The coronavirus pandemic is a devastating mass trauma—but some people with anxiety and depression have seen their symptoms improve.Laura BradleyEntertainment ReporterUpdated Apr. 06, 2020 10:27AM ET / Published Apr. 05, 2020 5:10AM ET
When the novel coronavirus lockdown first began in early March, Grace Weinstein noticed something strange. In the span of 48 hours, three people reached out to her because they’d experienced an anxiety or panic attack. Weinstein has a diagnosed panic disorder, in addition to anxiety and depression—so for her newly distressed friends, she was an obvious person to consult.
But Weinstein herself has not had even one panic attack since the quarantines started. In fact, she’s been doing pretty well—so much so that she’s become a stabilizer for those around her.
“It’s suddenly becoming like a steady pace throughout this,” Weinstein told The Daily Beast during a recent phone interview. “Where people can come and [say], ‘I’m freaking out. I don’t know why you’re not freaking out, but please tell me what to do and how to get to where you are.’”
“To some degree I feel like I’m conditioned for this,” Weinstein said, “based on things I’ve experienced in the past.”
As COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, has spread around the globe, many people have found themselves struggling to cope, regardless of their mental health histories. And to be clear, many if not most depression and anxiety patients have seen their symptoms worsen. But a fraction have, paradoxically, actually felt their symptoms alleviate. Like Weinstein, I am one of those people.
It’s not that I’m unaware of the terrible toll the global pandemic is exacting. I’ve cried about it late at night, like I imagine most have. I’ve worried for my grandmother, and boiled with rage as various wealthy blowhards suggested that the best thing she and other elderly people could do for this country is to die. I’m furious at the gross incompetence and indifference to human life within our country’s leadership. I check the news often—too often—staring at my phone in disbelief every night into the early hours of the morning.
And yet, when I wake up, I don’t feel as sluggish as I normally do. I find it easier to get out of bed. The intrusive thoughts that normally buzz around my brain like flies on a feeding frenzy have disappeared. My family is healthy, I tell myself. I am healthy. We are all doing what we can. And for whatever reason, that has been enough. My mood has stabilized after years of oscillating between paralyzing anxiety and debilitating, at times suicidal, depression. Despite everything, I realize, I am OK. More OK than I have been in years.
That’s a strange thing to admit. But evidently I’m not alone.
Elizabeth Cohen, who has practiced psychology for 15 years with a specialty in anxiety, estimates that 20 percent of her clients have actually seen their symptoms alleviate in recent weeks. Roughly the same portion have seen their symptoms worsen, she says, while the remainder have seen little change. Elizabeth Visceglia, a psychiatrist who has practiced for 16 years (and, full disclosure, is the wife of our editor-in-chief Noah Shachtman), has not seen such a substantial number of her clients’ symptoms alleviate amid the outbreak—only one out of 20 she’d seen during the week of our interview fell into that category. But both offered several possible reasons that a person with a history of depression and anxiety might find some relief at a time like this.
A big part of anxiety, Cohen pointed out, is the anticipation of the unknown—worry about something bad that will inevitably happen. With the outbreak, she said, “a lot of people are saying, ‘The terrible thing happened.’ So in a lot of ways you’re not in the anticipating state.”