Anxiety is normal in abnormal times, experts say. Here are tips for managing COVID stress over the holidays
'Uncertainty will always lead to anxiety,' clinical counsellor says — but there are simple steps you can take
It is normal to feel anxious.
That's the first thing experts want you to know.
As the Omicron coronavirus variant spreads, British Columbians have been left wondering what to do with fast-approaching holiday plans.
"The thing that is difficult about the situation is the element of uncertainty," says Elizabeth Bradley, a registered clinical counsellor in Victoria. "Uncertainty will always lead to anxiety."
So what do you do about that anxiety?
Not all anxiety is bad
First, experts say you should try to identify which kind of anxiety it is.
Liisa Robinson, chair of counselling services at Camosun College, says some anxiety serves a purpose. In the case of COVID-19, it can remind us to wear our masks, book vaccine appointments, and practise other safety measures.
"What we don't want is for it to get into a place where it's causing us more distress," says Robinson.
Examples of distress can include disrupting sleep, stopping you from eating, or getting in the way of your relationships.
Robinson says practising mindfulness can help you sort out whether your anxiety is the useful kind. It's best to have an ongoing practice, so you're not starting something new during a stressful time — but it's never too late to start.
Try 'worry spotting'
Robinson says she likes to use a trick she's learned called "worry spotting."
If your worry is something that can motivate you to take action, especially to make yourself safe, then take that action.
But if it's a worry that you're ruminating on, and can't change anything, identify it.
"That's not actually a helpful functional thought," says Robinson. "That's something that's tumbling around in [your] head."
If you can recognize that, and say to yourself, "that's just me worrying," Robinson says you can get more perspective on your thoughts and not get stuck in them.
Giving yourself structure and boundaries is key, says Bradley. This can help you stay healthy and also give you a sense of control.
That can mean sticking to a consistent sleep schedule, planning your meals in advance and getting out regularly for fresh air and exercise.
In the face of pandemic uncertainty, you can also consider what makes you most comfortable in terms of gathering limits and travel, and set those boundaries for yourself — "just to give yourself an antidote to that feeling of, 'oh God, I just want someone to tell me what to do,'" says Bradley.
Is it the most wonderful time of the year?
Bradley says that oft-repeated line from the famous Christmas song can get in our way — especially during the pandemic.
"I think that actually does a lot of damage to people," she says. "If you've been set up with the expectation that you should be having a wonderful time, and you should be full of the holiday spirit, then that's only going to make your anxiety and your mood feel so much worse."
Whether December is a difficult month for you every year, or it's tough this year because you can't see the family or friends you usually celebrate with, Bradley wants to remind people that it's very normal to be stressed right now.
If you're trying to find a way to make the holidays feel wonderful, Robinson suggests planning something small that you can control.
That could mean watching your favourite Christmas movie, going out to look at lights, or playing in the snow — "whatever it is for each individual person that's going to help them feel like there's something that connects them to this time of year," she says.
Talk it out
Both Robinson and Bradley stress the importance of talking about your anxiety.
For one thing, a friend might help you identify whether the thing you're worrying about is worthy of worry. For another, sharing your anxiety can help you realize you're not alone.
Professional help is available too. Robinson suggests Here 2 Talk, which provides mental health support for all students registered at post-secondary institutions in B.C.
Clinics like Bradley's offer sliding-scale appointments to the public.
All British Columbians can call 310-6789 (no area code necessary) to access mental health resources. The province also lists resources here.