COVID Stress Syndrome: What It Is and Why It Matters

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Emerging research defines a unique pandemic-related constellation.

What Is Stress?
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Pandemics are unlike other disasters due to their broad scope and prolonged, fluctuating timeline. COVID-19 (caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus) is shaping up to be unlike prior coronavirus infections, impacting multiple organ systems, not just the lungs, causing widespread problems related to blood clotting abnormalities and inflammatory reactions.

In particular, the virus crosses the blood-brain barrier, resulting in myriad neuropsychiatric problems ranging from depression and anxiety to psychotic reactions to delirium and cerebrovascular accidents (strokes) to chronic executive dysfunction. The mental health impact of COVID-19 is of increasing concern. In addition to the direct effects on the brain, the COVID-19 pandemic is causing unprecedented psychological distress, threatening a “crashing wave” of mental health problems.

Given the uniqueness of COVID-19, conventional ways of describing the psychiatric impact, while relevant, are not complete. Contributory constructs such as PTSD, Acute Stress Reaction, Major Depression, Adjustment Disorder, Anxiety Disorders do not fully capture all the dimensions of this pandemic.

The COVID Stress Scale and Syndrome
Researchers Steven Tayor, Caeleigh Landry, Michelle Pluszek, Thomas Fergus, Dean McKay and Gordon Asmundson previously developed a model of “COVID Stress Syndrome” (CSS, 2020), identifying five distinct yet interrelated elements:

DAN: Fear of danger from COVID-19 and getting infected by different means e.g. touching contaminated objects, breathing contaminated air.
SEC: Worry about the social and financial impact (socioeconomic costs) of the virus.
XEN: Marked concern that foreigners spread the disease.
TSS: Related symptoms of traumatic stress.
CHE: Compulsive checking and seeking reassurance.
In the current study (2020), the original work was extended to look at important correlations of CSS with demographic factors, depression, anxiety, and other important measures.

Using an online approach at the end of March 2020, researchers surveyed a diverse group of 6,854 adults whose average age was 49.8 years from the US and Canada, who completed the following measures:

Demographics, including having been infected and knowing people who were infected
Patient Health Questionnaire-4
Short Health Anxiety Inventory
Anxiety Sensitivity Index-3
Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale-12
Perceived Vulnerability to Disease Scale
Disgust Propensity and Sensitivity Scale-Revised
Obsessive-Compulsive Inventory
COVID Stress Scales: Looking at belief in COVID conspiracy theories, COVID-related avoidant behaviors, hygiene behaviors, and stockpiling/panic-buying.
Measures of self-isolation and related factors (emotions, financial stress, etc.), and isolation-related coping strategies. SOURCE

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On July 13, 2020
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