Covid-19 is a global pandemic that seemingly came out of nowhere and has had massive impacts on the world. From the loss of lives on a large scale to massive economic loss to our lives being completely altered in ways we could have never imagined- it’s only natural that many people are experiencing high levels of anxiety during this time.
A national survey conducted by the American Psychiatric Association found that half of US adults who completed the survey reported high levels of anxiety. The survey was derived from a sample of 1004 adults between 18-91 years old.
Nearly half (48%) of the survey participants reported anxiety about the chance of getting Covid-19, while 40% noted anxiety about becoming seriously ill or dying as a result. Meanwhile, more than half of the respondents (62%) reported anxiety about the possibility of family and loved ones getting ill.
Participants also noted anxiety related to the impact the pandemic will have on personal finances and the long-lasting impact it will have on the economy (WebMD, 2020).
This research also demonstrated the impact the increased anxiety was having on respondents in their daily lives.
Roughly 19% reported difficulties sleeping, 12% reported increased incidences of discord with a spouse or loved ones as a result of more time spent at home together, and 8% reported higher consumption of alcohol or other substances. Additionally, nearly 24% of participants noted they struggled to focus on topics other than the pandemic (WebMD, 2020).
Increased instances of anxiety and mental illness among individuals living through a pandemic is a normal outcome. Prior research conducted during the Ebola virus outbreak in Sierra Leone showed increased numbers of reported mental health and psychosocial problems.
When a study from the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009 revealed an increase in emotional symptoms including anxiety and depression among others (Morin, 2020).
Some research also shows that a pandemic such as Covid-19 can exacerbate some mental health conditions, including anxiety. It’s believed that those who are especially vulnerable to stress and anxiety are at the highest risk.
Evidence suggests that the less comfortable a person is with not knowing what to expect in a particular situation, the higher the likelihood of anxiety. As a result of the increased anxiety, there is then increased worry and ultimately increased stress (Peterson, 2017).
When studying the H1N1 pandemic, it was found that those individuals who were least able to tolerate uncertainty experienced the highest levels of anxiety during the pandemic (Morin, 2020).
The inability to tolerate uncertainty also impacts our thoughts and behaviors. As we feel feelings of anxiety, worry, and stress, our thoughts become consumed with worst-case scenarios and potential negative outcomes. Since negativity feeds on itself, as we dwell on the negative, we think more about the negative until it seems to take over our thoughts completely. As our thoughts become consumed by negativity our emotions are unavoidably impacted also.
We can experience anhedonia, a component of depression where there is a reduction in pleasure and positivity. We actually become less capable of experiencing positive emotions and pleasurable experiences as a result of the effect our negative feelings have on our thoughts.
This can cause us to make negative behavior choices such as disengaging from relationships, refraining from eating, partaking in substance abuse, or lashing out at others (among other things).
We can even become paralyzed by anxiety, worry, and stress and become dormant or “stuck,” effectively not moving forward in our lives because we don’t know what might happen (Peterson, 2017).
A cross-sectional multistage study published in March 2020 looked at 11, 954 students recruited from 50 Chinese universities amongst various cities, provinces, regions, and municipalities in China.
The study aimed to look at the relationships between the types of stress students experienced and students’ mental health, to distinguish the effects of stressors on mental health problems, and to explore the important role of uncertainty stress on the development of mental disorders.
The Student Daily Stress Questionnaire (SDSQ) was applied to measure the different types of stress, and mental health status was measured using the 12-item Chinese Health Questionnaire (CHQ). Both unadjusted and adjusted logistic regression models were utilized in the statistical analyses. Multilevel analyses were performed to examine the variation of mental disorders at both the individual and university levels (Wu, 2020).
The results of the study revealed that the prevalence of mental disorders was 22.8%. The unadjusted models showed that age, gender, grade, major, and university location and type were the correlates of mental disorders among students.
Researchers were able to conclude that study stress, life stress, and uncertainty stress were positively associated with mental disorders. The multilevel logistic regression models showed that uncertainty stress was far more likely to result in students’ mental disorders than study or life stress after controlling for the university level. It was noted that the greater the perceived uncertainty stress, the higher the prevalence of mental disorders (Wu et. al., 2020).
Thus, demonstrating how times of fear, uncertainty, and chaos such as a pandemic like COVID-19, can in fact lead to negative mental health impacts.