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UNLABELLED: With the fluctuations in anxious and depressive symptomatology accompanied by the pandemic crises, studies on the trajectories of these symptom domains are warranted to monitor the development of mental health problems in the population. This pre-registered longitudinal study examines stable factors and mechanistic processes covarying with the trajectory of anxiety and depressive symptoms using linear-mixed effects models in 4936 adults from the pandemic's onset to four months into the COVID-19 pandemic in Norway. Prevalence estimates of moderate to severe levels of clinically impairing symptoms of anxiety and depression revealed high but reduced occurrence four months into the pandemic where social distancing protocols were substantially lightened in severity, revealing associations between symptoms and viral mitigation protocols after stringent control of plausible confounders. Subgroups at risk at the onset of the pandemic sustained their relative position compared to their counterparts four months into the pandemic, indicating prolonged suffering of these subgroups. Among mechanistic processes, key differences were identified regarding the trajectory of anxiety and depressive symptoms. Physical exercise was associated with long-term but not momentaneous alleviations in anxiety. In contrast, reductions in depressive symptoms were associated with both the simultaneous exertion as well as dose-increases in exercise over time. Increased knowledge about how to best cope with pandemic challenges was associated with greater improvement in depressive but not anxiety symptoms. Reductions in maladaptive coping strategies and negative metacognitive beliefs was substantially associated with greater improvement of both anxious and depressive symptomatology. Mechanistic processes divergently relate to the trajectory of depressive and anxious symptomatology, yielding domain-specific information of utility for preventive and interventive efforts aimed at impeding deleterious symptom levels. SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: The online version contains supplementary material available at 10.1007/s12144-022-02732-9.

Original publication




Journal article


Curr Psychol

Publication Date



1 - 18


Anxiety, COVID-19, Depression, Mechanisms, Social distancing, Symptom trajectories