During a pandemic, a person may feel overwhelmed and experience high levels of anxiety. Anxiety can cause chest pain and other physical symptoms. For this reason, a person may be concerned that their symptoms mean that they have COVID-19.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) note that people might find the current pandemic stressful and experience anxiety.
Experiencing feelings of stress and anxiety during a pandemic can worsen any existing mental health conditions the person has and cause fear and concern over their own health and the health of their loved ones.
Anxiety can cause physical symptoms, and some of these may be similar to the symptoms of COVID-19.
This article will discuss the differences between the symptoms of anxiety and those of COVID-19.
All data and statistics are based on publicly available data at the time of publication. Some information may be out of date.
Feelings of anxiety can range from mild to severe.
The National Alliance on Mental Health suggest that most people with anxiety will experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- having a sense of apprehension or dread
- feeling tense or jumpy
- being restless or irritable
- anticipating the worst
- watching for signs of danger
However, anxiety can also cause physical symptoms.
When a person is anxious, they can experience a panic attack. This occurs when the body experiences intense physical and mental symptoms.
Symptoms of a panic attack can include:
- chest pain
- feeling like the heart is racing or pounding
- feeling faint or dizzy
- sweating and hot flashes
- shortness of breath or a feeling of choking
- shaky limbs
- tingling in the fingers
- a dry mouth
- ringing in the ears
- butterflies in the stomach
- disassociation, or feeling as though one is not connected to one’s body
A person may be concerned that experiencing these symptoms means that they have COVID-19.
According to the CDC, the main symptoms of COVID-19 include:
- fever or chills
- shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- muscle aches
- new loss of taste or smell
- a sore throat
- a runny nose
Can COVID-19 cause chest pain?
A person can experience chest pain if they have COVID-19. However, if a person is experiencing chest pain along with COVID-19, they should seek emergency medical care.
The CDC advise that if a person has any of the following symptoms, they need emergency medical care immediately:
- difficulty breathing
- persistent pain or pressure in the chest
- an inability to wake or stay awake
- bluish or purplish lips or face
The table below outlines the differences between chest pain associated with panic attacks and chest pain associated with COVID-19:
|Duration of chest pain||5–20 minutes, but it can last for an hour||continual and persistent|
|Type of pain||sharp, stabbing chest pain||tight chest pain and feelings of pressure|
|Accompanied by?||accompanies mental symptoms or other physical symptoms||may accompany cough and flu-like symptoms|
It is best to err on the side of caution and seek medical attention for any forms of chest pain. This is a common symptom of heart attack.
The table below provides a comparison of the physical symptoms of anxiety or panic attacks and the symptoms of COVID-19:
|Shortness of breath||✓||✓|
|Nausea and vomiting||✓||✓|
|Sweating without fever||✓||x|
|A sore throat||x||✓|
|New loss of taste or smell||x||✓|
|A dry cough||x||✓|
If a person is experiencing a panic attack, the National Health Service (NHS) suggest that they should:
- not fight the attack
- stay where they are, if possible
- try to remember to breathe slowly and deeply
- try to remind themselves that the attack will pass
- try to focus on positive, peaceful, and relaxing images
It is also important to remember that it is not life threatening, even though it may feel like it is at the time.
After the panic attack has passed, the person should think about self-care and pay attention to what their body might need, such as rest or food.
People can also try:
- Meditating: Actively visualize serene locations and concentrate on breathing.
- Playing music: According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), listening to soft, calming music can lower blood pressure and relax the mind and body.
- Concentrating on each of the senses: This could mean chewing on mint-flavored gum, touching something soft, or smelling something pleasant. This helps keep a person grounded.
Treatment options for anxiety and panic disorder include:
- cognitive behavioral therapy
- antianxiety medications (to help reduce panic attacks)
- beta-blockers (to help relieve the physical symptoms of anxiety)
However, therapy and medications can be expensive. According to the ADAA, there are some low cost alternatives. These include:
Some therapists can offer treatment on a sliding scale, meaning that they charge based on a person’s income. A person can call the therapist’s office to find out about payment options.
There are also federally funded health centers. This means that a person can pay what they can afford to do so based on their income. People can find a federally funded health center using this tool.
Some universities and colleges also offer low cost therapy. In these cases, a person can ask about therapy sessions with graduate students under supervision. However, it is important to note that these therapy sessions may not always be available to the public.
Many pharmaceutical companies offer programs for those who do not have insurance.
It is also important to note that generic medications tend to cost less than brand name medications. A person can ask a doctor to write a prescription that means they can get generic drugs.
People can check their eligibility here.
Another potential option is Medicaid. Medicaid is a social welfare or social protection program that covers the cost of mental health treatments.
If a person has symptoms of COVID-19, the CDC recommend:
- staying at home
- resting and remaining hydrated
- taking over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen
If a person is having frequent panic attacks, they may wish to see a healthcare professional.
The healthcare professional can ensure that the person gets the help they need to be able to cope with anxiety and panic attacks. This could include trying therapy, taking medications, or treating any underlying health conditions.
Some clinics and pharmacies offer low cost options. Telehealth is also a good option for those with limited access to clinics.
The CDC suggest that if a person thinks that they might have symptoms of COVID-19, they should call a doctor to find out the appropriate next steps.
The current pandemic may increase the likelihood of experiencing anxiety.
Some people experience physical symptoms of anxiety, and some of these symptoms can be similar to those of COVID-19.
However, there are differences between the symptoms of each condition.
A person can see a doctor if they find that they are experiencing anxiety. If a person is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, they should call a doctor to see what their next steps should be.
If a person experiences any chest pain, it is best to see a doctor. This symptom could indicate a heart attack.