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Jun 26, 2020

When COVID-Related Anxiety Becomes a Problem

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused people to constantly worry. Will they get the virus or spread it to others? How can they protect loved ones who are far away? Will they lose their job or business?

People are more anxious than ever, especially because the future still remains so uncertain. This feeling of anxiety is a normal reaction to this pandemic. However, anxiety can become a more serious mental health issue.

In a recent interview for a CNN article, Shauna Springer, a trauma psychologist, said, “Anxiety creates tunnel vision and it really puts us in a state of fight or flight. And when we are in that survival mode for a prolonged period of time, that’s when anxiety goes into a darker phase and it really warrants clinical support.”

Even if people are coping well right now, they may not in the future. People’s sympathetic nervous system can’t stay in an overwhelmed, frenetic state for an extended period of time. Eventually, they will crash.

Here are five signs that someone’s anxieties have moved into a dangerous level:

  • Poor sleep
  • Fixation with bad news
  • Loss of interest and pleasure
  • Overwhelming feelings of helplessness
  • Thoughts of suicide

It’s crucial that people watch out for these warning signs because many people are becoming anxious to the point of needing clinical help. A recent Thomas Jefferson University survey found that the pandemic is causing clinical-level anxiety in 40% of respondents.

And although this outbreak is affecting everyone’s stress levels, there are some populations that are more at risk of feeling heighten anxiety:

  • Those with a history of anxiety (Previous struggles with anxiety may cause people to feel overwhelmed during the pandemic.)
  • Older or immunocompromised people (Their personal increased risk of contracting the virus may make them feel more anxious or helpless.)
  • Children (Watching the news or hearing adults’ concerns may make them feel the world is scary and out of control.)
  • Health care workers (They may have heightened anxiety about their risk of getting COVID-19 or exposing their families to the virus when they go home.)

This pandemic is filled with unknowns and uncertainties, so looking toward the future with optimism is not an easy task right now. Many people fear the long-term consequences of social distancing and heightened anxiety. In fact, Jane Webber, a professor of counselor education at Kean University in New Jersey, recently told CNN that the current experience of living with a level of fear and in a heightened state of arousal is similar to the experiences of Vietnam and Iraqi vets.

So, it’s crucial for people to take care of their mental health during this crisis. And if their anxiety shows signs of becoming a more serious issue, then they should seek professional help immediately. 


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