Covid-19 Digital Research


COVID-19 Anxiety Symptoms Associated with Problematic Smartphone Use Severity in Chinese Adults





COVID-19 is fast-spreading and potentially fatal, introducing home quarantine, social distancing, and increased internet usage globally. We investigated COVID-19 anxiety, general anxiety and depression symptoms, and their impact on problematic smartphone use (PSU) severity


Participants were 908 residents of a large Eastern Chinese city, surveyed from late-February to mid-March, 2020. We administered online measures including the Depression Anxiety Stress Scale-21, Smartphone Addiction Scale-Short Version, and items querying COVID-19-related news exposure and threat of death. Additionally, participants rated anxiety using the Generalized Anxiety Disorder Scale-7 with reference to COVID-19.


COVID-19 anxiety correlated with severity of PSU, depression and anxiety. Using established cut-off scores, 12% of participants were identified with at least moderate depression, and 24% with moderate anxiety. Using structural equation modeling, COVID-19 anxiety related to PSU severity, mediating relations between general anxiety and PSU severity. However, controlling PSU for general anxiety and depression severity, COVID-19 anxiety no longer predicted PSU severity.


Limitations include the cross-sectional research design and reliance on data from only one country.


Results are discussed in context of the I-PACE model of excessive internet use. While COVID-19 anxiety is likely a global anxiety-provoking event, other everyday worries and anxiety are additionally clinically important in driving excessive internet use.