COVID anxiety syndrome (sometimes referred to as “coronaphobia”) is a new type of anxiety disorder specific to the COVID-19 outbreak. Researchers coined the term late last year when trying to understand the panic that was brought out by the novel coronavirus outbreak.
At the start of this pandemic, scientists knew little about SARS-CoV-2. This allowed misinformation to spread like wildfire and panic to rise among the population. However, over a year later, with vaccines and a return to some sense of normal, many remain fearful.
The idea of interacting with others and potentially contracting this disease has created a new form of anxiety previously not seen. Furthermore, even though scientists have diminished the threat of COVID-19, people are experiencing symptoms typically associated with certain types of anxiety.
Throughout this article, we’re going to take a deeper look at coronaphobia. At the end, we invite you to ask further questions.
What is COVID Anxiety Syndrome?
According to the Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection, COVID anxiety syndrome is “an excessive triggered response of fear of contracting the virus causing COVID-19, leading to accompanied excessive concern over physiological symptoms, significant stress about personal and occupational loss, increased reassurance and safety seeking behaviors, and avoidance of public places and situations, causing marked impairment in daily life functioning.” ¹
Initially, such anxiety was brought about by the uncertainty of the situation. When lockdowns were first implemented, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) made it clear that it’s best to social distance and to only keep essential businesses open. Beyond the fact that we were isolated from social interaction, many of us also wondered whether or not we’d receive a paycheck at the end of the week.
The combination of potentially contracting COVID-19 along with a loss of financial security respectively left many feeling anxious. Not to mention, at that time, scientists still had no idea the severity of this coronavirus and how at risk the general population was.
However, over a year later, we have a lot more information and many of us are getting back to work. Still, much of the population has held onto fears of this virus. And even with lockdowns being eased and life returning to normal, many are finding it difficult to return to normal.
Difference Between COVID Anxiety and Regular Anxiety
Is coronaphobia justified? While the pandemic is coming to an end, COVID remains a threat to many lives. Still, it’s difficult to assert whether or not this anxiety is a product of current events or a lingering aftereffect of 2020.
Coronaphobia is specific to the pandemic and isn’t tied to another underlying condition, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or social anxiety disorder. While this connection makes it an anxiety disorder of its own, coronaphobia remains similar to standard anxiety disorders.
More so, people who struggle with COVID anxiety often find it difficult to fulfill day-to-day activities. These can include:
- Engaging in activities you once enjoyed
- Going out in public (even for simple tasks like getting groceries)
- Meeting responsibilities at work or school
- Seeing other people and developing relationships
If the anxiety caused by COVID has made your life and its obligations more challenging, chances are you’re struggling with coronaphobia.
COVID Anxiety Symptoms
The symptoms of COVID anxiety are similar to those of other anxiety disorders and may include: ²
- Avoiding people, places, and things that trigger anxiety
- Difficulty concentrating
- Gastrointestinal (GI) problems
- Inability to control fear
- Increased hear rate
- Nervousness, restlessness, and tenseness
- Rapid breathing (hyperventilation)
- Sense of impending danger, panic, or doom
- Sleep problems (i.e. insomnia)
- Weakness or fatigue
It’s worth noting that you may be struggling with a specific type of anxiety due to COVID. For example, the last year of lockdowns may have made you apprehensive towards social interactions and in turn, you’ve developed a social anxiety disorder.
For this reason, we highly recommend you research the other types of anxiety disorder to figure out which most affects you.
What Causes COVID Anxiety?
The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies defines a disaster as “a sudden, catastrophic event that severely disrupts the functioning of a community or society, causing human, material, economic, or environmental losses.”
Such a traumatic event has been found to impact our mental health. More specifically, research has found that disasters can cause anxiety, depression, and PTSD. ³ Furthermore, a study found that between June 24th and 30th, 2020, 40% of adults struggled with a mental health condition, from anxiety to substance abuse, to suicidal ideation. ⁴
With that, the cause of COVID-19 anxiety is much more obvious than that of other anxiety disorders. Beyond the risk of contracting this disease, we all struggled greatly when it came to lockdowns and self-quarantine. Not to mention, without experiencing normal amounts of social interaction, it’s likely many of us have developed more isolated habits.
