It’s no secret that lockdowns, quarantines and social distancing regulations have taken a serious toll on everyone’s mental health. However, as COVID-19 cases begin to wane, it’s the reintegration into society that is fueling an additional wave of anxiety.
Also known as COVID-19 anxiety syndrome, this new phenomenon is often characterized by fear of leaving the house, avoiding social situations, obsessive cleaning and constantly checking for COVID-19-related symptoms. This could include anything from avoiding public transportation to excessively bleaching areas of your home in an attempt to eliminate germs.
A recent study on COVID-19 anxiety syndrome even developed a scale to help measure the effects of pandemic-related stress and widen the mental health response to COVID-19.
According to Dr. Chris Meletis, N.D., living in a constantly connected world makes it’s harder to escape some of the fears and hesitations surrounding COVID-19. By adding the stress of the pandemic to an already overloaded plate, he says, we’re living in a constant sympathetic state, otherwise known as “fight-or-flight" mode.
"The current climate of uncertainty and unrest is not conducive to thriving,” Meletis says. “In fact, most people may feel as if they’re barely surviving.”
Research suggests that those with pre-existing mental health conditions, obsessive-compulsive tendencies and high levels of neuroticism are at greater risk of experiencing COVID-19 related anxiety. The syndrome has also been linked to increased post-traumatic stress and suicidal thoughts – similar to what disaster survivors experience.
Though some of the anxiety may subside as lockdowns begin to lift, the development of maladaptive behaviors and psychopathological responses could prevent many people from reintegrating into society. For the time being, Meletis says creating a buffering zone for consuming news and social media is a healthy coping mechanism.
“Unplugging for a bit doesn’t mean you’re putting your head in the sand or being irresponsible,” he says. “Setting boundaries is important for your mental health and will also allow you to be a more positive member of society when you’re ready to reintegrate.”
While further research is needed to fully understand its impact, COVID-19 anxiety syndrome is a real concern with real, long-term implications. If you (or someone close to you) can relate to any of the above experiences or symptoms, consider talking with your doctor about your concerns and possible solutions.