Anxiety

11 Signs That You May Have High Covid-19 Anxiety

New research examines the factors linked to Covid-19 anxiety.

Posted Nov 05, 2020

Vperemen / Wikimedia Commons
Source: Vperemen / Wikimedia Commons

Covid-19 has ushered in an epidemic of worry. But who is most likely to be experiencing its symptoms?  New research appearing in the journal Personality and Individual Differences may have an answer.

A team of scientists led by Marta Malesza of the University of Economics and Human Sciences in Warsaw, Poland found that the top three factors associated with high coronavirus anxiety are: (1) how dangerous people perceive Covid-19 to be, (2) how much information people obtain about Covid-19, and (3) how likely people are to think they will contract the disease.

In fact, the researchers identified 11 predictors of high Covid-19 anxiety. Here are the remaining eight:

  • Chronic illness. People with chronic illnesses show higher Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Children. People with children exhibit higher Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Age. Older individuals exhibit more coronavirus anxiety.
  • Frequency of recommended protective behaviors. People who are more likely to engage in protective behaviors such as hand sanitizing and mask-wearing exhibit higher Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Gender. Women exhibit higher Covid-19 anxiety than men.
  • General health. Healthier people exhibit less Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Relationship between catching Covid-19 and one’s own behavior. People who don't believe that the likelihood of catching Covid-19 depends on one's own behavior show greater Covid-19 anxiety.
  • Marital status. Married individuals show more Covid-19 anxiety.

To come to these conclusions, the researchers conducted a survey of 1,069 Polish adults between March 29th and April 17th, 2020. Forty-two people were omitted from analysis because they had tested positive for Covid-19.

They write, "Little research has been conducted on anxiety in response to pandemic illnesses such as the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak in East Europe. However, elucidating the factors that contribute to such anxiety may be of value in understanding how the public responds to large scale illness threats, and identifying individuals who might be vulnerable to maladaptive responses."

The researchers urge caution when interpreting these results given the correlational nature of the study. For instance, it is not clear whether factors such as “frequency of recommended protective behaviors” are causes or consequences of Covid-19 anxiety. It is also important to keep in mind that the data are only from Poland. It is possible that the factors associated with Covid-19 anxiety are different in other parts of the world.

Limitations notwithstanding, the study raises some interesting possibilities. For one, it provides more evidence that people’s perception of the risk posed by Covid-19 does not correspond to the reality of the situation. For instance, it is surprising that the amount of information one obtains through media sources such as television, the internet, newspaper/magazines, and health officials is more closely linked to Covid-19 anxiety than factors such as one’s general health, age, and the presence or absence of chronic illness. It also supports the idea that traditional risk-takers — younger, less educated males — are among those least likely to exhibit Covid-19 anxiety.

There’s also insight to be found in the factors unrelated to Covid-19 anxiety. The researchers found income, perceived severity of the long-term consequences, perceived likelihood of surviving if infected, and beliefs regarding the government’s ability to effectively control the pandemic to be unrelated to Covid-19 anxiety. The finding that income was unrelated to Covid-19 anxiety is especially interesting, given that other recent research has found a significant relationship between socio-economic status and mental health during the pandemic.

The authors conclude, “Results indicate that the Polish population was well aware of the Covid-19 outbreak, and obtained their information primarily from television and Internet, which were also rated as trustworthy sources of information. Such media attention may have been a mixed blessing. On the one hand, rapid communication of the risks of infection would seem to promote healthy behavior change and reduce the spread of contagion. On the other hand, mass media coverage of a pandemic can potentially lead to mass hysteria and fear; as was observed during the 2005 outbreak of the avian flu during which greater television exposure was associated with greater fear of this illness.”

References

Malesza, M., & Kaczmarek, M. C. (2020). Predictors of anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic in Poland. Personality and individual differences, 170, 110419.