Omicron Variant Anxiety? 12 tips from therapists
When you woke up to learn that there was a potentially dangerous new variant of COVID called Omicron – a comic book villain name if there ever was one – you might have felt a few things.
You may have had a heavy heart. I felt depressed. Or maybe that tiny little bubble of hope that was growing, the thought that we may have hit a pandemic point and things would get better, suddenly burst.
The news strikes at a time, at least in the United States, which is usually about family and friends, gratitude, and giving to others. As an added layer of sadness, the news was also a stark reminder that despite the availability of safe and effective boosters in the United States, much of the planet does not have access to any type of COVID vaccine.
“The pandemic has made people traumatized and vulnerable and this Omicron is like a trigger, as it would be with any traumatic situation,” said Dr. Vivian Pender, president of the American Psychiatric Association.
Pender said when the news broke she felt more anxious herself and her patients started calling almost immediately. “I saw them more anxious than before, even to the point of panicking,” she said.
“When these variations appear, with Delta and now even more with Omicron, it’s sort of this re-experience of the whole 20 months of that,” said Dr. Ashley Matskevich, a Boston-based psychiatrist who does also part of the faculty. at Harvard Medical School. “It’s like kicking yourself when you’re down.”
We asked mental health experts for tips and advice on how to cope with the latest in a seemingly endless wave of pandemic bad news.
Registration with yourself
Everyone reacts to the news differently, and there is no right or wrong way to feel. You may feel anxious, scared, numb, annoyed, or in denial. You might have even laughed at the ridiculousness of the situation.
Almost all emotional reactions are normal, Matskevich said. However, it helps to be aware of how you are feeling.
“I think COVID, and in particular Omicron now, may make existing problems worse,” she said. “It really is much easier to feel happy in your relationship and friendships in good weather.”
It can affect your mood and the way you feel and act towards others, so it’s helpful to try and remember this when interacting with people, she said.
“It’s not your spouse who is foolish not to be upset that you can’t go on a trip,” Matskevich said. “It’s a really difficult situation.
Focus on the things you can control
One thing is for sure, there are a lot of things that are beyond our control, and that includes the newer COVID variants.
“There’s the idea of how much this pandemic has taken from us and a really legitimate fear of what else will be needed,” Matskevich said. “There is so much to come that people are looking forward to and it is truly devastating to think that we are back in the no-control zone.”
Pender recommends focusing on things you can control, such as wearing an indoor mask, getting vaccinations, and scheduling a booster if you’re eligible.
Be aware of the things that strength trigger anxiety
Matskevich recommends that you notice your reactions to triggers and make behavioral changes that help you pay attention to yourself.
She said she initially signed up for a daily COVID news roundup until she found out it was a problem for her.
“I realized that everyday at 6 pm when I got this email my mood was going down,” she said. She unsubscribed from the email and “it really helped,” she said.
She noted that “it’s hard” because it goes against our impulse to stay informed during a situation that seems threatening. However, we also won’t really know for a few weeks how dangerous Omicron is, or how much current vaccines protect it.
There’s no reason to be constantly on your phone to refresh the news feeds, she said. “I try to really limit myself that way.”
Try to worry postponement
One coping technique is to schedule a time to get updates on what is happening with the pandemic.
Carrying over the worry is “basically saying, yes I can worry about that, I can scroll down or whatever, but it will be 4 pm Friday,” Matskevich said.
Continually reading “a million news articles” can interrupt sleep and lead to sleep deprivation, anxiety and depression, and reduce the chances of you doing healthy things that reduce stress and anxiety , she said.
“I see it almost as a topical pandemic and a COVID pandemic in terms of its impact on mental health,” says Matskevich.
Recognize when you are ruminate
Rumination is an endless cycle of negative thoughts, much like a hamster running on a wheel. It can contribute to anxiety and depression, but you may not even realize it.
“Journaling can be very helpful for this,” Matskevich said. If therapy is an option, it can help you break the cycle of repetitive negative thinking.
