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How is COVID-19 Impacting Individuals With Anxiety?

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, numerous guidelines and recommendations to prevent the spread of the virus have been released. While some of these guidelines have evolved to include more stringent measures, the majority have remained static:

  • Remain 6 feet from others, better known as “social distancing”
  • Wash hands with soap and water routinely for a period of 20 seconds and promptly dry hands
  • Immediately change out of clothing worn on any excursion out of the house to limit potential cross contamination of areas within your home
  • Wear a protective face mask when in public spaces
  • Operate on the premise of universal precautions and assume all those around you are infected with the virus

While these do not reflect all guidelines, they represent some of the most publicized. Additionally, the impacts of the virus do possess very real consequences on people’s finances, employment stability, relationships and physical and mental health.

For people suffering from an anxiety disorder, COVID-19 protective guidelines and the numerous known and unknown ramifications associated with the virus can intensify symptoms associated with anxiety disorders.

Concerns About Individuals with Generalized Anxiety Disorder

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), all anxiety disorders share similar symptoms of a persistent focus on real or perceived worries. With this in mind, many who suffer from an anxiety disorder might be susceptible to recovery setbacks and/or spiraling further into anxiety without proper intervention.

Let’s look at how the symptoms of several common anxiety disorders might be heightened by the current COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), generalized anxiety disorder is characterized by difficulty controlling worry or fears, among other symptoms. Worries are typically associated with health, employment, relationships and other general life circumstances.

With the virus continuing to spread globally, unemployment skyrocketing, a rise in divorce and separations, and many lying in wait to be potentially furloughed, it is easy to see how someone suffering from generalized anxiety might experience a surge in worry. This can then trigger a vicious cycle of increasing other associated symptoms, such as constantly feeling on edge, irritability, ability to concentrate and sleep disturbance.

Increased Symptoms of Other Anxiety Disorders

Other anxiety-related diagnoses like specific phobia might see an increase in associated situational fears, such as increased apprehension to be in tight spaces like elevators or planes.

Those suffering from agoraphobia–fear of entering crowded places–might develop further apprehension to use public transportation (trains, buses, subways, etc.) or to be in public spaces in general for fear of catching the virus, thus causing them to double-down on refusal to leave home.

For many suffering from anxiety, having credible and rational justification to avoid such situations can increase the negative thoughts that feed anxious beliefs leading to an increase in anxiety and stress.

Finally, while Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is no longer recognized as an anxiety disorder, it is worthy to mention the COVID-19 pandemic might increase obsessive thoughts related to the idea of having or contracting the virus. In addition, an increase in compulsions such as excessive handwashing and/or cleaning can occur, becoming overly time-consuming and thus causing impairment in social, occupational or other life domains as a result.

Jackson House Can Help

If you are experiencing distress from an anxiety disorder, Jackson House is ready to provide in-person mental health treatment and support. In addition, many mental health professionals such as therapists and psychiatrists remain on the front lines by offering telehealth treatment. Our residential mental health treatment program can provide the help that individuals need when suffering from anxiety and other mental health problems. Remember to be honest about what you are experiencing and be sure to discuss associated depressive symptoms, suicidal thoughts, increase in substance use and other related stressors to ensure the best treatment outcome.

About the author

Dr. Michael Falcone

Dr. Michael Falcone

Dr. Michael Falcone, Program Director at Jackson House San Diego, is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist as well as a Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor specializing in the treatment of patients who suffer from substance use disorders and mental health conditions. Dr. Falcone has contributed this blog to share information about how you can maintain your sobriety amid the current COVID-19 global pandemic, especially if you are in the early stages of recovery.

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