:58 

Great, thank you. You know, Alison, I'm really glad you're here with us today. Because, you know, I believe that participating in physical fitness or other activities, maybe getting you around other people, you know, maybe they don't, they're not problem solvers, but certainly they can be tools in our toolbox, just to help us feel better. So you know, whether that's physically or mentally or both. So tell us a little bit about about your perspective on that.

Alison Smith 10:24 

So, moving is always great. You've always got to move more. I know I have days where I have to pep talk myself, because I get seasonal depression, especially around the holidays as well. And just move more. Moving. And we all know the benefits when you move and when you exercise, you increase all those additional stimulants that naturally make you happy. And then taking care of yourself, just keep moving. And that's some of the best things about moving. Also, in the winter months, getting outside has also been a great benefit. It may be cold, but it's okay to bundle up, take an extra-long route to the mailbox, or maybe take your dogs on a longer walk as long as they have the protective haul wax or little snow boots. I know mine have winter coats for them. Because we don't have human kids, we have dogs. But just moving. And then if you can't get outside, some other benefits are making sure you get your Vitamin D, sitting in the window. You guys have ever seen your cats or dogs just kind of lay and that sliver of sun through the window? Go do that, do what they do, go lay with them. Getting that sunshine is gonna help as well too. Also, a lot of people are hosting holiday parties. Some people might feel guilty about not making it to the gym, because they want to clean all the baseboards that they know everyone's going to look at when they come over to your house. Aggressive house cleaning also counts as a workout, as long as you are moving and you get your heart rate up. That's all that counts, just move more. Maybe take an extra couple flights of stairs in your house. Anything you can do to move and just keep moving. And I know what the mental health aspect in moving. If you do see someone that's down, maybe invite them to go for a walk around the building at work. Maybe invite a neighbor. Check in on your neighbors as well, too, especially during this time of year. But just go for a walk. Those are, you'd be surprised what a simple walk can do to change the mood.

Jody Hanson 12:30 

You know, that is some really great advice. Because what I'm thinking about is that some people might, you know, be overwhelmed about going to the gym or doing a big, intense workout. And it's just building in some of these things that you're talking about, like making a little bit of a longer walk. I know that I always try to park in the same spot in our parking garage up on the third floor to make myself get some extra steps to and from my car to the office. And that way I also don't have to try to remember where I parked. So that works for me. So it can just be building in these little habits just to get you moving more, right?

Alison Smith 13:04 

Correct. Yeah, and anything you can do, even if it's like, "Oh, I'm gonna go to my basement and go do this part of the day." But anything helps. If you trick yourself, and I'm gonna continue printing things on the printer and I'm gonna walk all the way down the hall and get that, come back and print another page individually. That's okay, whatever you can do to trick yourself. I know a lot of us have the smart wearable devices. Some of those you can adjust the timer settings to where they send you that reminder to keep moving. But don't ever feel guilty about not moving. It's okay to have a tough day and take a break. As long as you can keep moving later.

Jody Hanson 13:46 

Well and Alison, I know that in addition to the kind of the things we've been talking about here, JCPRD has so many options for people to get moving, to get outside, to get together, things like that. So I know we don't have enough time for you to talk about everything, all the wonderful things that JCPRD has. But what are some of the opportunities maybe this winter, over the coming months you'd like to highlight?

Alison Smith 14:10 

So I was prepared for this. And anyone who knows me knows that I could talk for days, but I I highlighted a few programs I really want to touch on that I'm really excited about. JCPRD does have some exciting holiday programs. One of the coolest ones we have coming up is our Caring Hands knitting group is over at Roeland Park. It's a free program. You can get free knitting lessons. But this group will knit different, like, hats and scarves and gloves, and they will go out and give them out for free in the community. And so we've got some volunteers that work at soup kitchens as well. They'll come in and they will leave with a giant box of hats and mittens, and they can give those out at the soup kitchen as well too. So that's something else that JCPRD has been doing as well. We also have a wide variety of yoga classes. If you want to sit in a chair, we've got chair yoga. If you want to do it from home, we have virtual yoga. If you want to do it in class, on a mat, we've got that too. Just type in "yoga" on our website, and you're gonna have a whole lot to go through. And that's totally fine. And then Ernie Miller's also doing some awesome stuff, including a full moon hike. And it's not at midnight, don't worry, it's just evening time. But Ernie Miller has some really cool things going on over there. So just get on, you're gonna see a whole bunch of the fun things that we've got going on.

Jody Hanson 15:38 

Those all sound great. And plus, you also have all the parks and all the trails, and those are open...I think the hours changed, but those are open throughout the winter, right?

Alison Smith 15:46 

That is correct. And our parks crews have been diligently working to make sure those trails, the paved ones, are cleared. I know we have staff that work on the weekends that will go out and plow those trails and make sure that they're safe for pedestrians. But we do have all of our winter hours posted on our website right now. And on our rainout line, you can see any park closures as well.

Jody Hanson 16:10 

Great, we have a lot of options. So appreciate that. So okay. So we talked about that and our toolbox of things that can help us do what we can to stay healthy physically and mentally over the winter, moving, activities, things like that. And Norma, from a public health perspective, could you talk about some of the other ways we can protect ourselves over the holidays in the wintertime?

