Reviewed by Jill Johnson, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
It’s been more than two years since the COVID-19 pandemic first began, with tens of millions of Americans of all ages and backgrounds affected.
COVID-19 can cause a wide range of symptoms, from fever and fatigue to muscle aches, a sore throat and even a loss of taste and/or smell. While many of these symptoms improve over time, some can be persistent — a phenomenon that’s often referred to as “long COVID.”
For many people, COVID-19 not only causes physical symptoms, but also mental health issues, including anxiety after COVID.
In fact, research suggests that up to 26 percent of people develop mental health symptoms after being diagnosed with COVID-19.
When COVID-19 infection causes anxiety, it can take a serious toll on your well-being. The good news is that anxiety disorders, including those caused or worsened by COVID-19, are generally treatable.
Below, we’ve discussed the factors that may contribute to post-COVID anxiety, as well as what you may experience if you develop an anxiety disorder after suffering from COVID-19.
We’ve also shared several actionable tips and techniques that you can use to deal with anxiety, from psychotherapy and medication to at-home relaxation techniques, changes to your lifestyle and more.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been going on for more than two years, and in this time, it’s had an incredible impact on the physical and mental health of the general public.
In addition to its well-known physical symptoms, COVID-19 can cause mental health problems, both in people infected and in people who feel concerned about the potential effects of the virus on their well-being.
In research published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction, experts noted that many common mental health conditions, including depression, sleep disorders and anxiety, have become prevalent issues around the world in the wake of COVID-19.
A large part of this is due to COVID-19 itself, with anxiety a known and frequently reported issue among people affected by long COVID.
In a study published in The Lancet in May of 2021, researchers analyzed data from more than 236 thousand people diagnosed with COVID-19 and found that 33.62 percent were diagnosed with a neurological or psychiatric issue in the following six months.
In short, if you’ve recently recovered from COVID-19 and still have symptoms of anxiety, you’re certainly not alone.
Another part of the significant increase in the prevalence of anxiety could also be related to the effects of the sudden, often significant changes in daily life that most people have been through since the pandemic first broke out.
For example, research indicates that social isolation — a major risk factor for numerous mental health disorders — has increased significantly over the past two years.
In a multi-country study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in 2021, researchers surveyed upwards of 20 thousand people in 101 countries about the effects of COVID public health interventions on their well-being.
They found that 21 percent of people surveyed reported experiencing severe loneliness — an increase from just six percent who reported feeling severely lonely prior to the pandemic.
Loneliness is a major risk factor for mental disorders. Not only can being lonely affect mental and cognitive health by itself, but it can also augment the effects of disorders such as anxiety and major depression.
Put simply, while we don’t have all the answers about COVID-19 and anxiety, we do know that both COVID itself and the effects it can have on your lifestyle, such as social isolation, can add up to an increased risk of anxiety and other mental health issues.
Currently, experts haven’t yet established a clear set of symptoms for “post-COVID anxiety” or other mental health issues that can develop following COVID-19 infection.
Many people who develop anxiety after recovering from COVID-19 report symptoms similar to those of existing anxiety disorders, such as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Common generalized anxiety disorder symptoms include:
Persistent feelings of worry that are difficult to control
Feeling wound-up, on-edge and as if you can’t relax
Being irritable and feeling as if you have a “short fuse”
Finding it difficult to concentrate on specific tasks
Sleep problems, such as difficulty falling or staying asleep
Muscle aches, headaches, digestive issues and other physical symptoms
Other forms of anxiety can involve severe symptoms that may develop in certain situations. For example, panic disorder — a common anxiety disorder — can cause a pounding heartbeat, chest pain, sweating and feelings of impending doom that can occur without warning.
Our guide to the symptoms of anxiety in women goes into more detail about the symptoms you may experience if you develop anxiety after COVID-19.
Because the COVID-19 pandemic is still going on, we don’t yet have authoritative research on how long anxiety symptoms can last after recovery from the initial infection.
Currently, most research suggests that the symptoms of anxiety can persist for several months after the physical symptoms of COVID-19 start to improve.
For example, research published in the Journal of Infection noted that 35 to 60 percent of people affected by COVID-19 experienced at least one post-COVID symptom, with upwards of 16 percent of all people surveyed displaying anxiety symptoms seven months after recovering from COVID.
The same study also found that many people experienced depressive symptoms and difficulties related to sleep seven months after recovering.
Other research has found that people continue to experience symptoms of psychiatric disorders for as long as one year after recovering from COVID-19.
For example, one small study published in the journal European Neuropsychopharmacology in December of 2021 noted that certain people displayed critical levels of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder more than one year after recovering from the initial illness.
Like with many things related to COVID, we’re still working out what causes COVID-19 anxiety to persist, as well as which factors play a role in the duration of anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety can take a major toll on your mental well-being and quality of life, but it’s almost always treatable. From relaxation techniques to medication, a range of treatments can help you to feel better and gain control over your anxiety after having COVID.
