COVID and its effect on anxiety disorders

As the Pandemic drags on and pre-COVID life continues to evade us, mental health is more important than ever to consider.

COVID has hit everyone in one way or another. People are not only worried about contracting the virus themselves, but also how it will change everyday life along with its effects on people’s livelihoods with ongoing lockdowns. Along with these worries, there is also the concern about the effects this pandemic has had on people’s mental health.

The number of people experiencing anxiety or anxiety disorders has been on the rise since COVID started hitting the U.S., causing most of the country to go into lockdowns which lasted through the year. Due to this, people are staying home more and in person connections with others have come to a sudden stop for most. 

CDC Report Reveals “‘Considerably Elevated’ Mental Health Toll from COVID-19 Stresses” by Joan Stephenson, PhD said “ … the CDC had found a substantial increase in anxiety disorder and depressive disorder symptoms in the United States during April through June compared with the same time frame in 2019.” Research conducted by the CDC also reported that “Nearly 31% reported symptoms of an anxiety or depressive disorder.”

It is important to note that anxiety disorders manifest in many different ways depending on the individual and specific disorder. It is also important to note that there are subgroups of phobias that are also related to anxiety disorders.  

With the number of anxiety disorders having spiked, and are continuing to do so with COVID, it is important to recognize what they are and their connection to the pandemic.

Agoraphobia is an anxiety disorder, the Mayo Clinic describes it as “ … cause[ing] someone to fear and avoid places or situations that might cause you to panic and make you feel trapped, helpless or embarrassed. The fear can be so overwhelming that you may feel unable to leave your home.” COVID has caused people to minimize their time outside of the house, only leaving for essential trips. But with the ongoing pandemic and the seemingly never ending cases, now even these small trips to the store can feel like a risk.

A grocery store, no matter how large, can start to feel crowded. In more severe cases people may fear leaving the house in general because we have gotten so used to being at home that leaving at all can be anxiety inducing.

Germaphobia is the fear of germs that oftentimes has a connection with obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is when someone has a “ … common, chronic and long-lasting disorder in which a person has uncontrollable, reoccurring thoughts (obsessions) and/or behaviors (compulsions) that he or she feels the urge to repeat over and over,” as stated in Ruben Castaneda’s article, “Coping With Germaphobia During the Coronavirus Crisis.”

It is important to recognize that germaphobia and OCD are two different disorders. Despite the fact that the two can be related, this does not mean that every person with OCD has fixations on germs and cleanliness. In his article “Coping With Germaphobia During the Coronavirus Crisis,” David Turner talks about his personal experiences as a self-described germaphobe who also has obsessive-compulsive disorder, within the article experts talk about how these two diagnoses are being shown hand in hand. 

Mark Mayfield states that “ …  people in the U.S. who, like Turner, live with OCD, the coronavirus outbreak is amplifying their pre-existing fears of germs.” 

Mayfield continues by saying, “The coronavirus crisis definitely exacerbates the fear germaphobes have about getting sick, and it escalates their isolation, anxiety and depression.” This shows how someone with OCD who already had a fear of germs can have these fears amplified due to something like COVID. 

When connecting this to COVID, people who have OCD that is predominantly focused on germs have a hard time doing anything outside of their houses because they don’t have any control over who has touched what, if things around them have been cleaned properly and if individuals in the area are healthy or not. In David’s case, when he would leave the house he would sit on a plastic bag in public spaces and when he got home he would change out of his clothes and turn them inside out before taking an hour long shower. 

It is important to realize that because of COVID and the restrictions that have been in place for almost a year now, people with anxiety disorders have been getting worse, especially if their anxiety is caused by germs or sickness. 

With some counties in Washington slowly opening up, the question that comes to mind is how are people who suffer from anxiety disorders going to cope with this sudden change of trying to go back to how life was before? For people who have anxiety that has gotten worse due to COVID, how are they going to cope with everything? Are they going to have the support and understanding that they are going to need?

As a society, we need to strive to become more understanding and support people who have now developed these diagnoses. Having the support from people in their lives but also being able to have the resources available to help them find techniques to aid them in overcoming these fears are also very important in their journey towards recovering from these worsened symptoms.