For many in the UK, the current easing of restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic is being welcomed with a mixture of joy and relief after over a year of various national 'lockdowns'.

Yet for many others, the re-opening of society presents its own challenges in the form of anxiety created by the presence of the Covid-19 virus and its impact.

That's according to a new study released by Kingston University (KU) and London South Bank University.

A survey conducted by the research team found that one in five of the 286 UK-based participants scored highly on a Covid-19 Anxiety Syndrome Scale used by the researchers on the project in February this year.

The project defined Covid-19 anxiety syndrome as "worrying about catching the virus or about loved ones catching it and having coping behaviours that include excessive avoidance of certain situations, frequent symptom checking and attention to threat (for example, if others are displaying symptoms of the virus)."

It found that younger people, or those who had underlying chronic health conditions, were most likely to suffer from heightened anxiety about the virus "regardless of gender or vaccination status".

Among the key findings, researchers found that:

  • 54 per cent of participants strongly endorsed avoiding public transport because of a fear of contracting the virus; 
  • 49 per cent strongly endorsed avoiding touching things in public spaces because of a fear of the virus; 
  • 38 per cent strongly endorsed avoiding going out to public places because of a fear of the virus; 
  • 14 per cent strongly endorsed paying close attention to others displaying possible symptoms of the virus; 
  • nine per cent strongly endorsed reading about the news relating to the virus at the cost of work engagement.

Professor Ana Nikčević, Professor of Psychology at Kingston University, collaborated on the research with Professor Marcantonio Spada and Professor Ian Albery, based at the Centre for Addictive Behaviours at London South Bank University.

"The reasons behind this are complex and require further research," Nikčević said.

"One contributing reason may be that young people’s routines were more severely impacted by the lockdown and associated measures.

"Another explanation may be that younger people have greater exposure to social media and other news sources about Covid-19 which might increase feelings of anxiety," she added.

The findings also showed that how people coped with the fear of contracting the virus was important to their psychological state.

"Our research highlights that some forms of coping may exacerbate this fear and heighten anxiety," , Professor Marcantonio Spada, Professor of Addictive Behaviours and Mental Health at London South Bank University, said.

"We observed that the higher the levels of Covid-19 anxiety syndrome, the more likely it is that those people will be aware of the threat of catching the virus.

"This group of people also find it harder to disengage from these threats, which may make a return to normal daily living harder," he added.

Clinicians can help by encouraging people to try to reduce the frequency of worrying about the virus or checking for symptoms.

"With such a successful vaccination programme in place, it is now safer for all of us to start reintegrating. The pandemic’s ‘prescribed’ behaviours that originally kept us safe, such as avoidance of public places, need to be gradually discontinued," Nikčević added.

"We would expect that most people will be able to reintegrate in time. Further research is needed to understand how large the minority of people who continue to find this difficult will be as UK society returns to normal."