COVID Anxiety Risk Factors
In October 2020, Psychiatry Research published a study revealing the characteristics of COVID anxiety. These include: ⁵
- Avoidance of people, places, and things
- Compulsive symptom-checking
- Threat monitoring
Researchers have determined that fear over this coronavirus, uncertainty about the pandemic, and social isolation have culminated to lead to COVID anxiety. However, to take things further, they also believe that “Big 5” personality traits are also a factor.
“Big 5” is a trait theory in which an individual has developed one of the following characteristics: ⁶
People with neuroticism appear to be more at risk of coronaphobia. On the other hand, those with extraversion, conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness, tend to be at a lower risk. Furthermore, those who struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are also at risk.
Other Reasons for Coronaphobia
“There is normality to fear of the pandemic, as the virus can be deadly. The challenge is whether we have developed a pattern of excessively safe behaviors that keep us anchored into the fears. I expect there to be pockets of people who, even when vaccinated, will be continually worrying about [COVID-19] and be avoidant of anything that may heighten their risk.”
When asked why these individuals remain apprehensive, Chambers notes:
“Some potential reasons why [this may happen] include high levels of exposure to social media and news, disruption to routines and anchors caused by lockdowns and restrictions, and difficulties disengaging from the threatening stimuli, including [virus] variants and the situation in other countries.”
Chambers reminds us that there currently isn’t much research into COVID anxiety syndrome and, therefore, we still have a lot to learn.
How to Cope with COVID Anxiety
Since we know COVID-19 won’t be around forever, we can assume that coronaphobia is a fleeting condition. However, the novel coronavirus may prove to be a turning point for many people. A point in which they begin to take more rigorous care of their physical health.
If so, it’s important to also keep our mental health in check. And after over a year of social distancing and self-isolation, it’s key we participate in some activities that make us feel normal again.
Here are a few tips to help you overcome COVID anxiety:
- Seek Positive Messages Concerning COVID-19 – For example, we know the threat of death from this virus has diminished thanks to improving treatment options and vaccines.
- Step Out of Your Comfort Zone – With businesses and social activities opening up again, it can help to participate in these in order to readjust to society.
- Talk to Others – It can greatly help to speak with those you trust about your fears for the pandemic. These people can provide you with the support you need to step out of your comfort zone.
- Avoid Social Media and News Reports – More often than not, these platforms fuel anxiety with their negative focus on issues. It’s important to step away and limit exposure to these platforms.
- Stay Healthy, Not Too Cautious – While wearing a mask and using hand sanitizer can help protect you from COVID-19, it’s important to not let these habits control you. Furthermore, it may benefit you to take vitamins and supplements that help your immune system and keep you healthy.
When to Seek Medical Treatment
Since COVID anxiety is so new, it can be difficult to tell when you may need professional treatment. If you find that your apprehension is controlling your life in a negative manner – causing challenges that weren’t there prior to the pandemic – it may be in your best interest to seek help.
As of now, there are no standards when it comes to treating coronaphobia. With that, it’s likely a mental health professional will treat you for another form of anxiety.
When you enter a treatment facility, a psychiatrist will run a number of tests to determine what form of anxiety you’re struggling with. From there, they’ll develop a treatment path that best matches your situation. This usually involves medication alongside psychotherapy. ⁷
The COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most difficult eras in modern history. While positive news of lower cases and societal reopening have many excited, plenty of us are still dealing with the aftershocks. COVID anxiety may be a new type of disorder, but its symptoms are common among other mental health conditions.
With that, we’re confident researchers will be able to build an effective treatment path. However, until then, it can be extremely beneficial for us to break some of the habits we’ve developed over the last year. Furthermore, it helps immensely for us to understand that protective measures are being taken against COVID-19.
Still have questions about COVID anxiety syndrome?
We invite you to ask them in the comments section below. If you have any further knowledge to share – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you.
¹ Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection: Understanding coronaphobia
² National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH): Anxiety Disorders
³ Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care: Disaster and its impact on mental health: A narrative review
⁴ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC): Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR)
⁵ Elsevier Public Health Emergency Collection: The COVID-19 anxiety syndrome scale: Development and psychometric properties
⁶ Personality and Individual Differences: The five factor model of personality and emotion regulation
⁷ Dialogues in clinical neuroscience: Treatment of anxiety disorders