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COVID-19: Tips on coping with Omicron

December 20th, 2021  |  News

Is Omicron messing with your mental health?

COVID-19-induced anxiety is rearing its ugly head again and many are wondering what this means for our lives, families, and mental health as we move into 2022.

This may also be exacerbated by worsening mood and anxiety symptoms linked to the holidays, says Leela R. Magavi, MD, a Hopkins-trained psychiatrist.

“Many individuals perceive the holidays as a new beginning, so the new variant can feel like a regression,” she said.

But mental health experts say it’s natural to be concerned about Omicron and there are things you can do to help you cope. They offer these tips and advice on how to deal with the latest in a seemingly never-ending wave of pandemic news:

1) Focus on things you can control

There’s much that is outside our control, so focus on the things that you can control, such as wearing a mask when indoors, getting vaccinated, and scheduling a booster. Take the recommended precautions as outlined by Health Canada and other credible health agencies.

2) Take care of yourself

Self-care is critically important. Worries can be made worse if we don’t take care of ourselves. Lean on social supports, try to get enough sleep, eat healthy, exercise, and engage in enjoyable activities. Avoid alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.

3) Be aware of things that might trigger anxiety

Try to notice your reactions to triggers and make behavioral modifications that help you look out for yourself. Try not to avoid, ignore, or suppress anxious thoughts. Instead, be aware of your anxiety and accept that you’re feeling anxious in this situation. Try to keep things in perspective; notice and challenge your thoughts that may be extreme or unhelpful.

4) Try worry postponement

One coping technique is to schedule a time to get updates on what’s happening with the pandemic. Endlessly reading “a million news articles” can interrupt sleep and lead to sleep deprivation, anxiety, and depression, and reduce the chances that you will do healthy things that reduce stress and anxiety. Seek information from reliable news sources only, and limit checking the latest news to short, defined periods.

5) Recognize when you are ruminating

Rumination is an endless cycle of negative thought - like a hamster running on a wheel. It can contribute to anxiety and depression, but you might not even be aware that you are doing it. Keeping a journal of the good things in your life can help. Strategic distractions, like getting into work, reading, and exercising, are all helpful and healthy coping behaviours.

6) Avoid catastrophizing

Catastrophizing is imagining the most extreme and worst possible scenario. For example, if you have an ache or pain, you immediately think something is seriously wrong. If you find yourself going there, try giving yourself a reality check, and challenge those thoughts.

7) Contextualize the news

Put news, including stories about Omicron, into context. It helps to realize that we’ve gotten through this before and have landed on the other side. By contextualizing the news, it’s a reminder that this is an interim state that will eventually pass.

8) Choose a feel-good activity

It’s OK to temporarily distract yourself by binge-watching a show, reading a book, or doing some activity to take your mind off the news. Choose an activity outside work that is also ongoing, enjoyable, and goal oriented.

9) Talk to other people

It’s more important than ever to connect with other people. If you are feeling burned out or overly anxious, talk to friends, family, and colleagues so you don’t feel like you are alone and isolated. You will likely find a lot of people are feeling the same way you are. Even if it may not be possible to see them face-to-face, it is worth it to reconnect through Internet with your family/friends who are your support-mechanisms.

10) Volunteer to help others

Benevolence, sharing, volunteering, and helping others has a tremendous value in maintaining our physical and mental health. They single-handedly add meaning and a purpose to our existence, and when there is a purpose, coping becomes possible.

11) Seek help if you need it

If none of these are helping, or aren’t helping enough, experts recommend you seek help with a mental health professional. If you’re noticing that your symptoms of anxiety (in association with COVID-19 or otherwise) are causing you significant distress or are interfering with your ability to function normally, reach out for help from a recognized agency, such as the Canadian Mental Health Association. They recommend:

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