Coronavirus anxiety can affect you whether or not you’ve contracted the virus, but there are steps you can take to manage it.

Through mass lockdowns and restrictions, it’s not surprising that there’s been an increase in anxiety diagnoses since the pandemic began.

Fear of the virus, long-term effects of the illness, and isolation have all made people feel more anxious.

Researchers have even developed a scale to determine whether you’re experiencing this new phenomenon. But while this scale measures the feeling of anxiety over the virus itself, the anxiety effects of COVID-19 affect people in other ways.

There are a couple of ways you can think about coronavirus anxiety. There’s the potential to experience anxiety after a COVID-19 diagnosis. Then there are the mental health effects of the pandemic that anyone may experience, regardless of whether they contract the virus.

There’s research that shows both kinds of anxiety are happening. For people who have had COVID-19, mental health symptoms can continue long after recovery.

A 2021 study found that 23% of people had a diagnosis of anxiety or depression at a 6-month follow-up after hospitalization for COVID-19.

Those findings are just an example of what researchers are learning about COVID-19 long haulers, who have lingering physical and mental health symptoms long after they’ve recovered from the virus.

There’s also evidence that contracting the coronavirus could increase the chance of mental health symptoms, even for those who didn’t have long COVID.

A 2020 study found that 18% of people who had COVID-19 experienced anxiety, insomnia, or depression within 3 months following diagnosis.

What about people who don’t contract COVID?

The pandemic has had an impact on the mental health of many people.

There’s evidence of a widespread increase in the number of people living with mental health symptoms compared to before the onset of COVID-19.

A 2021 study estimated an increase of nearly 27.6% in the global prevalence of major depressive disorder. It was also estimated that about 25.6% more people are living with an anxiety disorder since the start of the pandemic.

Anxiety often involves physical and emotional symptoms. Symptoms of COVID-19 anxiety can look like other forms of anxiety, although researchers have recently developed a scale that’s more specific to the COVID-19 experience.

Symptoms of general anxiety

There are many possible signs that you might be experiencing anxiety, whether or not it’s because of COVID-19.

Some common symptoms of anxiety include the following:

  • feeling restless or on edge
  • fatigue or getting tired easily
  • trouble concentrating
  • irritability
  • muscle tension
  • sleep problems
  • uncontrollable feelings of worry

If you have generalized anxiety, you might have some or all of these symptoms.

Signs of anxiety in people who’ve had COVID-19

For people who have lived through a COVID-19 diagnosis, there can be ongoing worry and fear. Some of the common experiences might include:

  • fearing health will always be impacted by COVID-19 and will never return to normal
  • fear of financial stress from time off work and job loss
  • worry about loved ones also developing COVID-19

If you’ve lived with COVID-19, you might experience symptoms of anxiety. In addition to those, you might also have:

  • flashbacks
  • rapid shallow breathing
  • chest pain
  • racing thoughts

COVID-19 anxiety syndrome scale

In 2020, psychology researchers in the United Kingdom developed the COVID-19 anxiety syndrome scale (C-19ASS) to measure how people respond to the condition.

The scale has nine questions. You indicate by a measurement of 0 to 4 (0 = Not at all to 4 = Nearly every day) how often in the past 2 weeks you’ve engaged in certain behaviors. The following nine behaviors are included:

  • avoiding the use of public transport for fear of contracting coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • checking oneself for symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • avoiding public places for fear of contracting coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • worry about not following social distancing guidelines for coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • avoiding touching things in public spaces for fear of contracting coronavirus (COVID-19)
  • reading about coronavirus (COVID-19) news at the expense of doing work
  • checking for signs of coronavirus (COVID-19) in friends and family members
  • paying close attention to others displaying coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms
  • imagining what would happen to family members if they contracted coronavirus (COVID-19)

While many might engage in some or all of these behaviors at some point, to rate high on the C-19ASS scale, you likely will have engaged in most of these behaviors nearly every day over the past 2 weeks.

Do I have COVID-19?

If you think you might have COVID-19, the only way to confirm it is by getting tested. You can self-test at home or be tested at your local pharmacy or other medical testing location.

However, there are symptoms you can watch out for, such as:

  • fever or chills
  • muscle or body aches
  • congestion or runny nose
  • fatigue
  • nausea or vomiting
  • cough
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • loss of taste or smell

Symptoms can look different from person to person and range from mild to severe. They often start 2 to 14 days after you’ve been exposed to the virus.

If you’re experiencing coronavirus anxiety, there are steps you can take to try to manage your symptoms.

  • Try to stay connected with others, even if you have to quarantine. You can use tools such as social media, phone, text messaging, and video chats to interact.
  • Consider reducing your media consumption. Learning the latest news about COVID-19 might seem like a good way to stay informed. For many people, however, it could increase the amount of worry. That could, in turn, make your anxiety worse.
  • Try to engage in other activities instead of worrying. Many people experience “what-if” scenarios that could increase anxious thoughts. Shifting focus onto little things you can do, such as engaging in creative activities or helping others, might be helpful.
  • Consider mindfulness practices to help you remain in the present moment and recognize anxious thoughts.
  • Try relaxation techniques to reduce stress. Moderate exercise, yoga, meditation, and even walks in nature can help ease stress and anxiety. Writing in a gratitude journal daily can help turn negative thoughts into positive ones.
  • Consider reaching out for help. You don’t have to manage anxiety on your own. A healthcare or mental health professional can offer support.

Remember that you’re not alone in this experience. Sharing with others who are having similar experiences can help. Here are some online resources you can try:

Coronavirus anxiety is real, and you’re not alone.

If you think you might be experiencing it, there are actionable steps you can take to cope with coronavirus anxiety.

Staying virtually connected with others, even when you’re quarantined, is one option. You might also consider using techniques to reduce your stress, limiting your media consumption, and engaging in activities that take your mind off worrying.

If you have anxiety, consider speaking with a healthcare or mental health professional. They can help you determine whether your anxiety is due to COVID-19 or something else and come up with a treatment plan if needed.

If you’re not sure where to get started, you can check out our find help page to find the right support for you.