The holiday season always comes with its fair share of stress and anxiety, be it from the social pressures of family gatherings or the economic pressures of gift-giving.
Factor in the spread of the Omicron COVID-19 variant in Canada, and the measures the federal and provincial governments have introduced to reduce its impact, and you’ll have added stress and anxiety affecting Canadians, says Keith Dobson, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Calgary.
The lack of predictability, uncontrollability and the pandemic, itself, has created a “perfect storm” this holiday season, Dobson said.
“On top of that, we have varying kinds of guidance across the country about getting together and not getting together … so this is a whole new layer of stress to us,” he said.
“Stress and anxiety is a very typical, or predictable, response to the circumstance we’re in … We should acknowledge it, recognize it and support each other as best we can.”
For weeks, Canadians have watched their governments react to Omicron, which was discovered late last month and has spread to at least 106 countries so far.
The variant is now factoring into the rise of infections across Canada, Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam said at a virtual briefing on Dec. 22.
Canada recorded a high of 14,456 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The country logged more than 11,000 on Tuesday, and averaged roughly 5,000 new infections a day last week, Tam said.
So far, Canada has seen more than 2,360 confirmed Omicron infections, she added.
Mental health struggles intensify as the pandemic continues on
In Quebec, Premier François Legault announced Wednesday that Quebecers will have to limit private gatherings to six people — or two families — starting Boxing Day. Ten people are allowed to gather until Christmas.
The same limit per table will apply in restaurants, which have been operating at half capacity since Monday.
In Ontario, indoor gathering limits were reduced to 10 people from 25 on Sunday. Restaurants, gyms and many other indoor settings are now operating with a 50 per cent capacity limit.
The federal government expanded its COVID-19 supports on Wednesday to help impacted businesses, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau encouraged Canadians to “hunker down in the coming weeks” to slow the spread of the virus.
“I know nobody wants to be in this situation right now, but Canadians have shown we’re there for our neighbours, we’re there for our most vulnerable, we’re there for our front-line healthcare workers … we know that as long and dark as winters can be, spring is coming and spring will be better if we hunker down in the coming weeks,” he said.
All these fast-moving COVID-19 developments are likely to leave many Canadians feeling disappointed, said Dr. David Gratzer, an attending psychiatrist with the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.
“It’s disappointing for many, including those who had plans to gather with family, and I think it’s very unsettling for some, particularly those in the hospitality industry who wonder about work shifts and employment,” he said.
“It was perhaps disappointing for all of us as we hoped to turn a page on COVID and COVID (wasn’t) quite ready to turn a page on us.”
Ask the Expert: Managing your mental health through the holidays
At her practice in British Columbia, Registered Psychologist Dr. Melaine Badali told Global News she has seen increases in stress and anxiety, but also in grief.
“There just have been so many losses, not necessarily big losses as in losses of life as some people have had, but there’s lots of little losses that people have been experiencing,” she said.
“It’s harder for people to stay positive and optimistic right now.”
As Canadians head into the second pandemic holiday season, experts say there are ways to cope.
First, Dobson suggests Canadians focus on what they can control in their lives like their social contacts, and accept what they can’t like the restrictions imposed by governments.
Furthermore, Badali wants Canadians to stay kind and compassionate, not only to themselves but to others, and to look for “glimmers of light in the darkness.”
“Our views and thoughts can influence our moods and behaviours,” she said.
“Most of us are pretty exhausted right now, but looking for meaning and good things can help us carry on.”
Finally, Gratzer advises Canadians to maintain some level of exercise, to stay connected with one another in a safe manner, and to avoid abusing substances such as alcohol and cannabis — during the holidays and throughout the winter.
“It’s important to remember that we’ve gone through other waves of COVID before, and things are going to get better soon,” he said.
“For some of us though, these months are particularly tough … It’s important to remember that even though so many things are different right now with the pandemic, help is still available.”
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