Presentation and management of anxiety in individuals with acute symptomatic or asymptomatic COVID-19 infection, and in the post-COVID-19 recovery phase

Genoveva Uzunova, Stefano Pallanti, Eric Hollander

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


COVID-19 is associated with neuropsychiatric complications, the most frequent one being anxiety. Multiple biological and psychosocial factors contribute to anxiety in COVID-19. Among the biological factors, stress, genetics, gender, immune system, resilience, anosmia, hypogeusia, and central nervous system infection with SARS-CoV-2 are key. Anxiety is a complication of COVID-19 that may exacerbate the infection course, and the infection may exacerbate anxiety. We present the mechanisms of anxiety in symptomatic or asymptomatic COVID-19. We discuss the presentation of anxiety in patients without or with prior psychiatric illness, and with co-morbidities. Timely diagnosis and management of anxiety in COVID-19 patients is important. Given the frequent complication of COVID-19 with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome and Intensive Care Unit stay, anxiety may be a long-term complication. We review the diagnostic tools for anxiety in COVID-19, and summarise pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatments. We provide recommendations for diagnosis, treatment, prevention and follow up of anxiety in COVID-19.Key points Patients with COVID-19 (symptomatic or asymptomatic) exhibit a high frequency of neuropsychiatric complications with highest percentage attributed to anxiety. Multiple biological and psychosocial risk factors for anxiety exist in COVID-19-ill individuals. Biological risk factors include stress, resilience, genetics, gender, age, immune system, direct infection of the central nervous system (CNS) with SARS-CoV-2, comorbid psychiatric and general medical illnesses, ARDS and ICU stay. Anosmia and hypogeusia are COVID-19-specific anxiety risk factors. Knowledge of the anxiety risk factors is essential to focus on timely interventions, because anxiety may be a complication of and exacerbate the COVID-19 course. An inverse correlation exists between resilience and anxiety because of COVID-19, and therefore efforts should be made to increase resilience in COVID-19 patients. In COVID-19, important anxiety mechanism is neuroinflammation resulting from activation of the immune system and an ensuing cytokine storm. The general approach to management of anxiety in COVID-19 should be compassionate, similar to that during trauma or disaster, with efforts focussed on instilling a sense of hope and resilience. In selecting pharmacological treatment of anxiety, the stress response and immune system effects should be key. Medications with cardio-respiratory adverse effects should be avoided in patients with respiratory problems. Anxiety is a disorder that will require for long-term follow up at least one month after COVID-19.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)115-131
Number of pages17
JournalInternational Journal of Psychiatry in Clinical Practice
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • Anxiety
  • COVID-19
  • acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • anti-anxiety therapy
  • immune-inflammatory
  • resilience

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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