Coronavirus (COVID-19): How to Cope with Fear and Panic after the Pandemic

Medically reviewed by April Justice, LICSW
Updated April 24, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Throughout and after the COVID-19 pandemic, fear and uncertainty about COVID-19 may linger. Experts and citizens may still feel split on whether the pandemic is over based on emerging health facts and survey results from the general public. 

While scientists have developed advanced ways to monitor and treat COVID-19, many people continue to experience fear, anxiety, and panic about contracting the virus. These feelings can take a mental and physical toll, especially after three years of COVID-19.

You're not alone if you're still fearful, anxious, and panicked about the coronavirus. COVID-19 has transformed the world's overall approach to health, which may call for new knowledge and coping strategies to manage the anxieties of living in an uncertain period. To find stability during these times, it may be helpful to review the symptoms of the coronavirus and the impact of the virus on approaches to mental healthcare, followed by coping strategies to manage fear and panic in response.

Struggling to cope with fear or panic due to COVID-19?

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

Three years or more into the pandemic, you may be familiar with the signs and symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, a refresher may be useful because the disease has several variants and continues to evolve. 

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), common symptoms of COVID-19 include:  

  • Fever 
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Body aches and pains
  • Diarrhea

If you've contracted COVID-19, you may have experienced various symptoms, depending on the variant you contracted, your health history, and other factors. The virus affects people in unique ways, and scientists continue to study why some people experience more severe or unusual variations of COVID-19 symptoms than others. 

In some cases, long Covid develops, a type of COVID-19 infection that continues to cause symptoms after COVID-19 is no longer detectable with a test. These symptoms may last for years for some people or be disabling. 

Coronavirus vs. panic attacks

Some people's symptoms of COVID-19 and panic attacks may be similar. One of the serious symptoms of COVID-19 is shortness of breath, which can also occur during a panic attack. A person with COVID-19 may also experience tightness or pressure in their chest, which can be caused or exacerbated by feelings of panic.

If you're trying to distinguish between a panic attack and COVID-19 symptoms, monitor how long your symptoms last. Whereas a panic attack may pass within 15 to 30 minutes, COVID-19 symptoms often develop over days and take longer to resolve, including up to a few weeks or months. 

Why do panic attacks happen?

Panic attacks can happen for several reasons. They may be more likely during times of isolation and stress, which may be more common during the pandemic. Regardless of how one's life has changed due to Covid-19, many people experience these feelings, coupled with a global sense of uncertainty and fear. 

Panic attacks often stem from these emotions. For some, these attacks only occur once or twice in their lifetime. However, if you experience recurrent, unexpected panic attacks and persistent concerns about having more, you may be diagnosed with panic disorder, which is an anxiety disorder. In the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%, according to the World Health Organization. 

Getty/Evgeniia Siiankovskaia

Strategies to cope with coronavirus anxiety and panic

Three years after the beginning of the global pandemic, researchers and mental health professionals continue to emphasize five strategies to help you combat COVID-19-related anxiety and navigate an uncertain world, including the following. 

Monitor your media

During the isolated days of the pandemic, you may have found it more difficult to put your phone down and pull yourself out of a pattern of what may now be referred to as "doom scrolling." Given the accessibility and quantity of news content, some individuals might benefit from taking breaks from social media, news outlets, and other online sources of information. 

While some knowledge about COVID-19 can be beneficial, consuming a significant quantity of news may exacerbate your fears and leave you feeling more anxious and disconnected from the people around you. If you're looking for regular and reliable news about COVID-19, credible organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, WHO, and the National Institutes of Health are verifiable sources of guidance.

Connect with people

When obsessing over phones, social media, and other digital sources of information and community, you may neglect the importance of connecting with loved ones and acquaintances in person. As you transition from an era of social distancing, connecting with people in real time can be beneficial if you can meet with others without compromising your physical health. 

