The Anxious Journey

Omicron: Between Anxiety and Fuhgeddaboudit

Many of us are on an anxious journey right now. We know that being older, or living with a condition like obesity, means added risks for COVID. So we’ve been careful. But now the Omicron variant adds a bit of uncertainty because it is so contagious and so many people are getting the infection. Yet, it seems to produce milder symptoms. So we feel caught between anxiety about getting infected by Omicron and fatigue with worry and stress. Many people feel a temptation to simply forget about it because getting infected seems inevitable.

How can we land in a more comfortable place with our feelings about Omicron – something between debilitating anxiety and fuhgeddaboudit?

Confronting Anxiety

It’s still early days in the Omicron wave, so this is not easy. We don’t have all the facts and we can spend endless hours chasing what-if questions that have no answers. Our good friend Rachel Goldman tells us this can add to the difficulty of coping:

“It’s helpful to be prepared and have a plan, but too much thinking about what-ifs can cause more anxiety. Let’s focus on today, one moment at a time, and what is in our control. We need to remind ourselves that we are doing the best we can and be kind to ourselves.”

She reminds us that anxiety is understandable now and we’re not alone in feeling it. We simply have to work at keeping it from taking over all of our thoughts. One thing that can be helpful is to talk about what we’re feeling with a trusted friend, therapist, or counsellor.

Omicron Is Milder, but Not Trivial

Much of the data we have is very early, but it paints a consistent picture. A new analysis from Case Western – so new that it hasn’t yet gone through peer review – tells us again that the outcomes with Omicron indeed seem to be much better. Lindsey Wang and colleagues analyzed electronic health records from 577,938 persons with first-time COVID infections. They compared a cohort of 14,054 who got it in late December (when Omicron was becoming dominant) to a much larger cohort from the Delta wave. They found significantly less risk for bad outcomes:

“After propensity-score matching for demographics, socio-economic determinants of health, comorbidities, medications and vaccination status, the 3-day risks in the Emergent Omicron cohort outcomes were consistently less than half those in the Delta cohort.”

While it is true that this variant poses a significant risk for people who are not vaccinated, for those who are fully vaxxed and boosted, the risk is low. Though we might get infected, the odds are that we will be OK because the vaccine offers good protection.

Doing What We Can

Hospitals are seeing a lot of patients with the Omicron variant, and it’s seriously stressing them. But the patients they are seeing have milder disease. Justin Precourt, chief nursing officer at UMass Memorial Medical Center, describes what he’s seeing:

“First, hospitalized patients with Omicron don’t seem to have as much lung damage, so they don’t need as much oxygen support. And second, the current COVID patients in his hospital and some others appear to be younger and less likely to have chronic ailments – like high blood pressure, obesity or diabetes – that seem to complicate COVID.”

So at the end of the day, we need to acknowledge the anxiety we’re feeling, but do our best to manage it while also protecting ourselves and others from Omicron.

That means getting vaxxed and boosted. It means being smart about using masks and staying clear of big crowds. It means being kind and caring for ourselves and others.

Click here for the Wang study, here and here for perspective on dealing with our emotions in this difficult time.

The Anxious Journey, painting by Giorgio de Chirico / WikiArt

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January 10, 2022