Things have moved very quickly since the Omicron variant was first identified in South Africa at the end of November.
What started as the reintroduction of mask-wearing rules and travel restrictions has progressed to a work from home order and warnings of an “Omicron tidal wave,” as talk about further restrictions and the possibility of Christmas plans being cancelled continue to circulate.
It’s a lot to take in. A lot. And while we’re kind of used to this kind of chaos by now, it doesn’t make the uncertainty of it all any easier to deal with.
However while, as always, it’s important to stay informed, if you’re feeling anxious about the new variant, it’s also important to put the current situation into perspective and take the necessary steps to protect your mental wellbeing; worrying about the virus and what it could mean isn’t going to do anything but make you feel more overwhelmed and anxious.
So, to give you the tools you need to take care of your mental health at this uncertain time, Stylist spoke to a number of experts to get their top tips and tricks for coping with this kind of anxiety. Here’s what they had to say.
1. Create healthy news habits
In the age of social media and push notifications, we have endless information at our finger tips – but that isn’t always a good thing. Reading about the latest developments in regards to the Omicron variant may help you to feel more in control, but it could actually make your anxiety worse.
“While it’s not advisable to completely ignore the current guidance and information, it can be easy to get too involved with checking the latest updates, which can increase anxiety,” says Suzanne Guest, an occupational psychologist. “It may be worthwhile to make a decision about which news you are going to consume – for example, checking the Prime Minister’s briefings or government news rather than scrolling through social media.”
Guest continues: “It may also be worthwhile muting or unfollowing people who put a lot of Covid-19 content on their social media – especially those who don’t have any real qualifications to back up their opinions. There are even options on most social media sites to restrict posts from people while still remaining friends with that person.”
Getting rid of push notifications and setting aside certain times of the day to check the news can also help you to feel less overwhelmed. Indeed, as Dr Meg Arroll, a chartered psychologist at Healthspan, previously told Stylist: “Try to limit the frequency of news checking, whatever the source, to set periods in the day. If you’re a constant checker, reduce the number of times you read your news gradually and note your levels of anxiety before and after you check coronavirus stories.”
2. Focus on the present moment
It’s tough, but the more you’re able to shift your attention away from the future – which is currently dominated by uncertainty – and onto the present moment, you’ll feel a lot calmer and regain a small sense of control.
“It’s about trying to focus on what’s happening right now – in the moment,” Dr Peter Olusoga, psychology lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, previously told Stylist. “That’s a really difficult thing to ask people to do when there’s so much information flying around and there’s so much worry and concern about what’s going to happen in the future, but if you can, try and focus on what’s important now and what’s happening now.”
Dr Olusoga continued: “It sounds quite cliché, but it’s about controlling the controllable. There’s so much out there that’s not controllable, and if we focus on that stuff, then that’s what leads to stress and anxiety, because there’s nothing we can do.”
3. Continue doing self-care
Just because the current situation is unprecedented, doesn’t mean you can’t rely on your usual coping mechanisms to keep yourself feeling well.
“You can still do all the same strategies to manage your mental health that you would do outside of the pandemic, such as taking regular exercise, getting enough sleep, eating well and maintaining social contact with people,” Guest explains.
Taking part in soothing activities that put your wellbeing first will help you to get outside your anxiety and help you to feel more like yourself. Indeed, as Dr Arroll previously told Stylist: “If you’re feeling very anxious, practice some self-care with whatever works for you – going for a walk, having a long bath, etc. This will help to ‘reset’ your anxious mind.”
4. Keep yourself safe
Keeping yourself and those around you safe by doing regular lateral flow tests and washing your hands may not feel like it’ll make a difference, but it does – and it’ll also give you something to focus on.
“Knowing that you are following the guidance can help with your mental health as you have peace of mind that you’ve done everything possible,” Guest says. “You can also gain comfort from previous experience – tighter restrictions may not feel appealing, but we’ve got through this before. Use that knowledge to remind yourself that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
5. Try to avoid catastrophic thinking
It’s easy to let your thoughts run away from you when you’re feeling anxious, but obsessing over the worst-case scenario is just going to make you feel ten times worse. Reframing your thoughts in order to gain some all-important perspective can make a real difference.
As Dr Martina Paglia, clinical and counselling psychologist and clinical director of The International Psychology Clinic, previously told Stylist: “The first thing we can do to calm ourselves down is pause and remind ourselves that there is nothing we can do to control things. A lot of people have a controlling tendency – they need to plan things ahead and keep things in a certain order – so it’s very important for them to take the time to accept that they have no control about what’s going on.
“In this way, acceptance is key in helping people to take a more mindful stance about what they can do, so they can accept that this is the situation, and they can only cope with whatever is going on at the time.”
Another good way to avoid catastrophic thinking is by using a grounding technique to help you focus on the present moment.
“When we worry our mind fluctuates between the past and the future and we really struggle to be in the present moment,” Dr Paglia added. “A good way to help us be in the present moment is to use attention training and grounding techniques; one way to do this is to ask yourself what you can see, hear, taste, feel and smell, using your five senses to ground yourself where you are in the here and now.”
If you, or someone you know, is struggling with their mental health or emotional wellbeing, you can find support and resources on the mental health charity Mind’s website and NHS Every Mind Matters or access the NHS’ guide to local mental health helplines and organisations here.
You can also call the Samaritans in the UK on 116 123 or email email@example.com for confidential support.
Main Image: Erin Aniker
Other Images: Getty