The coronavirus pandemic has made socialising in person nigh-on impossible for over a year now, so it’s no wonder many people are feeling nervous about restrictions easing and the emerging phenomenon of ‘Covid anxiety syndrome’ is on the rise.

If you suffer from it, you might feel reluctant to use public transport, apprehensive about developing a cough, or uneasy when in close proximity with other people.

But it’s not just about feeling a bit nervous at the prospect of mixing with strangers, it’s a mental health disorder that can affect work, school, and your daily routine.

It can have devastating impacts on a person’s life.

Dr Chris Hand of Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU) is a lecturer in psychology, and believes anxiety surrounding Covid-19 - while at some levels is to be expected - can become a serious cause for concern.

According to Dr Hand, Covid anxiety syndrome is a special type of psychological response related to the pandemic, which seems to be a specific reaction to the threat of infection and illness.

“It’s especially evident in individuals who were susceptible to anxiety and depression prior to the Covid-19 pandemic”, he explained. “It’s basically a malfunction of our typical coping strategies, and our general ability to monitor for signs of threat to ourselves and those around us.”

And at a time when many of us are likely on edge and seeking supplementary coping strategies, it’s important to keep an eye on any behaviours that develop which could prove damaging to our mental health.

“It’s hard to pick apart what is a typical response to the real and obvious threat of infection and illness, and what is problematic behaviour”, Dr Hand said. “It’s fair to say that many of us are a wee bit more hesitant about doing certain things than we would have been before.

HeraldScotland: Dr Chris HandDr Chris Hand

“For example, we might be less confident or comfortable in using public transport, we might all be a bit more aware of developing a cough or feeling unwell, we might be more likely to monitor how close we are to others and how close they are to us.”

Dr Hand also stressed that feeling apprehensive about our health is “perfectly normal”, but said it should be cause for concern if it becomes “chronic” and starts to disrupt other aspects of our lives.

For the GCU lecturer, if people “can’t think of anything else but getting infected or being ill” they may start engaging in unhealthy behaviours such as having a really strong reluctance to resume activities that have been deemed safe by public health authorities, or a heightened sense of fear and anxiety even in situations where all parties are following guidelines.

“For example, if someone has a very strong stress response - adrenalin rush, quickened heart rate, etc. - and fear of Covid infection if they see someone else in their supermarket aisle, even though it’s clear that they will not come within two metres at any point, they’re not touching the same goods, and both parties are wearing masks”, he added.

READ MORE: I've had both doses of the coronavirus vaccine — what now?

“Being a wee bit hesitant to go back to the pub, not really fancying getting on a bus is a typical response to a threat that is still very real, but completely refusing to leave the house for fear of contracting Covid, bleaching door handles multiple times a day are problems.”

But Dr Hand said there are easy ways to ease anxiety if you find yourself feeling worried or uncomfortable.

“Following the guidelines as laid out by our local health authorities is a big help”, he explained. “This helps you and helps others around you manage their own anxieties.

“Only do things that you are comfortable with – if you’re not ready to get out and about in busy places, then hold off for a while.”

Dr Hand also emphasised that just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you have to.

“Say no to invitations if you’re not fully comfortable with the activity or the location or the other people who might be involved”, he said.

HeraldScotland: Some people may be feeling anxious about going to the supermarket or using public transportSome people may be feeling anxious about going to the supermarket or using public transport

“The best thing that we can do is take control of our own situations. Hobbies are helpful – reading, cooking, jigsaws, watching fictional TV and films, listening to music, singing, dancing, being active – all of these things can be really helpful.

“And try to take breaks from the news cycle – maybe allot yourself a narrow time window per day for catching up on any Covid news.”

Crucially, Dr Hand said it is totally normal to be apprehensive about illness - especially due to the way the Covid-19 pandemic has dominated our lives over the past year - and he is hopeful we’ll soon be ‘back to normal’.

“As restrictions ease, we’ll adapt”, he said. “We’ll start to do things in more ‘psychologically busy’ environments, we’ll tune out the Covid-thinking and start to enjoy other things again.”

However, that doesn’t mean that everyone will spring back to normality at the same pace, and some of us will need longer to adjust.

“It’s important that we are all respectful of the fact that different people will take longer to adjust, and that for a number of people, it may be a very difficult transition”, he explained. “Not everyone experienced the last 14 months or so equally, and neither will we all experience these next steps equally.”

New research suggests one in five may have Covid anxiety syndrome, where they’re locked in a state of continuous anxiety and fear of contracting the virus.

The research, by London South Bank University (LSBU) found one in five of 286 UK-based survey participants scored highly on the Covid-19 anxiety syndrome scale in February and used forms of coping such as a constant attention to threat, worry, avoidance and excessive checking.

Fear of catching the virus meant  54% of those surveyed strongly endorsed avoiding public transport, 49% avoided touching things in public spaces, 38% tried not to go out to public places, 14% paid close attention to others displaying possible virus symptoms, and 9% strongly endorsed reading virus news even when they were supposed to be working.

You can read more tips from the NHS on how to reduce anxiety surrounding Covid here.