Anxiety levels reduce as Britons move towards ‘new normal’

Levels of anxiety among Britons appear to be reducing compared to the start of lockdown, new figures show.

At the beginning of lockdown, there was a “marked” increase of anxiety, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Between March 20-30, almost half (49.6%) of people reported high anxiety. This reduced to 37% between April 30 and May 10.

But average anxiety scores are still higher compared with last year, and it has been estimated that 19 million adults in Britain are suffering high levels of anxiety.

The ONS report on anxiety and coronavirus states: “The effect seen on average anxiety ratings throughout the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic shows a similar pattern to the theory of ‘hedonic adaptation’.

“When a shock event occurs, such as the impact of the coronavirus, wellbeing is temporarily impacted but people then quickly adapt so that well-being partially bounces back; though not necessarily to the same level as it was before the shock.

“During lockdown, new measures have been put into place, which may have also helped to alleviate high levels of anxiety.”

The report illustrates that various groups appear to be more vulnerable to anxiety during lockdown.

People who are lonely are significantly more likely to be anxious – people who “often or always” felt lonely were almost five times more likely to report high anxiety than those who “never” feel lonely.

People aged 75 and older were twice as likely as young adults – aged 16 to 24 – to report high levels of anxiety.

Around one in five of those who reported high levels of anxiety during lockdown said that their work had been affected because they were finding working from home difficult, the ONS said.

And almost two in five (39%) of people who are married or in a civil partnership have reported high levels of anxiety during lockdown – up from 19% in the last quarter of 2019.

The ONS suggested that those who are married or in a civil partnership are more likely to be balancing homeschooling alongside work commitments.

People taking part in the ONS’ Opinions and Lifestyle Survey are asked: “On a scale where 0 is not at all anxious and 10 is completely anxious, overall, how anxious did you feel yesterday?”

Scores from six to 10 indicate high levels of anxiety.

The average rating across all adults at the end of last year was 2.97. But at the end of March this rose to 5.18.

The average rating is now 4.04.

Between April 3 and May 10, women had higher anxiety scores than men – average anxiety scores for women were 4.7 out of 10 compared with 3.9 out of 10 for men.

People who were disabled were also more likely to report a higher anxiety score, as were people who reported that they do not feel “safe” in their own home.

ONS statistician Dawn Snape said: “There is understandable concern about the impact of the pandemic on people’s wellbeing. Our figures show that the equivalent of 19 million adults in Great Britain report high levels of anxiety.

“One particularly striking finding is that 39% of people who are married or in a civil partnership, reported high levels of anxiety. This compares with 19% pre-pandemic. It may in part be because of the challenges of homeschooling alongside work and other responsibilities.

“Another marked change is in those aged 65 years or older. Prior to the coronavirus pandemic we consistently saw lower anxiety ratings in those aged 65 years and older, but now we are seeing the highest levels of anxiety amongst this group in lockdown.”

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