TORONTO -- Severe anxiety linked back to the COVID-19 pandemic now has a name: “coronaphobia.”

The term refers to a severe type of anxiety that specifically pertains to the pandemic. The condition has similar symptoms to general anxiety, however its symptoms are an extreme pandemic-related disorder.

Doctors who coined the term define it as “an excessive triggered response of fear of contracting the virus causing COVID-19 leading to accompanied excessive concern over physiological symptoms, significant stress about personal and occupational loss, increased reassurance and safety seeking behaviors, and avoidance of public places and situations, causing marked impairment in daily life functioning," according to a study published by the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

The report analyzed nearly 500 studies that outlined components and outcomes leading to anxiety and depression relating to the pandemic.

Vancouver-based psychiatrist Dr. Shimi Kang, an associate professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia, says that although the fear is real, people should be cautious when calling something a phobia.

By definition, a phobia is an irrational fear of something that leads to erratic behaviour. She says that much of the fear associated with COVID-19 is justified, especially because it is a potentially life-threatening disease.

“I think it’s very debateable whether the fear is irrational or not,” says Kang.

Kang says that any stress can turn into a phobia, and it isn’t surprising that people are demonstrating phobic-like behaviours during the pandemic. A phobia has to be a dysfunctional disorder that causes impairment in the person’s physical, mental and social health.

“On the other hand, I’ve seen patients who have an excessive fear and it is impacting their mental health. I have patients who won’t go outside,” she says.

Kang says it’s important to balance mental and physical health, but that some of her patients are suffering in fear of COVID-19.

“I tell my patients they have to go for a walk. I tell them to use the guidelines but stay on the other side of caution and try to go out -- avoidance makes phobias worse,” she says.

Although fear is a “common” outcome during pandemics, the evolving disease has unique risk factors.

She says people with underlying health conditions could be more vulnerable to exhibit an extreme fear surrounding the pandemic. It is important to acknowledge that it is perfectly normal for people to experience some level of stress or anxiety, and there are ways to manage those emotions, according to Kang.

“Routine regular sleep, regular cardiovascular exercise three times a week for 20 minutes, and routine positive socialization, are all ways to treat that stress,” says Kang.

She adds that there are also other natural ways that will help with easing stress and anxiety.

“One of our most powerful anti-depressants is actually contribution. When we feel like we are making a difference in a positive way, any act of helping others will release dopamine in the brain,” she says.

Whether that may be holding the door for a stranger or waving to long-term care residents, small things will not only help the individual doing the act, but it will also help someone else.