What is COVID-19 anxiety syndrome?

As lockdowns and restrictions ease in various locations, some people find it extremely challenging to reacclimate to “normal” life. As the pandemic recedes, some consider this phenomenon as the next emerging mental health crisis.

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COVID-19 anxiety syndrome is an emerging phenomenon defined by compulsive symptom checking and avoiding leaving the house, even when the health risks are minimal. Paul Frangipane/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Over a year has passed since SARS-CoV-2 began to spread across the world. Its appearance, which first caused mild concern, soon turned into serious worry as more people received a diagnosis of COVID-19.

In the beginning, scientists knew very little about this novel virus and the disease it caused. The unknowns and the virus’s remarkably rapid spread incited fear among health professionals, scientists, and the public.

Soon, restricted travel, lockdowns, mask mandates, and physical distancing protocols were implemented as a tactic to slow COVID-19’s spread. Widespread media coverage detailed every nuance of an ever-changing pandemic landscape as world leaders and health experts waged war on this invisible threat.

Worldwide, there have been over 150 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, with just over 3 million deaths attributed to the disease. According to official projections, in some countries, such as the United States, the rate of new SARS-CoV-2 infections is gradually declining.

This decrease is likely due to increased herd immunity and the introduction of vaccines. To date, approximately 1 billion vaccine doses have been administered across the globe.

As a result, some countries, such as the United Kingdom, are beginning to soften protocols initially put in place to stop the spread of the virus. As lockdowns lift, many people who were unable to leave their house are now going out and enjoying life as best they can while still being mindful of safety.

Yet, for some, going back out and mixing with other people is a concept filled with fear and anxiety. Despite vaccines and a decrease in disease prevalence, some people experience what scientists call COVID-19 anxiety syndrome.

Symptoms of this syndrome mimic those of other mental health conditions, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). And, the pandemic and related factors appear to be the cause.

In this Special Feature, Medical News Today takes a closer look at this phenomenon, how it occurs, and what the latest research says. We also talked to environmental psychologist and well-being consultant Lee Chambers, M.Sc., M.B.Ps.S. Chambers shared his tips on how to manage this emerging mental health challenge.