COVID-19 or Anxiety?

Tony Piro, MSW

There is no denying it — we are living in a very anxious time and are on higher alert than normal. With COVID-19 rates rising throughout the country, plans for traditional festive gatherings gone awry due to health protocols, the prospect of facing a long, cold, dark winter during the pandemic — and so many people having been directly impacted by COVID-19 — there is indeed a lot to be anxious about.

Some people might wonder if their symptoms of worry or anxiety may instead be symptoms of COVID-19.

According to Emerson’s Behavioral Health team, this question is very common and very appropriate. We met with Tony Piro, MSW, director of operations for Emerson's Behavioral Health team, to explore this some more. According to Tony, here are some symptoms of anxiety or worry that might also present as symptoms of COVID-19:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Nausea or vomiting
Reviewing each of these symptoms through the lens of anxiety/worry:
  • Shortness of breath: People who have common or temporary anxiety/worry do not usually experience shortness of breath. Shortness of breath can occur in people who are having an anxiety attack or an anxiety disorder. Shortness of breath is a sign of COVID-19 and might indicate that the virus symptoms are worsening. You should seek medical care if you experience shortness of breath.
  • Fatigue: This can be a symptom of worry or depression, as well as a symptom of COVID-19. It is best to monitor your symptoms and pay attention to when the fatigue started, how severe the fatigue is (would you describe your fatigue as “extreme” and prevents you from carrying about your normal routine, or are you able to function ok with it?) if fatigue is accompanied by other symptoms such as a fever, you should contact your doctor. Fatigue can be a symptom of many different things, including worry or simply not getting enough sleep — your doctor can determine if you should be evaluated.
  • Headaches: Headaches due to anxiety or worry might be a dull pain, severe, or a migraine. As with fatigue, pay attention to your headache symptoms and note if the headache is accompanied by other symptoms. Some people with COVID-19 experience a very severe, debilitating headache lasting several days.
  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea: Typically, people who have mild anxiety or worry do not experience nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms can be signs of an anxiety disorder. They are also symptoms that can appear in respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19.

The best advice is to take notes about your symptoms and call your doctor. Here are some things to note if you experience symptoms:

  • When did symptoms start?
  • How long have they lasted/have they worsened over time?
  • Have the symptoms affected your daily life?
  • Are they accompanied by other symptoms?
  • Has your lifestyle contributed to your symptoms? For example, if you have been up late watching TV for many nights in a row, this might contribute to fatigue.
Your physician does not want you to worry alone. With some symptoms of anxiety overlapping with some symptoms of COVID-19, it is best to ask your physician for their advice. They will evaluate you and let you know if you should be tested for COVID-19.

Keep in mind that rates of anxiety/worry in the general population are more common than COVID-19, and the pandemic has resulted in even higher rates of anxiety/worry. You are in good hands with your physician or your local urgent care center. It is always best to get symptoms checked out by a medical professional.  

Podcast: Mental Health and COVID-19

Tony Piro discusses mental health and COVID-19 and how to take care of yourself and your loved ones.

Subscribe to the Health Works Here Podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle Podcasts, and wherever podcasts can be heard.

Support Emerson Hospital

Thank you for reading our article on COVID-19 symptoms. As a community hospital we rely on the support of our community to continue to provide our local health care needs. We welcome your help in fostering a healthy community. If this content has helped you in an way, please consider making an online gift to Emerson Hospital so that we can continue to support our community’s health needs.

Related Resources