HERMITAGE — As people deal with a multitude of stressors, particularly the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this year, the staff at the Community Counseling Center of Mercer County took one event’s cancellation as a chance to take care of its own.

The counseling center normally hosts an annual health fair, inviting up to 45 organizations into the center to share information on their services with the public. Since the pandemic’s safety guidelines wouldn’t allow for a cramped gathering, Health Integration Coordinator Veral Adair said the staff decided instead to participate in National Health and Wellness Week.

From Oct. 19 to 23, the center staff was encouraged to participate in fun activities that also promote health.

Adair said the week of activities served to lighten the employees’ mood and offered a reprieve from pandemic stress. 

That stress has been considerable, she said, because people may not think of counselors as essential workers even though they serve an important purpose, especially for those dealing with feelings of isolation during pandemic-enforced quarantines.

“I think the best thing about it is that people are getting in touch with themselves,” Adair said. “If people can’t take care of themselves, how can they take care of others?”

One of the biggest challenges during the pandemic has been shifting from face-to-face contact with clients and shifting to tele-health calls. Though the staff has been flexible thus far, Chief Human Resource Officer Kathy McBride said there are still difficult times ahead — schools have resumed in-class instruction while the holidays and winter season can already be an extra-stressful time.

“The next three months are going to be very difficult, but it’s important for people to know that it’s OK to be disappointed, that the holidays aren’t what they are this year,” McBride said.

Health and Wellness week activities ranged from providing resources for meditation to random acts of kindness to recipe-swapping, where employees could bring in a meal plan, so others could could try them at home and share pictures of the final product. The cooking activity proved to be particularly popular, Adair said.

“Someone told me about a chicken broccoli bake, there was a lot of different dips — one that caught my eye was a potato chip cookie,” she said.

At the end of the week of activities, Adair said everyone who participated were eligible to win prizes, such as a personal blender or a fryer. However, the biggest prize was that the activities helped to take everyone’s minds off of COVID-19, at least for a while, McBride said.

McBride herself even discovered a track of relaxing Celtic music to play in the background when she meditates at home.

“For me it’s something personal, just sitting at the desk at a computer in a quiet room, listening to a motivational link and Celtic music,” she said.

Though the organization hopes the annual health fair can return next year, Adair said Health and Wellness week went so well that staff at the counseling center is considering bringing it back next year.

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