Anxiety about COVID-19 is common. For most people this is an appropriate response to the loss of livelihoods and loved-ones, disruptions to social networks, and uncertainty about the future. However, for others these anxieties relate to contracting the virus itself, a phenomenon termed COVID anxiety. Little is known about the characteristics of people with severe COVID anxiety or the impact it has on their daily lives.
We conducted a two-phase cross-sectional survey of people aged 18 or over who were living in United Kingdom, self-identified as anxious about COVID-19, and had a score of ≥9 on the Coronavirus Anxiety Scale. We recruited participants nationally through online adverts and locally via primary care services in London. Data on demographic and clinical factors were used in multiple regression modelling to examine the greatest contributors to functional impairment, poor health-related quality of life and protective behaviours in this sample of individuals with severe COVID anxiety.
We recruited 306 people with severe COVID anxiety between January and September 2021. Most were female (n = 246, 81.2%); they had a median age of 41 (range = 18–83). The majority of participants also had generalised anxiety (n = 270, 91.5%), depression (n = 247, 85.5%), and a quarter (n = 79, 26.3%) reported a physical health condition which put them at increased risk of hospitalisation with COVID-19. Half had severe social dysfunction (n = 151, 52.4%). One in ten reported never leaving their home, one in three washed all items brought into their house, one in five washed their hands constantly, and one in five of those with children reported not sending them to school because of fears of COVID-19. Increasing co-morbid depressive symptoms best explained functional impairment and poor quality of life after controlling for other factors.
This study highlights the high degree of co-occuring mental health problems, and the extent of functional impairment and poor health-related quality of life among people with severe COVID anxiety. Further research is needed to establish the course of severe COVID anxiety as the pandemic progresses, and steps that can be taken to support people who experience this distress.