Updated: Mar 14
As vaccination programs for COVID19 become more successful and restrictions that were put in place to protect society begin to relax more around the world, some people have found that these changes are causing anxiety. While some of us have been eager for things to get back to normal and have embraced these changes as lockdowns end and COVID19 restrictions are removed, others are having a harder time readjusting to normal life. From going back to work in the office to navigating society without protective measures like mask-wearing and social distancing in place, even people who have been fully vaccinated might find that it’s all a little bit anxiety-inducing. After all, after a rather traumatic eighteen months where we’ve been hounded with news about infections, hospitalizations, and death rates, told to stay at home and keep six feet away from other people, it’s no surprise that for some, getting back to everyday life may be a struggle.
People have various reasons for why they are feeling a heightened sense of anxiety around getting back to everyday life after the COVID19 pandemic. Some are concerned about the risk of new variants and the effectiveness of the COVID19 vaccine against them, while others might be suffering from social anxiety after spending so much time at home and not going out. Others are fearful for their health or the health of their loved ones since COVID19 is still more of a concern for those who are especially vulnerable.
However, anxiety around COVID19 that is having an impact on somebody’s life to the point where they are finding it difficult to do everyday things is referred to as COVID Anxiety Syndrome. While the facts show that we are managing to overcome the virus, infection levels are dropping in most places around the world, and the risk of being seriously affected by the virus is low for those who are vaccinated, after spending such a long time protecting themselves and others from this disease, it’s difficult for some people to accept that things are looking up.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is the reaction of the body and mind to dangerous, stressful, or unfamiliar situations. Everybody experiences some anxiety from time to time, even if they do not suffer from an anxiety disorder. You may have felt anxiety if you have ever felt a sense of uneasiness when going into a situation that you are not familiar with or a feeling of dread that comes on before a big decision is made about you, or a significant event occurs.
Anxiety can be healthy in small doses; after all, it’s usually anxiety that will stop you from making rash decisions without thinking them through or putting yourself in danger.
Suffering from an anxiety disorder is very different to simply feeling a little anxious before a big event. Anxiety disorders can be debilitating, causing the mind and body to see dangers that are not there. People with these disorders will often think irrationally and view things in an exaggerated way. It’s important to remember that while somebody with an anxiety disorder might appear to be overreacting to a certain situation, the level of danger and risk is very real to them in their mind.
If you are interested in learning more about anxiety, anxiety disorders, and more, consider this Christian psychology degree from Central Christian University.
What is COVID Anxiety Syndrome?
COVID Anxiety Syndrome is a new type of anxiety disorder that has come about as a result of the COVID19 pandemic. Since people have not been living with this disorder for very long, it has not yet been studied extensively. COVID Anxiety Syndrome often characterizes as a combination of anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms in relation to COVID19. After months of living in isolation, working from home, and hearing and reading about the pandemic on the news, people who are suffering from COVID Anxiety Syndrome are often on very high alert and will struggle to let go of the need to protect themselves from the virus, even with measures such as a vaccination in place.
Some people are experiencing very intense anxiety regarding COVID19, despite the successful vaccination program and infection rate drops. Some of the main symptoms of COVID Anxiety Syndrome Include:
Compulsive checking for symptoms or COVID19 testing
Continuing to stay at home even when it’s safe to leave
Obsessive cleaning and sanitization habits
Somebody who is suffering from COVID Anxiety Syndrome might be resistant or even fearful to engage in everyday activities such as going to the store, taking public transport, or returning to work in the office. They may also take part in obsessive cleaning behaviors including over-sanitizing of hands, excessive hand-washing, or excessive disinfection and bleaching in their home. Researchers believe that these symptoms are unlikely to subside as the risk of COVID19 gets smaller due to measures such as the vaccine and that many people suffering from COVID Anxiety Syndrome are likely to also be suffering from co-morbid conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
What are the Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For?
It’s quite normal for most people today to be feeling a little bit apprehensive about things getting back to normal after over a year of lockdowns and restrictions. The risk of new variants is still very real and there is always a chance that the pandemic could lead to further lockdowns and restrictions in the future if a variant develops that is resistant to the vaccine. However, for the majority of people, it is easy to look at the facts and put these worries aside. And as people spend more time getting back into everyday activities like meeting with friends, working in the office, eating at restaurants, and attending events, their anxiety levels are likely to ease.
