Updated 3/25/2022

The toll COVID-19 has taken on our collective mental health is staggering and unprecedented in our times. Despite signs of a sense of normalcy beginning to return, with mandates, lockdowns, and restrictions relaxing, the ultimate impact the pandemic has had on us will likely continue. 

Though it can feel daunting and lonely to navigate these times, the truth is, you’re not alone. Together, we can get through COVID and anxiety. We’re sharing proven tactics and strategies that can help build you back up when you feel broken by the pandemic.  

If you’re struggling with COVID anxiety and want to learn more about it as well as what causes anxiety, read on. We’re diving into anxiety after COVID and exploring when it might be time to get help. 

COVID-19’s Impact on Anxiety

There’s no denying that COVID-19 has had a serious impact on mental health. Everything from anxiety to stress and fear statistics are showing an increase in prevalence and severity. What exactly do these anxiety symptoms stem from? 

While research will continue for decades, a few key points have become abundantly evident, including fear about an unknown deadly virus, natural pandemic anxiety, and the stress and anxiety faced by those who’ve actually experienced COVID-19. Because of this, it is important to be aware of the differences in fear vs anxiety as well as stress vs anxiety.

Researchers have determined that one response to the pandemic is now known as COVID anxiety syndrome (CAS), which could stem from:

  • Fear of getting COVID
  • Being afraid of the unknown 

Additionally, certain personality characteristics likely play a role in how much anxiety someone may experience in response to COVID-19. You may be experiencing COVID anxiety syndrome if you: 

  • Socially isolate from others, even when it’s not required or necessary
  • Have sudden, new physical symptoms like stomach aches, headaches, or migraines
  • Feel your anxiety disorder is interfering with your daily functioning in life
  • Find it difficult to do basic tasks like go to the grocery store, leave your house for work, or go to the gym
  • Find that you’re feeling increasingly bitter or hopeless from the pandemic
  • Have difficulty sleeping

Fear of the virus 

Fear is a normal, natural response to anything unexpected or shocking. It can actually be a good thing a lot of the time, as fear is a defense mechanism that dates back to primitive times. The emotion fear is, at the root, both an individual emotional as well as a biochemical response.  

The pandemic has definitely been both unexpected and shocking. We fear what we don’t understand, and especially at the beginning of COVID-19, there was a lot that we didn’t know.  We were learning about the virus in real-time, and everything from sanitizing groceries to being worried about contracting COVID-19 through the mail concerned millions of people across the globe. 

“COVID anxiety syndrome can be overwhelming given the medical nature of these concerns. Focusing on what is in your control, versus what is not, is a good first step. It’s important to know that your anxiety can be managed and support is available to help you navigate your thoughts and feelings.”

Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Increased anxiety through a pandemic

As cases grew month over month, surges took off and receded, and information was often conflicting, many people found their anxiety symptoms increased substantially as time stretched on. 

COVID-19 anxiety syndrome brought on a number of symptoms as people struggled to make sense of what the virus meant to them. Their increased anxiety caused many people to:

  • Go to great lengths to avoid public places and develop social anxiety
  • Obsessively check themselves and loved ones for symptoms of the virus
  • Obsessively clean, sanitize, and otherwise attempt to avoid contact for contamination

Some research is now even showing that CAS is predictive of a mental health condition like depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder which is more intense than general health anxiety. 

“During the pandemic, overall uncertainty contributed to a general feeling of anxiety for many people. It’s important to recognize when your level of anxiety is beginning to disrupt your daily life and may be contributing to difficulties in functioning. The anxious thoughts and feelings can be overwhelming — you don’t have to struggle with them alone.”

Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Anxiety after contracting COVID-19

Though research will definitely continue, even preliminary and early findings are linking anxiety after COVID to be fairly common — and it’s not just anxiety, either. Researchers are finding an increase in several mental health symptoms in those who’ve had the virus. One study screened for psychiatric symptoms one-month post-hospital treatment for COVID-19. The findings were pretty staggering: 

  • 28% for PTSD 
  • 31% for depression
  • 42% for anxiety
  • 20% for obsessive-compulsive (OC) symptoms
  • 40% for insomnia

How to Cope with COVID-19 Anxiety

Even if you’re experiencing COVID and anxiety, there are several ways you can learn how to treat anxiety. COVID anxiety syndrome can be greatly improved by implementing any of the following into your life:

Go slow

While most of us can relate to that feeling of being desperate to get back to normal and a pre-COVID way of life, the truth is, trying to rush your process can lead to increased anxiety. Baby steps can be extremely important as we make the transition back to “normal” life.

Find positivity

There really is power in positivity. Surround yourself with like-minded people who embrace and can relate to how you’re feeling. Focus on the progress that’s been made in terms of the virus such as vaccine development, increased vaccination rates, knowledge about how the virus works, substantially decreased risk in certain places, and the development of effective and new ways to treat COVID. 

Focus on what you can control

A lot of people have found the most difficult part of COVID is all the things that are out of their control. If this describes you, focusing on the things you can control might be helpful.  

Continue to sanitize and wash your hands

Simple as it sounds, it works! Washing your hands and sanitizing often can help you develop an increased sense of control. You’re doing what you can to prevent infection and keep yourself and others safe. 

Be mindful of what you’re consuming

We’re not talking about what you’re eating and drinking here! Social media, news outlets, and online forums can be useful a lot of the time, but there’s something to be said for avoiding “going down the rabbit hole.” Digest what you can, but focus on reliable and positive sources of COVID news…and take a break from the information when you need it. 

Talk about how you’re feeling

Whether it’s with a friend, a family member, or a therapist, talking about how your anxiety is impacting your life can be helpful. Support is critical in reducing symptoms of anxiety and helpful when you are managing stress or anxious feelings. 

Make time for self-care

Self-care has never been more important than it is right now. Take the time to meditate, journal, do yoga, take a workout class, go for a walk, read a book, spend time with friends and family. Do whatever it is you need to take care of yourself.

“Anxiety is a feeling we all experience, but when it becomes overwhelming, seeking support from a licensed mental health professional can provide strategies to manage your symptoms while addressing your concerns. No one needs to struggle with anxiety of any kind on their own; there is help available. Knowing when to reach out for support and guidance is a sign of strength and wisdom.”

Talkspace therapist Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

When It’s Time to Seek Help

Anxiety can quickly become severe enough that it starts to interfere in your life, often to the point where you might need to consider getting help or looking into mental health services. This is true with COVID anxiety, too. If you think your anxiety is worsening, or that you might have COVID anxiety syndrome, get help with online therapy or in-person therapy. Managing stress and your anxiety symptoms can prevent things from getting worse. Therapy for anxiety includes techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that have been found hugely beneficial in treating anxiety disorders of all types. You don’t have to live life with your mental health condition controlling you.

Medically reviewed by: Jill E. Daino, LCSW-R

Reviewed On: March 5, 2020