One way to deal with anxiety is to keep yourself physically active by walking, going on bike rides or spending time at the gym.
Physical activity can reduce anxiety in several ways. First, it can help to distract you from events and thoughts that cause you to feel anxious. Second, it can reduce muscle tension, reducing the effects of your body on anxiety.
Third, increasing your heart rate via exercise can stimulate the release of natural chemicals that enhance your moods and activate areas of your brain responsible for executive function.
In addition to its physical benefits, exercise can also help you to build resilience and better deal with difficult situations.
Research shows that regular physical activity is associated with a reduced risk of experiencing panic, agoraphobia and posttraumatic stress disorder.
If you’re prone to anxiety after COVID, try adding a short 30-minute walk, yoga session or other form of light exercise to your daily routine.
Mindfulness meditation is a form of meditation that involves focusing your full attention on what’s happening around you, then accepting the sensations and feelings of your current situation with no judgment or reaction.
Mindfulness-based forms of therapy are used to treat a wide range of mental health conditions, including depression, addiction and anxiety. Although there’s still a lot that we don’t yet know about mindfulness, research suggests that it may help to improve anxiety symptoms.
One advantage of mindfulness meditation is that it’s something you can do by yourself at home in just a few minutes a day, or with others as part of a local meditation group.
Whether you prefer coffee, tea or an energy drink or two, it’s okay to consume a small amount of caffeine daily. However, research suggests that drinking large amounts of caffeine can make anxiety worse, particularly if you have an existing anxiety disorder.
In a review and meta-analysis published in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, researchers found that drinking more than the equivalent of five cups of coffee a day induces panic attacks in people with panic disorder.
The same amount of caffeine consumption was also associated with increased levels of anxiety in people without existing anxiety disorders.
To avoid elevated anxiety symptoms, try to either limit your daily caffeine intake to a cup or two of coffee or cut out caffeine completely.
Sometimes, the best way to deal with anxiety is to give yourself a night off by eating something indulgent, binge-watching your favorite TV series and relaxing with a warm bath.
While it’s important to be organized and disciplined in life, it’s just as important to practice good self-care by letting yourself rest, relax and recover when necessary.
This could mean taking it easy when you feel overwhelmed, writing in a journal to give yourself an outlet for stress and frustration, or just being your own best friend by providing support when you feel like you need it most.
Our list of self-care tips for women shares simple but effective approaches that you can use to calm yourself and prevent post-COVID anxiety from affecting you when you’re feeling stressed, tired or just overwhelmed by life.
Psychotherapy, or talk therapy, is one of the most effective forms of treatment for mental health issues, including anxiety disorders.
If you have persistent anxiety after COVID recovery that doesn’t seem to improve with changes to your lifestyle or new habits, talking to a therapist may help you to make progress and reduce the severity of your symptoms.
Several forms of therapy are used to treat anxiety, including cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which involves learning new methods of thinking and behaving to overcome your mental health difficulties.
You can access psychotherapy by asking your primary care provider for a mental health referral, or by contacting a mental health provider in your area.
We also offer online individual therapy, allowing you to connect with a licensed therapist to take part in private sessions without needing to make a trip to your therapist’s office.
If you’d like to get professional help for anxiety but don’t quite feel ready to take part in individual therapy, you may want to consider joining an anxiety support group.
Group therapy offers numerous benefits, from giving you an opportunity to feel heard to allowing you to take in new perspectives. Research shows that group therapy is generally effective, even when people with different disorders participate in therapy as part of a single group.
You can take part in group therapy locally by searching for anxiety, stress or depression support groups in your area. We also offer anonymous support groups online, allowing you to participate in a support group from the privacy and comfort of your own home.
If your post-COVID anxiety doesn’t get better with lifestyle changes, healthier habits and therapy alone, your mental health provider may suggest using medication.
Several medications are used to treat anxiety, including benzodiazepines, antidepressants and beta-blockers. Some of these medications work better than others for certain types of anxiety, so your mental health provider will likely suggest the most appropriate medication for you.
Many anxiety medications can help to reduce the severity of your symptoms and prevent severe anxiety-related adverse events, such as panic attacks. Your mental health provider may suggest combining medication with psychotherapy or changes to your lifestyle for optimal results.
We offer evidence-based medication for anxiety and depression online, following a consultation with a licensed mental health provider who will determine if a prescription is appropriate.
For some people, COVID-19 comes and goes without lasting issues. For others, it can result in long-term physical issues and mental health concerns, including anxiety symptoms.
If you have anxiety after COVID recovery that doesn’t improve on its own, it’s important to seek help. You can do this by talking to your healthcare provider or connecting directly with a mental health expert online using our mental health services.
Over time, even the most severe anxiety can get better. You can learn more about how you can get help with our guide to which type of doctor you should talk to for anxiety, as well as our free mental health resources and content.
Start your mental wellness journey today.