Anxiety vs. Coronavirus: How to Tell the Difference
The similarity in symptoms could create more fear.
Posted Mar 26, 2020
Many people suffer from anxiety daily. And with the general public now experiencing anxiety about COVID-19, those regular anxiety sufferers could feel that things have reached a new level of panic—perhaps resulting in a list of symptoms that are similar to those of the coronavirus (i.e., shortness of breath, shivers, excessive sweating, etc.). Many who experience panic attacks and anxiety can feel like they’re dying when they aren’t. This is especially true for those people who aren’t already familiar with the many symptoms of anxiety.
It’s important to know the difference between anxiety and the virus so that if you’re experiencing anxiety, you won’t run to the hospital thinking you’ve contracted coronavirus. Although there are similarities, there are some major differences between the two sets of symptoms that are important to keep in mind.
What are anxiety symptoms, and how do they differ from coronavirus symptoms?
Even though each individual suffering from anxiety may have unique symptoms, there’s a common experience associated with anxiety: irrational fear and dread. If you’ve been particularly worked up and stressed about the virus and thinking about a scary future, that’s likely a sign that you’re experiencing more intense anxiety than usual. That can send your body into overdrive and bring about some unusual symptoms that you might not recognize. Some of the more common anxiety symptoms include:
- Feelings of panic, fear, and nervousness
- Uncontrollable, obsessive thought
- Repeated thoughts or “flashbacks” of traumatic events
- Irrational ritualistic behaviors
- Excessive sweating or numbness in the hands or feet
- Shortness of breath, hyperventilation
- Chest pain or heart palpitations
- An inability to be still and calm
- Dry mouth, nausea, dizziness
- Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
- Being easily fatigued
- Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
- Being irritable
- Having muscle tension
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Having sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep, restlessness, or dissatisfying sleep
- IBS, diarrhea
As far as the symptoms of COVID-19 are concerned, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicate that people with the virus exhibit three primary symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Dry cough
And according to the World Health Organization (WHO) other, less common coronavirus symptoms include: aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or diarrhea.
What’s the main difference that stands out between coronavirus symptoms and those of anxiety?
Coronavirus can cause a fever; and while in some extreme cases, anxiety can cause a fever, it’s very rare. People with COVID-19 usually have a fever along with coughing and difficulty breathing; since anxiety doesn’t cause coughing, that’s another key distinction between the two.
Another major distinction is that sneezing and a runny nose can occur with the virus but not with anxiety. Additionally, when a person experiences a panic attack, which does include shortness of breath, it usually only lasts 20 to 30 minutes, hitting its peak at about 10 minutes. Someone with coronavirus who is having trouble breathing will have that difficulty for a longer period of time, typically alongside flu-like symptoms.
It’s important to remember that it’s normal to be anxious during a time like this, and our bodies react in many unpredictable ways under such stressful circumstances. Before jumping to the conclusion that you have the virus, take a moment to evaluate whether you have all the symptoms. Practice deep breathing exercises, and find ways to comfort yourself. See if that helps. If you’re under extreme distress or feel like you can’t take deep breaths, reach out to a medical professional.
Taking deep breaths to calm down and alleviate your anxious feelings will not be possible with acute respiratory distress. There is quite a difference between hyperventilating from anxiety and respiratory difficulties that people can usually tell. If you are in doubt, when feeling short of breath, call your doctor before going to the hospital. Doctors are recommending that to avoid exposure and for people to get the right care.