opinion

"I've been on edge." We need to talk about Christmas COVID anxiety because many of us are feeling it.

If you're feeling more anxious right now, you're not alone.

With less than two weeks until Christmas, many of us are looking forward to finally celebrating the holiday season with family and friends (if we're fortunate enough to see them). 

But with our weekends filling with social events and COVID-19 case numbers continuing to rise, there's one lingering feeling in the back of of our minds - how easily our plans could be upended if we are named a close contact or contract COVID-19 ahead of the holidays.

It's a stress shared by many around the country right now. 

Watch: How to talk to people with anxiety. Post continues below. 


Video via Mamamia. 

Just this weekend, I found myself more worried than ever about coming into contact with someone with COVID-19 as I anxiously weaved my way through a crowded shopping centre during some last minute Christmas shopping.  

I thought how easily I could get 'pinged' as a close contact if I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the sad irony of buying gifts for people I may not be able to give if I have to isolate alone for the holidays in my apartment. 

But while it's normal to have some concerns right now - particularly afters years of cancelled plans - Lysn psychologist Nancy Sokarno says, "the key here is knowing what you can control and knowing what you can’t". 

"We need to remain vigilant when it comes to our own protection by continuing to follow local health mandates" while also being "highly aware that there are just some things that we cannot control" she told Mamamia.

Instead of spending our time worrying about what could happen, Sokarno says we should continue to follow health advice and look at ways to cope if the worst should happen. This includes being flexible and making a Plan B to fall back on if things go awry. 

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"While disappointment is sometimes unavoidable, if you can work towards being flexible with your plans it can soften any potential blows. Making plans when things still feel a little uncertain can be scary, but don’t let that stop you. Be ready for a change at any moment and adapt if or when they come."

As we head into Christmas, we asked the Mamamia community to share how they're feeling right now.

For Charlie, the lead up to the holiday period is the most anxious she's been throughout the entire pandemic. 

"Now that Sydney's open again, I've had multiple birthday and festive celebrations recently and being out has made me so worried about getting COVID-19 or becoming a close contact. Both of my parents are high risk so I'm terrified of giving it to them," she shared. 

"And on a superficial level, I love Christmas (it's my birthday two days before) and I don't want to miss out on any of it. So, now that those celebrations are done, I'm going to avoid big crowds until Christmas. I just don't want to risk it - it's stressing me out too much."

Leah is also concerned about her holiday plans after bring pinged for the first time this week for a venue alert. 

She was not required to isolate but says she feels "quite anxious" and "it made me stop and think about where I’m going to go between now and Christmas". 

Those who have been recently named as a close contact know this anxiety well. 

Mikayla was deemed a close contact last week after seeing a friend for brunch in Sydney who later tested positive for COVID-19.

"I tested negative and got out of isolation on Saturday but since then, I've been on edge. I was out on Saturday night and people were sharing drinks and I was just scared the whole time. The thought of doing another week of isolation, probably while I'm on annual leave, kills me," she shared. 

"And after seeing how sick my friend is despite being vaccinated and knowing that she might miss out on seeing her family in Queensland, breaks my heart."

Jess is also cautious after recently coming out of isolation following a close contact alert. 

"I really don't want to have to go through that again anytime soon. It's just so stressful - waiting for the test results, having to cancel all of your plans, putting your partner/family out because they have to go get tested as a precaution," she says. 

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Limiting movements and social interaction. 

Amid the growing concern, many women said they're trying to limit their movements and indoor social interaction in the lead up to Christmas.

"I keep having nightmares about spending Christmas alone in my apartment while my family all gathers up the coast for a big celebration. I have reduced my outings for the two weeks leading up to Christmas, and I am trying to go places off peak to avoid getting 'pinged'," says Gemma. 

"I am still trying to live my life, but I am opting for things like walks instead of a drink at a venue with a friend just to be on the safe side. I am feeling really anxious about it, it's starting to consume my thoughts."

Nicolle is doing the same. 

"I don't feel anxious about getting COVID (weirdly), I just don't want to be pinged and miss out on Christmas... So I'm trying to limit my movements/attendance at various places. I've been wanting to take my son Hudson to the aquarium for example but will wait until after Christmas, I'm also trying to go to outdoor places with him (parks etc), rather than play centres." 

Alyce is also avoiding going out to reduce the risk of upending her son's Christmas. 

"Were being extra cautious and avoiding going out as much as possible, as I really do not want to be isolating over Christmas. It’s my son's second Christmas, and the first where he actually knows what’s going on, and I really don’t want him to miss out. All of our shopping is being done online or by click and collect, and any meet ups with friends and family will be done outside."

Sally, who spent Christmas during Sydney's Northern Beaches lockdown last year, says her family "will be devastated if we can't have Christmas with the family". 

"We will keep out of pubs, avoid the shops and stay outdoors where we can. We will also have our masks on when indoors even if not required. I saw Hamilton on the weekend and could not stop worrying about someone having COVID-19 in the crowd."

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Cancelling plans and a self-imposed isolation. 

