Are you more anxious after recovering from COVID-19? Experts have dubbed this new phenomenon ‘post-COVID anxiety.’
It’s hard to believe that just 2 years ago, SARS-CoV-2 didn’t exist.
We went about our lives shaking hands with strangers, going in for that hug without a second thought, and crowding into venues like tightly packed sardines, from board rooms to concert halls.
If the idea of these activities now evokes a sense of fear in you, you’re not alone. With professional support and self-care strategies, there is hope.
Though lockdowns and restrictions have eased in many places, and up to 62% of people in the United States have been fully vaccinated, many people still report feeling an intense fear in the months following recovery from COVID-19 disease.
Anxiety is considered one of the longer-term symptoms of Post-COVID syndrome (PCS), aka Long-COVID — a recently identified diagnosis.
Research shows that between 23% and 26% of people have mental health challenges (including anxiety) after recovering from the disease, particularly females.
Some studies place that figure higher, hovering closer to the 50% mark.
Post-COVID anxiety has overlapping symptoms with other mental health conditions, including:
- generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- major depressive disorder (MDD)
- Illness anxiety
- panic disorder
Post-lockdown anxiety is real, too
One 2021 study revealed that anxiety is not just a symptom for those who’ve already had COVID-19. If you’re experiencing general anxiety about the virus or worried about how to navigate a post-pandemic world, consider reaching out to a mental health professional for support.
The mental health impact of the pandemic across age groups cannot be overstated.
Symptoms of post-COVID anxiety include:
- fear around crowds
- difficulty concentrating
- distrust for other people
- compulsively washing your hands
- fear of leaving your house
- increased substance use
- irritability or mood changes
- monitoring for signs of illness
- obsessive cleaning
- withdrawing from those you love
How long do symptoms last?
The research on this is still limited. So far, it appears anxiety symptoms can manifest for several months after recovery, possibly longer.
- In a 2021 study, up to 25% of participants reported increased anxiety at least 3 months after recovering from COVID-19.
- Another 2021 study of 1,200 patients noted that anxiety symptoms were still present 7 months post-recovery.
- A smaller
2021 studyof 33 patients reported “critical” levels of anxiety and depression 1 year later.
Another 2021 study found that symptoms may worsen over time, which is why it’s recommended to begin working with a mental health professional as soon as possible.
Beyond mental health, there are other possible long-term symptoms of COVID-19.
If you’ve had COVID-19, you might have an increased chance of complications with major organ systems (lungs, heart, liver, kidneys) after being discharged from the hospital, according to a
Like mental health symptoms, other symptoms can remain for several months. In another 2021 study, up to 61.4% of study participants in Germany had at least 1 lingering symptom 3 months after recovering from COVID-19.
In a smaller 2021 study, nearly 93% of patients reported symptoms 2 to 4 months after a mild, moderate, or severe COVID-19 case.
Commonly reported symptoms of Post-COVID syndrome include:
- bladder or bowel dysfunction
- bodily pain
- cardiovascular issues
- challenges with movement
- chest pain
- differences in smell and taste
- exhaustion or fatigue
- Guillain-Barré syndrome
- increased fear and anxiety
- loss of appetite
- memory issues
- respiratory problems or shortness of breath
- sleep disturbances
- spinal cord inflammation
- swollen lymph nodes
There’s not one single cause of anxiety after recovering from COVID-19.
Depression or anxiety were present pre-COVID-19,
- social isolation during the disease
- a long hospital stay
- stigma around having the virus
- fear of transmitting to others
- uncertainty about recovery
In a 2021 study, experts noted a correlation between COVID-19 symptoms and mental health symptoms — the worse your COVID-19 symptoms, the greater your anxiety might be after recovery.
The biological underpinnings may come down to inflammation in the brain, in addition to other factors, such as:
- stress level
- medical history
- ability to cope with distress
So far, the research recommends a holistic, healthcare-based approach to treatment.
Experts have found that COVID-19 related anxiety more likely impacts those with fewer coping skills for difficult emotions.
Therapy can help on both fronts, allowing you to develop strategies to reset your nervous system and increase your distress tolerance.
You may find it helpful to use our guide to find a therapist.
In some cases, a trained mental health professional may recommend anti-anxiety medication on a short-term basis.
You’re not alone in this experience. Some online support groups include:
- COVID Survivors for Change
- COVID-19 Support & Recovery Facebook Group
- Long Covid Facebook Support Group
- National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Support Groups
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA)
Here are some strategies you can try:
- regular exercise
- balanced meals
- consistent sleep schedule
- deep breathing exercises
- spending time in nature
- meditation practice
- journaling about your feelings
- connecting with loved ones
Research shows that consuming COVID-19 related news can worsen anxiety.
You may find it helpful to draw boundaries around watching the news and engaging in conversations about COVID-19. Unless it feels healing for you, you have a right to limit discussions about the latest scary news update.
Instead, you can always discuss these things in healing spaces, such as therapy or support groups.
What this may sound like
“I’m working through post-COVID anxiety. I’d prefer not to talk about what’s on the news today unless it’s a major change I need to be aware of. Can we change the subject?”
Post-COVID anxiety is real, and your feelings are valid.
Current research shows that anxiety and depression are the most common mental health conditions after recovering from COVID-19.
The studies available, so far, point to a well-rounded treatment approach, including psychotherapy, support groups, and self-care strategies.
The sooner you seek support, the sooner you may begin to feel better. There’s no shame in reaching out for help — not during a pandemic, not ever.
You’re not alone in this. There’s always hope.