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Covid Anxiety Syndrome in the Midst of Easing Restrictions

What exactly is Covid Anxiety Syndrome and what does it look like? Individuals all over the world are faced with yet another change – the easing of restrictions.

As more provinces in Canada lift many of the COVID-19 restrictions, life may seem to be going back to how it was before the pandemic happened. However, not everyone will instantly accept this with open arms. Rather, there are still some who remain afraid of these changes. As a result, Covid Anxiety Syndrome may develop. 

What is Covid Anxiety Syndrome?

Covid anxiety syndrome is defined as having an irresistible urge to check oneself for COVID-19 symptoms, staying away from public places, repetitively cleaning areas, and engaging in other behaviors that may be harmful.

Symptoms of the Covid Anxiety Syndrome share similarities with other mental health conditions, such as generalized anxiety disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). However, symptoms of this syndrome occur in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The symptoms of Covid Anxiety Syndrome are:

  • Always thinking about anything and everything related to COVID-19, with no time to think about other things
  • Feelings of anxiety hinder the conduct of daily activities, such as going to work, doing the groceries, and even activities that are considered “low risk”
  • Isolating oneself for no apparent reason
  • Feelings of hopelessness and resentfulness about the COVID-19 pandemic 
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep
  • Having unusual symptoms, such as frequent headaches or stomach pain

Some Fear that Easing COVID-19 Restrictions Too Soon May Backfire

Citizens have been told to comply with many public health measures over the past two years. They have been on high alert to avoid contracting the coronavirus. Transitioning from this state to a more relaxed one may not always be as easy as turning off a light switch.  

At the same time, because of the limited capacity of provinces to conduct testing for COVID-19, citizens lack a vital piece of information in calculating their risks of getting infected.

Despite the initial fear brought about by the lifting of restrictions, many will soon be able to let their guards down. More citizens will attend public gatherings and do activities wherein they have to socially interact with other people outside of their households. 

This may not always be the case for everyone. Steve Joorden, a professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, said that “we really all need to understand that…we’re all weathering the same storm but we’re doing so in very different boats.”

Covid Anxiety Syndrome: we're in the same storm but in different boats.

With mask mandates in classrooms being removed, Sarah Bara feels afraid for her two children. Having been infected with COVID-19 herself, she doesn’t want her children to go through what she experienced. She is still suffering from long COVID and feels too tired to function just as she did before getting sick. Because of this, she will still make her children wear masks when they go to school. 

This sentiment is shared by Raissa Zukowski, a resident of Calgary who has spina bifida. She is still fearful about the easing of restrictions and how it may have negative health consequences for her. At the same time, a close friend of hers died because of COVID-19. This was not an easy experience for her, and it’s something she doesn’t want to go through again. 

However, people don’t seem to understand her plight. She says that, “basically the response I get from a lot of people when I tried to explain it is: ‘well, if you’re scared, just stay home.’” 

Dr. Scott Patten, an expert on mood disorders and mental health, said that feelings of anxiety may increase if individuals do not have enough information to make a decision. This is also true if they feel as if those close to them are unsupportive of their situation. 

For those who are more at-risk for developing severe COVID-19, they may experience even more feelings of anxiety as restrictions are eased. He said that, as a result, “they may feel they need to take steps themselves to protect their safety, which could lead to greater isolation or withdrawal, which could also feed into the anxieties that they feel.” It would seem to be a cycle wherein anxiety leads to more anxiety.

Feelings of anxiety may be advantageous in situations that pose a real threat to one’s safety. However, it becomes maladaptive if the ability to function is hampered by a threat that does not exist. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the risk is real and everywhere around us. This is even increased for individuals with comorbidities. 

Patten said that it may take time to partake in activities that they have grown accustomed to avoiding. But if no harm comes from such activities, feelings of anxiety will wear away with time. 

Coping with Covid Anxiety Syndrome

It’s okay to feel worried about trying to live with COVID. Many, if not all, have had to be very cautious about every action they take, lest they get sick or pass it on to a vulnerable loved one. Transitioning to a different lifestyle may take time. However, there are certain ways that any individual can do to cope with Covid Anxiety Syndrome.

1. Take it step by step 

There is no need to rush oneself in trying to keep up with others who may be more comfortable living with COVID. Only perform activities that one is at ease with. At the same time, never forget to take the necessary health precautions. When no harm comes, individuals can gradually increase their confidence to partake in more activities.

2. Do not say no to everything

Create a list of things that you can do, no matter how small they may be. This can be as simple as going out of the apartment to take a walk or meeting with a close friend in a park nearby. Doing so may be more beneficial in the long-term because it can help you adjust at a suitable pace. 

3. Be careful of where you get your information

Make sure that you get information from credible sources. In an era of information overload, it may be difficult to know what the actual situation is and what you can do to protect yourself. This can contribute to feelings of anxiety. 

Similarly, try to focus on finding positive information to remind yourself that not everything is hopeless. It might also be helpful to limit your exposure to social media, especially if it makes you feel uncomfortable. 

4. Try to focus on the present

Be fully aware of the present moment instead of getting caught up in thinking about the past or the future. This can help manage feelings of anxiety by focusing your thoughts on where you are now, the feel of the breeze against your skin, the sound of the water running, and whatever else it may be. It reminds individuals to pause and take a deep breath.

5. Create a self-care routine

Make time to take care of yourself. This can involve exercising, writing in your journal, or taking a bath with your favorite body wash. It is important to do something that you’re interested in to relieve stress and promote your well-being. 

6. Talk to someone and seek help when needed

Find a trusted friend or family member and share your thoughts and feelings with them. Doing so can be cathartic because you’re able to release your worries and get support from those who care about you. 

Also, don’t be afraid to talk to a professional. There’s nothing wrong or shameful about it. When feelings of anxiety persist for weeks or prevent you from doing daily activities, seek support from a therapist or counselor.

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