What Is COVID Anxiety Syndrome?​

By Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

Mental health experts have begun using “COVID anxiety syndrome” as a term to describe psychological distress caused by the ongoing pandemic. It is perfectly natural to have some fear and anxiety in the wake of a pandemic. For some people, however, these COVID-related anxiety symptoms can begin interfering with day-to-day tasks and overall well-being. Fortunately, there are ways to manage the symptoms of COVID anxiety syndrome.

Symptoms of COVID Anxiety Syndrome

The symptoms of COVID anxiety syndrome are so well-recognized that researchers developed a scale to measure the syndrome’s severity. According to the scale, COVID anxiety syndrome symptoms can include the following:

  • Checking oneself and loved ones for COVID symptoms
  • Avoiding public transportation and public places like parks or shopping centers due to fear of the virus
  • Avoiding touching objects in public
  • Concern over not strictly following social distancing guidelines
  • Reading news updates related to COVID instead of engaging in work
  • Avoiding time with friends and family in order to research information about COVID
  • Imagining what would happen to loved ones if they contracted COVID
  • Avoiding discussions about the virus

In addition to these symptoms, psychological distress surrounding COVID is associated with general symptoms like fear, anxiety, stress and the perception that one is being threatened. In some cases, people may experience physical symptoms like dizziness when listening to news updates regarding the virus.

Tips for Reducing Pandemic-Related Anxiety

While it may be impossible to eliminate all of the fear that comes with living through a pandemic, there are ways to reduce COVID-related mental health concerns. The following strategies can be helpful in managing symptoms of COVID anxiety syndrome.

Limit Exposure to Media Coverage and Social Media

There is no harm in staying up-to-date on expert guidelines and local policies regarding the management of COVID-19. However, constant exposure to news stories and social media posts about the pandemic can heighten your anxiety. Once you have the information that you need to know, make a point to turn off the news for the day.

A recent study found that more frequent media exposure was linked to more severe depression and anxiety in response to the pandemic. In other words, you are likely doing yourself more harm than good if you watch COVID-related news updates around the clock.

Follow Safety Protocols

There are some things you cannot control in the face of a pandemic. However, there are many things you do have control over, such as whether you follow expert recommendations and safety guidelines. You may not be able to ensure 100% protection against the virus, but if you take precautionary steps like getting vaccinated and avoiding large gatherings, you can reduce the chances of getting yourself or others sick.

Meditation, Yoga and Deep Breathing

Practices like meditation, yoga and breathing exercises are commonly used for stress management, and they are especially helpful during a pandemic. A study involving individuals with kidney disease — a group at high risk of COVID-related complications — found that a yoga breathing and mindfulness intervention reduced COVID-related anxiety for over 75% of participants.

Stay Connected With Friends and Loved Ones

Being isolated from family and friends can lead to heightened anxiety. Even if you aren’t able to meet for large gatherings, you can stay connected via regular phone calls and video chats. Researchers have found that social connection can reduce some of the negative psychological effects that come with a pandemic, so it is important to stay in touch with loved ones.

Face Your Feelings Instead of Avoiding Them

Many of the symptoms of COVID anxiety syndrome involve avoidance, such as avoiding any discussion of the virus or avoiding time with family and friends. Avoidance of your feelings can increase the severity of your anxiety, but taking time to acknowledge and discuss negative feelings can help to reduce the power they have over you.

Focus on the Positives

A positive outlook can also help you to manage COVID-related anxiety. Instead of fixating on your worry over the negatives of the virus, take time to consider what you’re grateful for during the pandemic. Studies have shown that practicing gratitude is linked to lower levels of depression and anxiety, as people who are grateful are typically less critical of themselves.

Think about the positives of your current situation. Perhaps you have a more flexible work schedule due to COVID, or you’ve had more time to exercise or practice hobbies. Maybe you’re fortunate enough to still be employed and able to maintain your financial well-being. Try to remember these kinds of positives when you start worrying about the negatives.

Encouraging Statistics To Consider

Taking a look at encouraging COVID-19 statistics can also alleviate some of your pandemic-related anxiety. Consider the following statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Around 51.3% of the population is fully vaccinated, and 60.5% of people have received at least one vaccine dose.
  • CDC data shows that weekly COVID deaths have dropped from 24,859 during their peak in January 2021 to 3,937 during August 2021.
  • Currently, the seven-day moving average of cases is at 133,056, which is lower than the peak seven-day average of 254,108 seen on January 10, 2021.

Helpful Resources To Keep Your Anxiety in Check

If self-help strategies have not kept COVID-related anxiety in check, you might consider reaching out to other resources. Anxiety support groups, as well as in-person and virtual therapy, can provide you with additional coping tools as you manage symptoms of anxiety. In the wake of the pandemic, many mental health providers have begun offering services virtually via video conferencing.

For those looking for mental health support from home, the free-to-use Nobu app offers training on activities like yoga and meditation, lessons from mental health professionals and tools for setting and tracking goals. If you need some extra support, you can also pay an additional fee to connect with a licensed therapist and participate in sessions via the app.

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Edited by – Jonathan Strum Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.
jenni jacobsen
Written by – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has seven years of experience working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health… Read more.
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Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.