Signs of Emotional Distress in Loved Ones During COVID-19

They may not *say* they’re anxious, but they might show it.

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting everyone a little differently. You may have lost hobbies, jobs, or even loved ones. But despite these differences, there’s one thing everyone can relate to: “People are most likely experiencing more anxiety than they're used to during this pandemic,” says Susan Samuels, MD, psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian and Weill Cornell Medicine.

You want to keep an eye on your loved ones and make sure they’re coping well, but of course, not everyone is going to be open and upfront about how they’re feeling. However, even if someone is saying they are “fine,” there are some other ways anxiety and distress will present themselves. 

1. Increased irritability

Anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system and the infamous fight-or-flight response in the brain. This releases hormones that tighten your muscles, raise your blood pressure, and make you extremely attentive to “threats” around you. 

In real life, this may present as irritation because the overstimulation of the brain can make small triggers feel incredibly aggravating. “They might be a little bit more easily frustrated or angered,” says Dr. Samuels.

2. Physical symptoms of anxiety

When someone is in a prolonged state of anxiety, it starts to have a physical effect on the body. “A lot of times, anxiety can present itself with somatic symptoms,” says Dr. Samuels. "When people are really anxious, they sometimes have really bad headaches or stomach aches.”

Other physical symptoms of anxiety include lightheadedness, nausea, migraines, and muscle pain (especially in the neck and upper back). Learn more about physical symptoms of anxiety here.

“It is incredibly important if you feel that your anxiety is unmanageable to reach out for help,” says Dr. Samuels. “We've got to get through this by supporting each other and doing the best we can for each other and ourselves.”

If you notice someone is showing signs of distress during the COVID-19 pandemic, these tips may help:

Susan Samuels, MD

This video features Susan Samuels, MD. Dr. Samuels is an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and clinical pediatrics at Weill Cornell Medicine and an assistant attending psychiatrist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Duration: 0:56. Last Updated On: May 11, 2020, 12:51 p.m.
Reviewed by: Preeti Parikh, MD . Review date: May 7, 2020
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