What Is COVID Anxiety Syndrome?

COVID anxiety syndrome symptoms

Verywell / Alison Czinkota

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As lockdowns and restrictions relax in several locations globally, some people are finding it challenging to get back to "normal" life. Going back out and mingling with other people is a concept that's causing an uptick in fear and anxiety. 

What Is Covid Anxiety Syndrome? 

Most of us were on high alert initially, experiencing fear and worry over the impact this virus may have. However, researchers have noticed that people were developing a particular set of traits on a larger scale. 

Despite vaccines being distributed and an overall decrease in COVID prevalence, some people are starting to experience what experts call COVID-19 anxiety syndrome.

COVID-19 anxiety syndrome (CAS) is defined by: 

  • Compulsively checking for symptoms of covid
  • Avoidance of public places
  • Obsessive cleaning
  • Other maladaptive behaviors 

Researchers have now raised concern that obsessive distress and avoidance behaviors, such as being resistant to taking public transportation or bleaching your home for hours, will not subside quickly, even as COVID is controlled. 

Data from June 2020 (from about 500 participants) found that CAS predicted generalized anxiety and depression levels above other factors like personality traits and general health anxiety.

The same researchers have gathered preliminary data from self-reported surveys of nearly 300 adults in the UK, proposing that CAS was a single predictor of generalized anxiety and depressive symptoms throughout the pandemic. 

Symptoms of this syndrome imitate those of other mental health conditions, such as anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Signs of COVID Anxiety Syndrome 

Here are a few signs you may be experiencing CAS and may benefit from additional help and support: 

  • You have trouble thinking about anything other than COVID-19
  • Your anxiety interferes in your daily life—like finding it difficult to go to work or to the grocery store, even with low risk
  • You isolate yourself from other people when it isn't necessary
  • You feel hopeless or bitter about the pandemic
  • You have trouble sleeping
  • You experience unusual physical symptoms, such as frequent headaches or stomach aches

It’s been noted that people with this anxiety syndrome experience increased post-traumatic stress, general stress, anxiety, health anxiety, and in some cases, suicidal ideation. 

Information presented in this article may be triggering to some people. If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

When Do Anxious Feelings Move Past “Normal”? 

If you're worried that you may be struggling with CAS or another anxiety disorder, ask yourself the following questions: 

  • Do my responses align with the potential risk or threat of danger?
  • Do my loved ones express concern for my level of worry, fear, and avoidance?
  • Am I obeying local guidelines to avoid exposing myself to COVID, like practicing social distancing, wearing masks, and washing my hands? Or do I go out of my way to avoid people and situations when it isn't necessary? 

If you find that your anxiety levels do not match any potential threats, it might be time to seek help from a professional.

Causes of Covid Anxiety Syndrome 

Researchers suggest that, for some, isolation, fear of contracting COVID-19, and uncertainty throughout the pandemic may have pointed to the group of symptoms that make up CAS. 

They also suspect that “Big 5” personality traits can play a role in its evolution. Those with a high level of neuroticism may possess a greater chance of developing CAS. In contrast, those who are highly extroverted, agreeable, and open may have a lower risk. 

Additionally, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder may also be more at risk, as COVID-19 concerns may amplify the condition. Researchers expect there to be groups of people (vaccinated or not) continuously worrying about COVID and avoiding anything that may increase their risk. However, research is only in the early stages, and various complex factors need to be considered.

Other Contributing Factors

Below are some other contributing factors that may lead to CAS:

  • Low threshold for uncertainty. Someone's tolerance of uncertainty, vulnerability to COVID-19, and tendency to worry excessively can contribute to this unique phenomenon. 
  • Media coverage. COVID-19 has gained extensive media coverage from social media and news outlets. However, facts and information about how the virus changes constantly can ultimately result in mistrust and anxiety amongst the public. 
  • The use of fear to increase compliance. Researchers also advise that officials' unintentional use of fear to guarantee compliance to safety precautions may contribute to anxiety and excessive worry in people. 

How to Cope

There are several ways to cope with and manage symptoms of COVID anxiety syndrome:

  • Consider seeking out positive messages around how much we've improved regarding the pandemic, such as vaccine development, decreased risk, and new treatment options.
  • Take things slow despite the rush and expectation for a speedy return to normalcy. Step outside your comfort zone at a slow, gradual pace while continuing to practice safety measures.
  • Continue to use hand sanitizer and wear disposable masks and gloves to help ease anxiety.
  • Discuss your feelings of anxiety with a trusted person to strengthen mutual understanding. This increases your confidence and enables others to provide the support required.
  • Stay mindful of social media and news articles that can trigger your anxiety and direct your attention toward positive, reliable sources of information. Consider limiting exposure to media to once or twice a day.
  • Spend extra time practicing self-care. Take breaks often, exercise, and do things you enjoy to help relieve stress.

Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast

Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares mental health mistakes to avoid as we emerge from the pandemic.

Treatment for Covid Anxiety Syndrome 

Experts say that it's essential to identify this syndrome and find ways of treating and preventing it. Otherwise, it can lead to a more significant issue. If you feel that your symptoms of COVID anxiety syndrome are lasting longer than a couple of weeks, or have started interfering with your day-to-day life, reach out to a therapist or counselor either in-office or online.

Behavioral therapy and medications for treating anxiety or depression can also help those experiencing significant difficulties with this unique and evolving mental health condition. 

If you or a loved one are struggling with [condition name], contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Remember that severe anxiety usually doesn't disappear on its own, and therapy and appropriate medications can help you address the anxiety and live your life to the fullest. 

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2 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nikčević AV, Spada MM. The COVID-19 anxiety syndrome scale: Development and psychometric propertiesPsychiatry Res. 2020;292:113322. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113322

  2. Smith LE, Mottershaw AL, Egan M, Waller J, Marteau TM, Rubin GJ. The impact of believing you have had COVID-19 on self-reported behaviour: Cross-sectional survey [published correction appears in PLoS One. 2021 Feb 25;16(2):e0248076]. PLoS One. 2020;15(11):e0240399. Published 2020 Nov 4. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0240399