Norma Gatica 16:36 

Sure, the most important thing you can do right now is get your flu and COVID-19 booster, if eligible. These vaccines will protect you from getting really sick and reduce the strain on our healthcare system. Even if you've had flu or COVID-19 recently, we still recommend getting the vaccine, as natural immunity wanes over time. There is also the possibility that you may get infected more than once by a different strain. So if you've recently been ill, talk to your healthcare provider about when it is a good time to get vaccinated. Other things you can do to stay healthy. Wear a high-quality mask in public places. Wash your hands frequently, especially true with our kids. I'm a mom myself, hard to get them to wash your hands all the time, but it's something so simple that can really avoid and help prevent illnesses. Wash your hands, especially after using the bathroom or changing the diaper, before and after eating. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces like doorknobs, telephones, remote controls, and please, if you're sick, please stay home. If you've been diagnosed with the flu or COVID-19, you should stay home from work or school for at least five days. Another thing we can do is incorporate diet and exercise. They are important for our health too. Eating a mix of healthy food along with holiday treats. Just thinking about moderation. It's not about denying yourself from any dessert, but more of taking into account your whole meal and then, in moderation, taking in that sugar intake also. Eating nutritious foods protects your bones, your joints, your muscles, and that gives you strength to stay active and independent. It's important to also stay hydrated during the colder months. Our sense of thirst may decrease in comparison to the warmer months. And so if we stay hydrated, that can prevent low blood pressure, dizziness, fatigue, confusion, and all of these can lead to falls. Johnson County Park and Recreation talked about taking some time to exercise, doing something that you'd like a few times a week. This could mean walking around looking at holiday lights or doing some simple yoga stretches in the comfort of your home. Lastly, but not least, if you're a smoker, consider quitting this winter, this New Year. Smokers can get free support by visiting me, or call line 1-800-QUIT-NOW.

Jody Hanson 19:34 

And that's such great information for us to keep in mind as we get through the next few months. Are there any specific programs or services that the Department of Health and Environment offers, or any resources that you want to highlight? Maybe information about vaccinations? You know, is it too late for people to get some of the vaccinations that might protect them this winter?

Norma Gatica 19:55 

It is not too late. Flu season is on the rise. We keep giving those vaccines up until June. And here in the health department, we're open Monday through Friday. And you can log on to to look at our hours and our locations. We also offer COVID-19 vaccines if you're eligible.

Jody Hanson 20:19 

Great, thank you. And then Sierra, kind of a similar question for you. What tips do you have for people to sort of do what they can to help protect their mental health over the holidays, throughout the winter? Maybe in addition to a couple things you've heard today?

Sierra Wright 20:33 

Yeah, absolutely, Jody. So I think one of the things I mentioned earlier, in terms of giving yourself and others grace, and to know that it's okay to say no to certain things. I really encourage people to establish boundaries around the holidays...well, all the time, but the holidays especially, around financial things, around just which gatherings are you going to prioritize? Because I know you feel like you get pulled in every different direction. For me again, personally, I have two young little boys and, like, it seems like their daycare is having lots of fun spirit weeks, but every day is like something different. And I literally, just, like, I don't know, and it's okay if they don't wear the ugly sweater that they're supposed to wear to school tomorrow, because I forgot. So give yourself grace, know that you don't have to do it all. Know that it's okay to reach out. And I think as we mentioned earlier, like, exercise, sleep hygiene, eating nutritious meals, like, all of that. All those pieces that go with the mind-body connection are so important.

Jody Hanson 21:39 

And Sierra, what resources do you want to quickly highlight that Johnson County Mental Health Center provides? And maybe what's the best way for people to connect with you, if either they or someone they know might need some help right now?

Sierra Wright 21:54 

Yeah, so certainly, we have our 24/7 crisis line. So that number is 913-268-0156. And that is answered by mental health professionals 24/7, seven days a week. We also have the national 988 hotline. And for those things, I think sometimes people feel intimidated to call because they're like, "Oh, I'm not sure if this is a crisis or not." And I would just really encourage you that we define that by what you are defining the crisis. So it doesn't need to fit neatly in a box. We're here for you to help you. Even if you're calling about yourself, or just someone that you love or care about, we've got ya. Also the other thing, I think, making connections to county EAP, if that's something that that you need. And then we, follow us on social media. We have, the Mental Center has a fantastic Facebook page that you could probably find on the county's page through that. And then we offer, open to the public, monthly parenting groups as well called Parent Connect, that folks can join just to get some additional information.

Jody Hanson 23:03 

Great, thank you. And then Alison. Finally, I know, you've got a host of programs and activities that people can look into. What is the best way for somebody to research and sign up for one of your activities or programs?

Alison Smith 23:17 

So I hate to drag people to the internet, but that's gonna be the best way to do it. So if you go to And then we do have a button for activity search. And also just like a lot of other websites, we have a search button up at the top right-hand corner, that web page. And then another option, if you want the news to come to you, if you go all the way down to the bottom of that homepage of, under resources, you can actually sign up for one of our newsletters. And the best part about that webpage is you can toggle your likes and then you don't have to toggle your dislikes. And then you will get an e-newsletter sent to you via email through JCPRD. And it's fantastic, and they'll just send you programs that interest you. So it's really cool.

Jody Hanson 24:08 

That's fantastic. Every time I do one of these, no matter what the topic is, I'm always just so impressed by just everything that the county does. And I love to hear stories and resources and things like that. So I just wanted to thank you all so much for taking the time to share such good information to hopefully help us get through the holidays and the winter. You can look for public health and mental health information at our website, And again, the website for Johnson County Park and Recreation District is So on behalf of all of us in Johnson County Government, JCPRD and everybody here today, I just wish you and yours a very happy and healthy holiday season and New Year. So thank you so much.

Announcer 24:53 

You just heard JoCo on the Go. Join us next time for more everything Johnson County. Have a topic you want to discuss? We want to hear from you. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter at jocogov. For more on this podcast, visit Thanks for listening.

Health and Environment
Mental Health