Others have decided to cancel their plans altogether to avoid attending a potential exposure site. 

Nikki canceled her dentist appointment for today out of concern she may not be able to go to Melbourne for Christmas with her family. 

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"We were stopped [from going] last year and it was heartbreaking. I can’t do that again," she told Mamamia. "My husband has his Christmas party this Friday in the city. I’m extremely paranoid and worried about what will happen. So we have decided we will get tested Sunday so we have (hopefully) negative results before our family heads to Melbourne." 

Laura also doesn't want a work Christmas party to affect a family trip interstate. 

"I RSVP’d for my work Christmas party but decided on the day not to go. There were over 450 people going and I was concerned about potential exposure. We’re going to Queensland for Christmas with my family, who I haven’t seen for so long, and I don’t want to jeopardise that," she shared. 

Kee decided to take things a step further and chose to isolate ahead of a family get together in Queensland. 

"There was nothing that was coming between me and seeing my family at Christmas. This year we’ve missed many birthdays and milestones like celebrating our engagement and sharing the news of being pregnant with our first baby in-person," she explained. 

"Nothing else was worth us missing out on this time so we made the decision to go into self imposed isolation from the beginning of December. And as I type this from Brisbane after crossing the border at 1am yesterday, I can tell you it was absolutely worth it!"

But for some, cancelling plans and limiting socialising with friends isn't an easy decision.

"I have an event coming up this weekend and I'm anxious to go to it because I don't want to risk it being an exposure site, but I also don't want to miss out on spending time with people," says Karagh. 

In these instances, Sokarno recommends the best thing to do is to think about your priorities and stick to them. 

"If a catch up with the girls is high on your priority list yet seemingly competing with your Christmas plans with family, you do need to consider that there is a slight chance one could not happen due to being a close contact. While you don’t want to be all doom and gloom, you do need to make sure you protect yourself and your plans and do whatever you can when it comes to ensuring those plans can still go ahead (while still abiding by public health orders)," she told Mamamia

"Therefore, it could be wise to pivot slightly and suggest a virtual catch up for now, and a real-life catch up after Christmas. Also think about ways that you can still enjoy each other’s company without exposing yourself to any risk, whether that be changing where you meet up (such as the park instead of a busy restaurant)

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Concerns about schools and daycares.  

Some parents shared they've decided to keep their kids home from school and daycare as the term finishes up.

Megan just finished a 14 day isolation yesterday after her children's daycare had multiple cases and was temporarily closed.

"We made the decision not to send our children back to school or daycare until the new year as we cannot risk another 14 days and multiple COVID-19 tests. It just makes you feel scared to go anywhere, especially with children where the isolation period is a hard 14 days and the very real reality that we could miss celebrating Christmas and seeing my husbands grandma we haven't seen for two years."

It's a concern also shared by Nikki in South Australia. 

"In Adelaide a school was pinged and they come out of isolation at 12:01 Christmas morning so that made it really hit home that now, that's it, if you get pinged no Christmas."

"My son is having an operation on the 22nd Dec so now I'm like nope that's it we are staying home". 

Meghna has also had a close call.  

"I got emailed by school yesterday about a positive case, who attended the after school care as well. Then my son came back feeling unwell and currently I am panic central awaiting results of the COVID-19 test."

"I am beyond anxious and also disappointed that things are going wrong so close to Christmas break. I did everything to stay away from public places and school was our only touchpoint."

What can we do if we're feeling anxious right now?

If you're one of the many people feeling anxious right now, Sokarno says there's four things we can do to alleviate stress. 

1. Take a digital detox. 

"Right now, our lives are constantly filled with updates about the pandemic and constantly thinking about it can exacerbate any anxious feelings. Try to take digital detoxes ever now and then, where you avoid watching the news, reading the news or scrolling through social media."

2. Practice mindfullness exericses. 

"Practicing mindfulness exercises such as meditation or journaling can help alleviate any feelings of anxiousness. Ideally these practices will focus on being in the present, or ‘the here and now’, rather than worrying about what could happen in the future."

3. Reframe your thoughts. 

"While it is important to be realistic, reframing your thoughts or trying to have a more positive attitude can help with feelings of anxiety. Remind yourself that your attitude really can determine your perspective, often allowing you to appreciate the little things, even if something hasn’t gone quite right. The right perspective can also make you see the funny side when things go wrong and appreciate the smallest things when they go right." 

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4. Talk to someone. 

"Sometimes just knowing that someone else is going through the same emotions can help you feel more connected and feel as though you have someone to rely on. Also consider seeking help from a professional who can arm you with tactics that can help you cope. Support resources like Lifeline and Beyond Blue are services that provide free over-the-phone counselling with trained experts that can help you through any mental health concerns. Services like Lysn provide access to psychologists via video chat, which can be accessed from the comfort of your own home around the clock."

Nancy Sokarno is a psychologist at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.

If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner. If you're based in Australia, 24-hour support is available through Lifeline on 13 11 14 or beyondblue on 1300 22 4636.

Feature Image: Getty/Mamamia.  

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