If you're sick with COVID-19, immunocompromised, or living with another physical health concern, there are ways to stay connected to others. The pandemic has illuminated the value of online communities, video chat, and phone calls to keep in touch with old friends and new acquaintances. You might also try an online event or support group. 

Go back to the basics

Whether you're anxious about COVID-19 or another life stressor, a mental health professional may advise you to return to self-care basics. These foundations include getting enough sleep, eating a balanced and nourishing diet, and finding forms of physical exercise that benefit your body. 

Your mind and body are in constant communication with each other. If you're struggling to connect with yourself, the following are a few ways to rediscover your "baseline" of mental well-being: 

  • A quick bike ride around your block or neighborhood 
  • A ten-minute home workout
  • A five-minute meditation
  • A nutritious afternoon snack to carry you through the final half of your day
  • A glass of water before starting your day

These practices may not seem particularly exciting or glamorous, but they may add up over time. The long-term health benefits of a regular self-care routine can include reduced stress, increased happiness, and stronger relationships. 

Struggling to cope with fear or panic due to COVID-19?

Invest energy in new activities

Beyond acts of self-care, you may be able to redirect your anxiety and energy into new ways of enjoying and improving your life. Pursue hobbies, home projects, and other activities requiring time and energy while making you feel more organized and satisfied. 

A few possibilities could include the following: 

  • Taking out old files on your computer
  • Editing photos on your phone
  • Recommitting to an old hobby, like playing an instrument or making jewelry
  • Painting a room in your living space
  • Cleaning your kitchen or bathroom
  • Finishing a DIY project 
  • Learning a new skill, like sewing or knitting 

These hobbies and projects can distract from anxiety, rekindle your creativity, and provide a sense of accomplishment. 

Talk to someone 

If you're feeling overwhelmed by thoughts and fears concerning COVID-19, talking about your worries with people you know and trust may be helpful. Initiating the first conversation could feel intimidating, but you may find that other people in your life are experiencing similar fears about COVID-19 and related issues. By reaching out, you may find an unexpected opportunity to grow closer to a friend, family member, or acquaintance. 

As you navigate the long-term impacts of COVID-19, communicating your fears to a loved one can be an antidote to feelings of overwhelm and loneliness. Since the beginning of the pandemic, researchers have noted the importance of effective communication to combat rumors and myths about the virus and ultimately keep everyone informed and connected to others. 

Talk through your anxiety with an online therapist

Confiding in a trusted loved one about your thoughts and fears can be a powerful tool. However, if you’re looking for additional support and professional insights, talking to a therapist can help you manage fears about COVID-19 in the long term.

While some people still prefer in-person therapy, the pandemic has shown that online therapy can make mental health care more accessible and affordable for a wider range of people. Using platforms like BetterHelp, many people now use online therapy to work toward their mental health goals while balancing busy lifestyles and ongoing concerns about COVID-19. All BetterHelp therapists are licensed and have at least three years of professional experience, and many have helped clients navigate feelings of uncertainty, fear, and anxiety since the beginning of the pandemic. 

Several studies show that online therapy can be just as effective as face-to-face options, including a 2021 study, which assessed the effectiveness of a six-week-long, therapist-guided online therapy program for people with symptoms of anxiety and depression during the COVID-19 pandemic. The online therapy incorporated principles of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), depending on the therapist’s training and participants’ needs. 

Based on figures collated from 46 participants, levels of anxiety and depression were significantly reduced after the online, therapist-guided intervention. These results align with related studies, which find that online therapy is an efficient and accessible treatment for anxiety, depression, and potentially other mental health conditions.


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world. As researchers learn more about the virus and discover new ways to treat this condition, you may still encounter moments of fear, anxiety, or panic about contracting or spreading COVID-19.

Your feelings are human and valid. With the support of a professional therapist, they may also be surmountable. A mental health professional can help you focus on the facts and figures of COVID-19, ground your fears, and develop strategies to cope with fears about the coronavirus and other life stressors. You're not alone, and support is available

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