'COVID-19 anxiety syndrome' affecting 1 in 5 as lockdown lifting looms


Image credit: Joice Kelly

A nationwide survey shows that one fifth of us could be anxious about returning to non-lockdown life


On 16th March 2020, the nation was thrown into a new world of restrictions, cautiousness and unpredictability as the UK's first lockdown kicked in.


Since that date, many of us have adapted to a new way of living, abiding by a series of three-word slogans to ensure ours and everyone else's safety.


The changes haven't come without consequences. Although some evidence points toward a benefit for people who, prior to the pandemic, had struggled with their mental health, many reports suggest climbing rates common mental health issues – particularly in younger people.


And now, with 19th July's (proposed) complete relaxation of lockdown rules looming, the after-effects of 15 months' worth of uncertainty are shifting into focus.


Conducted in late June, researchers at London South Bank University (LSBU) surveyed people from across the UK about their attitudes and emotions toward the COVID-19 pandemic.


Out of the 975 survey respondents, 1 in 5 were considered to be experiencing 'COVID-19 anxiety syndrome' – a condition characterised by coping mechanisms that result in a continual state of anxiety and fear of contracting the virus.


The syndrome was coined in April 2020 by researchers at both LSBU and Kingston University and includes behaviours such as avoiding certain scenarios and areas, and excessively checking one's own safety.


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In their survey, researchers found that 40% of respondents were strongly avoiding touching things in public spaces, 30% were avoiding public transport, 23% were avoiding public spaces, and 25% were paying close attention to symptoms in other people.


For those that had lost a loved one to COVID-19, the risk of anxiety about returning to 'normal' life was higher. Somewhat surprisingly though, age, gender and vaccination status had little to no effect on anxiety levels.


“Our data indicates that after one month of re-opening of society many people are still struggling with aspects of COVID-19 anxiety syndrome, a similar figure to what we previously observed during full lockdown," said Marcantonio Spada, professor of Addictive Behaviours and Mental Health at LSBU. “This means that there are still many people who find it difficult to disengage from the COVID-19 threats which may make return to normal daily living harder as restrictions ease."


The challenge now is to understand how the increased levels of anxiety caused by the pandemic can be addressed, says Spada, and how our health system will be able to adapt to the situation.


“Our new findings show how vital it is that people affected by COVID-19 anxiety syndrome receive support," Spada added. "Mapping out how we will do this will become a priority for mental health service providers.”


Written by Marco Ricci

Editor and contributor for Talking Mental Health