Emotional adaptation during a crisis: decline in anxiety and depression after the initial weeks of COVID-19 in the United States

Anastasia Shuster, Madeline O’Brien, Yi Luo, Laura A. Berner, Ofer Perl, Matthew Heflin, Kaustubh Kulkarni, Dongil Chung, Soojung Na, Vincenzo G. Fiore, Xiaosi Gu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

20 Scopus citations


Crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic are known to exacerbate depression and anxiety, though their temporal trajectories remain under-investigated. The present study aims to investigate fluctuations in depression and anxiety using the COVID-19 pandemic as a model crisis. A total of 1512 adults living in the United States enrolled in this online study beginning April 2, 2020 and were assessed weekly for 10 weeks (until June 4, 2020). We measured depression and anxiety using the Zung Self-Rating Depression scale and State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (state subscale), respectively, along with demographic and COVID-related surveys. Linear mixed-effects models were used to examine factors contributing to longitudinal changes in depression and anxiety. We found that depression and anxiety levels were high in early April, but declined over time. Being female, younger age, lower-income, and previous psychiatric diagnosis correlated with higher overall levels of anxiety and depression; being married additionally correlated with lower overall levels of depression, but not anxiety. Importantly, worsening of COVID-related economic impact and increase in projected pandemic duration exacerbated both depression and anxiety over time. Finally, increasing levels of informedness correlated with decreasing levels of depression, while increased COVID-19 severity (i.e., 7-day change in cases) and social media use were positively associated with anxiety over time. These findings not only provide evidence for overall emotional adaptation during the initial weeks of the pandemic, but also provide insight into overlapping, yet distinct, factors contributing to depression and anxiety throughout the first wave of the pandemic.

Original languageEnglish
Article number435
JournalTranslational Psychiatry
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2021


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