COVID-19: New disease and the largest new human stressor


  • Sandor Szabo School of Medicine, American University of Health Sciences; School of Medicine, University of California
  • Pantelina Zourna-Hargaden School of Medicine, American University of Health Sciences

Ключевые слова:

stress, distress, COVID-19, public health, epidemiology, stress-related diseases


Biological stress is the “nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it”. By definition, stress should be caused by different factors (stressors) eliciting similar neuroendocrine changes as well as bodily and behavioural alterations. COVID-19 (coronavirus disease—2019) caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus is a new and complex infectious disease. Its sudden and unexpected appearance in late 2019 and early 2020 found most countries unprepared; hence, it is not surprising that the new disease created much confusion, panic and chaos that almost predictably lead to stress. The multifactorial stress etiology is almost a given in a pandemic like this, e.g., anxiety about getting infected, uncertainty about what the future may bring, depression, isolation, family arguments in close quarters, real or perceived food shortages, unemployment, reduced income or its total loss, all culminating in increased domestic violence, suicides and stress-related diseases, such as heart attacks (i.e., myocardial infarction). The first scientific publications documenting these changes, especially in older populations, came from China in early and mid-2020. These results, originating from online surveys and interview-based assessments in various countries showed 20–40% increase in perceived distress, especially anxiety, with a substantial increase in PTSD. Fortunately, both the lay press and scientific publications advocate stress-prevention techniques that range from the “relaxation response” to yoga and specific physical exercises. The long-term health effects and public health consequences of increased distress due to COVID-19 remain to be seen and must be investigated.

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