On the other hand, for somebody who is suffering from COVID anxiety syndrome, symptoms are likely to persist and may be so bad that they are unable to take the leap and start returning to some normalcy. COVID Anxiety Syndrome is an extreme version of the anxiety that many people are feeling about returning to normal right now. Some symptoms to watch out for include:
Obsessive or excessive use of sanitizers and cleaning products
Struggling to think about anything other than COVID19
Trouble focusing on work or other activities due to worrying about COVID19
Anxiety that is causing problems with carrying out everyday activities such as getting groceries
Resistance to going out in public even when it is safe to do so or when there will not be very many people around
Continuing to stay at home and isolate oneself from other people even when this is no longer necessary
Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping
Feelings of hopelessness, bitterness, or helplessness about the pandemic and struggling to see an end in sight
Increased symptoms of other mental health conditions including depression, general anxiety, health anxiety, post-traumatic stress, and suicidal ideation
Physical symptoms including muscle tension, headaches, and stomach pain
The Reasons Behind COVID Anxiety Syndrome:
According to researchers, COVID Anxiety Syndrome is likely to be the result of different factors that have been in place throughout the pandemic, combined with existing mental health conditions. This condition is very likely to affect people who already suffer from anxiety disorders, particularly obsessive-compulsive disorder, health anxiety disorders, or post-traumatic stress disorder. Throughout the pandemic, various factors have impacted people’s mental health in many different ways. People have spent months in fear of catching the virus or passing it on to their loved ones. In addition, we have been bombarded with information about infection rates, death tolls, hospitalizations, new variants, and other information that has not been pleasant. Some of the main factors behind COVID Anxiety Syndrome include:
1. Low Threshold for Uncertainty:
Just like we all have a personal threshold or boundary for things like taking risks, each person has a limit when it comes to how much uncertainty that they can cope with. People who have a high tolerance for uncertainty are likely to have found the pandemic easier and will be more able to look to the future with optimism. On the other hand, individuals who tend to have a lower tolerance for uncertainty and prefer to know exactly where they stand may have been at a higher risk of developing COVID Anxiety Syndrome.
2. Fear Tactics By the Media and Government:
Often unintentionally, the government and media have used fear tactics throughout the pandemic to gain the compliance of the public. This has led to a high level of fear surrounding COVID infection rates and the risk to ourselves and our loved ones. Unfortunately, the use of these tactics to encourage the public to comply with safety precautions may have also increased worry and anxiety levels for certain people.
3. News Coverage:
For the past eighteen months, COVID is bound to be mentioned somewhere each time you switch on the news or open social media. For some people, this constant onslaught of information about the negative impact of the coronavirus on society and the world has had a huge impact on their mental health, with many developing COVID Anxiety Syndrome as a result.
How COVID Anxiety Syndrome Impacts Everyday Life:
The world is getting back to normal, with a large percentage of individuals now fully vaccinated and many people feeling much more confident when it comes to COVID19. But for those who are suffering from COVID Anxiety Syndrome, it may feel that they are still going through what was the worst part of the pandemic for everyone else. COVID Anxiety Syndrome can impact everyday life in a variety of often debilitating ways, including:
1. Isolation From Others:
One of the biggest concerns regarding people suffering from COVID Anxiety Syndrome is that they are likely to continue isolating themselves from others. In addition, their preoccupation with staying safe from the virus may lead them to completely isolate themselves without reaching out to others online or through phone calls. This can further worsen their mental health symptoms and lead to a higher risk of certain physical health conditions.
2. Impact of Symptoms:
Many of the symptoms of COVID Anxiety Syndrome including sleeping too much or not sleeping enough or being preoccupied with cleaning and sanitization are likely to get in the way of an individual’s ability to simply live their life. This can impact relationships, work, hobbies, and much more, along with having a negative impact on their overall health and wellbeing.
3. Work Problems:
COVID Anxiety Syndrome can lead to several problems in the workplace. Although working from home is set to be here to stay, many employers are now expecting employees to come back to the office to work now that it is safe to do so. This is likely to cause problems for somebody with this disorder. In addition, even when working from home, somebody struggling with this type of anxiety may find it difficult to focus.
Getting Help and Coping with Symptoms:
If you have been struggling with these symptoms and believe that you might be suffering from COVID Anxiety Syndrome, you’re not alone. The number of people seeking help with mental health issues directly related to the pandemic has risen drastically. If you believe that you may be dealing with COVID Anxiety Syndrome, there are several ways to get help.
Your doctor will be able to help in different ways, including prescribing medication to ease the symptoms or referring you to a mental health specialist. Another option that you may want to consider is online therapy, which may be easier for people struggling with COVID Anxiety Syndrome as it allows you to start getting help from the comfort of your own home, where you will feel most relaxed and safe. Online therapy is available from a range of different channels including Better Help and will usually be covered by health insurance as long as you are seeing a counsellor who is licensed in your state.
Some anxiety about getting back to normal is common. However, when worries about COVID are taking over your life and preventing you from engaging in everyday activities, it could be a sign of COVID Anxiety Syndrome.