Can high levels of anxiety mimic Covid-19 symptoms?

A sudden cough or a runny nose that we may often dismiss can become a cause of worry during this pandemic.

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By: Nandika Ravi SAY News · 

As the lock down continues in several parts of the world, in hopes to plank the Covid-19 curve, it has started to take a toll on people’s mental health. Triggering stress and anxiety in many. Being cooped up inside for several weeks with so much time at hand, has been contributing to the underlying anxious thoughts.


Photo Credit: Snigdha Nagabhyrava
Eesha Iyer

Eesha Iyer, is a freelance designer in Hyderabad, India.  A week after the World Health Organization (W.H.O) declared Covid-19 as a pandemic, Iyer started showing some symptoms similar to that of the virus itself. Not realizing that this could just be psychological.

“I was quite petrified for the main reason that I live with my parents. Both my parents work. My mother is a teacher, that is where she has so many people around her. I didn’t feel too scared for myself as much as I was feeling scared for my parents, as they are closer to the susceptible age.”

Iyer says that she has no history of mental health issues but feels that this pandemic has caused her to stress out. The rapidly evolving scenario of Covid-19 started taking over her thoughts, which made her to self monitor the slightest cough or any physical sensation.

“It did give me enough stress to make me feel that I’m probably having symptoms myself, also because my mother was feeling something similar. And I just started freaking out thinking I have it[Covid].”

The professional view.

Suze Berkhout a practicing psychiatrist at Toronto General hospital says that anxiety is sort of a warning system that our body has, it is meant to let us know when a threat is around us. . Berkhout says this could be a combination of both emotional and physical sensations.

“As people are hearing about what’s going on in the news and the symptoms and they’re becoming worried. The sense that there is a threat in the environment gets heightened. And particularly when it’s an uncertainty and an uncertain threat, then your sense of how well you can cope with it goes down. Then the physical sensations that come along with anxiety start really being noticeable to people.”

Why do some people experience this?

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According to psychiatrists, there are several anxiety spectrum disorders that can come through when people are worried about their health or when they’re worried about particular symptoms that they have. Illness anxiety disorder is when people are worried about coming down with some kind of serious illness, even though there’s no reason to think that they might have that illness and they’re not usually reassured by normal tests. There’s also something called somatic symptom disorder, this is when people have actual symptoms of the disease, but they might be very benign symptoms.

Berkhout says that these disorders are less common,“I think the much more common thing would be people feeling rundown. This is your flight, fight, and freeze system. Those symptoms of the anxiety tend to overlap with some of the symptoms of the respiratory infections.”

Berkhout adds that our new COVID-19 protocols exaggerates the problem.

“Being in social distancing protocols, being out of regular routine, the kids are out of school and they’re all of a sudden in the house and you’re trying to do something from home. All these sudden by distinctive lifestyle changes can definitely flare up generalized anxiety.”

Iyer, after experiencing anxiety immediately contacted their family doctor, who clarified that the symptoms may be more psychological and induced by stress ; not the virus. This validation from a credible source, made it a little easier for her to deal with the situation.

How to fight this feeling?

Once Iyer understood that the symptoms that she was experiencing were benign, she started to find ways to calm her anxious thoughts.

“I dance everyday, that’s like the only outlet for my brain. When I dance, I sweat out all my worry. But besides this, one thing that me and my mother made sure to practice and what really helped us was meditation and yoga.”

Berkhout says that some people may have a lot of intense panic, where you are really not able to think clearly at all. In that case, doing things that are distracting, like splashing cold water on your face, putting an ice pack on your neck or in your head, can sometimes help relive those thoughts.

Here are top five ways on how you can keep anxious thoughts at bay and maintain a good mental hygiene according to experts:

About the Author:

Nandika Ravi is a multimedia journalist from Seneca college.  Covering current affairs and reporting live on multiple beats like health, politics and environment for SAY News .

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