Apart from that, strategic distractions like commuting to work, reading and exercising are all useful and healthy coping behaviors when it comes to stopping rumination, she said. declared.
To avoid catastrophic
Disaster is to imagine the most extreme and worst possible scenario in a given situation. For example, if you are in pain or in pain you immediately think you have cancer, or if you have a fight with your partner, you assume that you are going to break up and no one will love you anymore.
If you find yourself going for it, try to come face to face with reality which is a thought-provoking challenge, says Matskevich.
“Thinking hard is like swimming at high tide,” Matskevich said. “You say, is there any evidence I can find that might not be true?” Or is there any evidence that I can find the best-case scenario is also possible? “
Avoiding alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism
Pender says it’s also important to avoid potentially negative coping mechanisms.
For example, she recommends avoiding drugs and alcohol as a temporary way to feel better.
“Using drugs or alcohol to manage stress makes it worse in the long run,” she said.
Contextualize the news
Matskevich recommends putting any news, including Omicron, in context.
“In psychiatry, we are talking about examining your own evidence,” she said.
It helps to realize that we’ve been through this before and that “we’ve always landed on the other side, gone to dinner with friends and attended events,” she said. Contextualizing the news, it’s a reminder that this is an interim state that will eventually pass, she said.
It is important not to lose sight of the great scientific achievements that have been made in terms of vaccines and treatments, as well as “how people have overcome this incredible challenge,” said Dr. Reynold A. Panettieri Jr., vice -chancellor for translational medicine. and science at Rutgers University.
“If we look at the challenges in the world, World War II lasted seven years and we are entering our second year,” he said. “We’re going to survive too, it’s just that we have to do it on the terms the virus dictates, not necessarily our terms.”
Choose a sensation–good activity
You can temporarily distract yourself by watching a program excessively, reading a book, or doing an activity to distract yourself from the news.
“It’s a great coping mechanism for being distracted by something warm and fuzzy,” Pender said. “People who have animals are in a good position.
Matskevich recommends that people choose an activity outside of work that is also continuous, enjoyable, and goal-oriented.
She’s been on a cross-country run for her sanity, but other ideas might be to try out all the recipes in a cookbook or knit a sweater.
“Having something that feels motivating and useful but also enjoyable is really important,” she said.
Talk to other people
Connecting with other people is more important than ever, Pender said.
“Loneliness really hurts people,” she said. “Now is the time to expand your social network as much as possible. “
If you’re feeling exhausted or overly anxious about it, talk to your friends, family and coworkers so you don’t feel alone and isolated, Pender said. You will probably find that a lot of people feel the same way as you do.
To take care from yourself or from others
Getting enough sleep, eating right, exercising, or doing whatever is healthy is important and can help you feel better, Pender said. You can try mindfulness, breathing exercises, or meditation.
“Even just going for a walk,” she said.
Volunteering or doing something selfless can also help, like working in a soup kitchen or taking calls at a mental health hotline.
“If you are able to do it, you should do it,” Pender said. “It makes you feel better. “
To look for to help
If none of these things are helping or not helping you enough, experts recommend that you seek help from a mental health professional.
“If someone ruminates so much that they are unable to initiate relationships or do their jobs, then they should see a psychiatrist or primary care provider who can refer to a psychiatrist,” said Pender. .
“There is no one on this earth, if open to it, who would not benefit from one hour of therapy per week,” said Matsekvich. “Life is tough and the therapy is great.”
The pandemic has changed one thing for the better – more and more mental health professionals are offering virtual tours, which hopefully can make it easier to get help. In the future, mental health care will likely be a combination of virtual and in-person visits.
“For many, it has made mental health care more accessible,” Pender said. “Telehealth is here to stay. “
United States National lifeline for suicide prevention is at 1-800-273-8255. The Trevor project, which provides suicide prevention and assistance resources for LGBTQ youth, is at 1-866-488-7386. You can also text TALK to 741741 for free, anonymous 24/7 crisis assistance in the United States from Crisis text line. Find other international suicide helplines on Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org).