The COVID-19 pandemic showed a 29% increase in the prevalence of anxiety and depression worldwide. With lockdowns, social distancing measures, and an uncertain future, many people struggled to cope during the first years of the pandemic.
In 2023, although officials are loosening lockdown procedures in the US, COVID-19 remains a potential threat to health for many communities, immunocompromised individuals, and people who spend time with the public. For this reason, it may be beneficial to look at the potential causes of anxiety during the pandemic and consider tips and resources for managing this experience.
Anxiety can be a normal and natural response to stress. It might accompany feelings of worry, nervousness, or unease about an uncertain outcome or distressing experience. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many people experience increased anxiety levels due to numerous sources of stress and uncertainty.
However, when anxiety is constant and impacts daily functioning, it may signify an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders can be temporary or long-term, and they often benefit from treatment with a licensed mental health professional. As anxiety often accompanies distressing physical symptoms, many people may also have worries about their health when anxiety occurs, which can worsen the fear of the unknown that COVID-19 may bring.
Potential Causes Of Anxiety During The COVID-19 Pandemic
There could be several factors that might be contributing to the high levels of anxiety during the pandemic, including the following.
Fear Of Contracting Illness
With the rapid spread of COVID-19, many individuals might be worried about getting sick. The news and media coverage of the pandemic might exacerbate this fear. Although most of the US population is vaccinated against COVID-19, fears of a new strain or worries about community statistics can cause health anxiety.
For many people, this anxiety and the statistics surrounding the pandemic may cause agoraphobia, which involves a fear of leaving home or being in public due to the worry of having a panic attack or experiencing an unwanted event, like getting sick.
The pandemic has resulted in widespread job loss and economic uncertainty, which could be a significant source of anxiety for many people. This statistic could be especially true for those struggling to pay bills, facing evictions, or trying to support a family.
Loneliness And Isolation
Social distancing measures and lockdowns might have forced many people to spend extended periods alone, leading to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Quarantine may be difficult for those who live alone or don’t have significant social support networks. In addition, immunocompromised individuals may remain quarantined while others return to work, as their health may put them at risk for severe infection.
Uncertainty About The Future
The pandemic has caused uncertainty about the future, including when the pandemic might end, what the world might look like post-pandemic, and what the long-term impacts of the pandemic might be. With conditions like “Long COVID” being studied by researchers, there may be worries that contracting COVID once could increase the risk of long-term disability or health risks.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have brought up difficult or traumatic moments for individuals and those they love. Grief, traumatic loss, medical maltreatment, and other factors could contribute to symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or fear of receiving medical care in the future.
In addition, many people who went to the hospital for critical conditions unrelated to COVID-19 may not have had room in the ICU or struggled to find medicine or critical care due to the high number of COVID-19 patients initially in hospitals. Immunocompromised people in hospitals, including cancer units and nursing care, may have also been exposed more heavily to COVID-19, which could contribute to anxiety.
Tips For Managing Anxiety Related To The Pandemic
While it might be normal to experience some anxiety during the pandemic, managing this experience and preventing it from becoming overwhelming could help you move forward and feel in control of your experiences. A few tips for coping may include the following.
Maintain A Routine
Establishing a daily routine could provide structure and stability, which might help reduce anxiety. A routine might include getting up and going to bed at the same time every day, eating healthy meals, and engaging in regular physical activity. If you’re quarantining, try “shaking up” your routine by adding unique exercises, fun activities, or social distancing meetups you can partake in.
Regular exercise and physical activity might help you reduce stress and anxiety. Walking, participating in an online workout class, or trying stretching exercises at home are a few ways to start a routine. If you’re unsure about trying exercise, note that studies have found it effective in improving mental health.
Stay Connected With Your Social System
While social distancing measures might prevent in-person interactions, technology can often help individuals stay connected with friends and family through video calls, phone calls, or chat messaging. If you’re staying at home to prevent infection, consider having a “friend hangout” over Zoom where everyone cooks their favorite meal and talks about their week.
Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing, might help individuals feel more present in their daily lives and reduce feelings of anxiety. Studies have found that consistent mindfulness practices can reduce stress, depression, and anxiety significantly in adults.
Resources For Managing Anxiety
Many resources may be available for individuals seeking support in managing their anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the following.
Many countries have established hotlines and helplines for individuals experiencing mental health challenges during the pandemic. One such hotline is the Physician Crisis Support Line for first responders or medical providers experiencing mental health crises related to COVID-19.
Online Support Groups
There are some online support groups available for individuals looking for support and connection during the pandemic.
Mental Health Apps
You might try a mental health app with tools and resources for managing anxiety, including mindfulness exercises, guided meditations, and coping strategies. Some apps may also offer therapy.
Mental Health Professionals
Individuals might also seek support from a mental health professional like a psychologist or counselor. These professionals can often provide guidance and support in managing anxiety through therapy and other treatment options.
Seeking support is often a sign of strength and not a weakness. With the proper support and resources, individuals can learn to manage their anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic in a way that feels safe to them.
Socially Distanced Therapy Options
Online therapy through a platform like BetterHelp may be beneficial for managing anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic, as it offers individuals a safe space to discuss their thoughts, feelings, and experiences without exposure to potential sickness. Through therapy, individuals can learn how to better manage their anxiety through evidence-based strategies like mindfulness, relaxation, and cognitive-behavioral therapy.
During the pandemic, many mental health providers have transitioned their practices to provide safer telehealth options for both the therapist and the client.
Studies have shown that online therapy can be as effective as in-person therapy for managing anxiety. Another study found that clients experiencing PTSD related to the COVID-19 pandemic were able to experience a symptom reduction of 55% or higher after attending online EMDR or cognitive-behavioral therapy.
If you’re considering seeking support for a mental health concern, online or in-person therapy are resources anyone can utilize. Talking to a therapist may help you process the causes of your anxiety during the pandemic and help you develop a plan to cope with these symptoms.
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