The Christmas period can be stressful enough at the best of times. Money worries and family rows are all too common at this time, along with all sorts of other pressures. If you add COVID anxiety to that mix, it could easily become overwhelming.

It’s easy to forget that this is set to be the first Christmas out of lockdown since the pandemic spread to the UK. If you’re worried about COVID, this means all the stresses of the season are only compounded. Social mixing may be intimidating, and now there’s a new variant to worry about.

We’ve written this blog to help. First, we’ll cover the basics of what anxiety is. Then we’ll move onto our top tips on managing COVID anxiety at Christmas. As specialists in mental health, we’re aware of the unique challenges presented by Christmas during a pandemic. But there are ways to get through it.

What is anxiety?

In everyday language, anxiety is a feeling of intense unease or fear. It’s a response to stress that everybody experiences to some extent. Anything you’re nervous about can make you anxious, and the anxiety may come and go. But if it feels very intense, lasts a long time or starts to affect other areas of your life, this could be a sign of an anxiety disorder.

When we talk about anxiety disorders, we’re referring to times when anxiety becomes overwhelming and affects many areas of life. Common forms include generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and panic disorder.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

The symptoms of anxiety can be psychological and physical. There are also behavioural signs that may indicate that someone is experiencing anxiety. We’ll list some common symptoms and signs below, but first it’s important to be aware that this isn’t a checklist for self-diagnosis.

People with anxiety won’t necessarily have all these symptoms, and they may have symptoms that aren’t listed below. No two people are identical, so symptoms can vary. These are just some of the most common.

Psychological and physical symptoms

  • A sense of intense fear or dread
  • Restlessness or an inability to relax
  • Obsessive thinking
  • Worrying about what other people think of you
  • Sweating or trembling
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • A churning feeling in the stomach

Possible behavioural signs of anxiety in others

  • Irritability
  • Withdrawal from social life
  • Restlessness, jumpiness or an inability to sit still
  • Substance abuse or excessive drinking

Now that we’ve covered some of the basics, we’d like to offer some tips on coping with COVID anxiety at Christmas time.

1.    Give yourself a break

First off, concern about COVID-19 is healthy and normal. It’s been a huge burden on mental health worldwide, introducing uncertainty over our health and that of our loved ones, on top of the financial insecurities and loss of control many have felt. There’s also been a two-year stream of bad news.

We’re spelling this out because it’s important not to dismiss all your worries as irrational. Concern is justified – the question is how we manage it to prevent it from spiralling.

2.    Avoid doomscrolling

Try to limit your exposure to bad news about COVID. Of course, it’s important to keep up to date on what’s safe as well as the latest rules. But reading every bad news story from across the world could feed anxiety without giving you information you really need.

3.    Do what you’re comfortable with

One of the reasons why Christmas can be stressful is that social demands can increase – your friends, family and work may expect you to attend parties and other indoor events. If you don’t think it’s safe, you don’t have to go.

4.    Be honest

If you’re feeling anxious about socialising at Christmas time because of COVID, don’t be embarrassed. Tell someone about it. You may find that they share your concerns, or are sympathetic and understanding. If they know where you stand, you might be able to compromise.

At the very least, this should make them think twice about pressuring you into attending indoor events that make you feel uncomfortable.

5.    Get some fresh air and natural light

If you need to clear your head, a bit of light exercise goes a long way. It’s also worth remembering that natural light has a huge effect on our mood – especially in winter, when daylight hours are reduced. A short walk in the open air can really help lighten your mood.

6.    Look after yourself

Physical health and mental health are closely linked. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can give you a sense of purpose, discipline and self-esteem, which can reduce anxiety. This relates to our previous point.

It’s also worth considering what to avoid here too. A lot of people manage anxiety by drinking or drug use, and Christmas parties offer an easy excuse. It’s really best to avoid this. Remember that alcohol is a depressant, and hangovers are the last thing you need if you’re already experiencing anxiety.

7.    Look for professional support if you need it

There’s a lot you can do for yourself with the help of your loved ones. But there are times when professional help is called for. It may be that your anxiety feels overwhelming whatever you do, or you might feel that you need an expert opinion. Either way, Socium can help.

What can Socium do?

We’re a team of experienced mental health professionals offering a full range of private care options. When it comes to anxiety, there’s a lot we can do to make it more manageable.

We want to make private care affordable, especially when the NHS’s resources are so stretched. Our most accessible option is Socium Check-In. This is a mental health subscription service giving you a weekly call with a registered mental health nurse (RMN). You can use your weekly ‘Check-In’ however you need – to share your anxieties, get something off your chest, or get tips on coping strategies.

The first step is a 90-minute assessment with an RMN. This is so we can get to know you and the challenges you’re going through, so we can make sure Check-In is right for you and advise you on the next steps. We can do it face to face, or by video call if you prefer.

Our most comprehensive option is dedicated live-in care, which brings the on-demand support of inpatient care to the comfort and safety of your home. This involves placing a mental health professional in your home, which is especially useful if you’re concerned about COVID. Inpatient facilities naturally present a greater COVID risk with large numbers of residents, visitors and staff.

Your carer will take regular COVID tests, and can be with you for 6, 12 or 24 hours per day. This ensures that you’re looked after by someone completely devoted to your recovery.

We hope this helps and that you can find a way through the season. If you need help, or any further information, you can get in touch via our contact page or call us on 0203 384 0007.