Greater within- and between-day instability is associated with worse anxiety and depression symptoms


  • A. Nexha
  • L.K. Pilz
  • M.A.B. Oliveira
  • N.B. Xavier
  • R.B. Borges
  • B.N. Frey
  • M.P.L. Hidalgo


  • Journal of Affective Disorders


  • J Affect Disord 326: 215-223


  • BACKGROUND: Depression and anxiety affect hundreds of millions of people worldwide, and their prevalence increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as social schedules were disrupted. This study explores the associations between anxiety and depression and within- and between-day instability of affective, somatic, and cognitive symptoms during the early pandemic stages. METHODS: Participants (n = 153, ages 18-77, 72 % female) reported daily levels of affective (anxiety/sadness), somatic (appetite/sleepiness), and cognitive (concentration/energy) symptoms for 14-44 days at five timepoints: 0, 3, 6, 9, and 12 h after awakening. At the end of the study, participants completed validated scales for anxiety (GAD-7) and depression (PHQ-9). Symptom instability was assessed using the Absolute Real Variability (ARV) index. Regression models examined within-day instability (WD-I) and between-day instability (BD-I) with GAD-7 and PHQ-9 scores as outcomes. RESULTS: Greater instability (both WD-I and BD-I) of affective symptoms correlated with elevated GAD-7 and PHQ-9 scores. For somatic and cognitive symptoms, greater BD-I was associated with higher scores. LIMITATIONS: The study used retrospective daily data, which could benefit from real-time assessments for improved accuracy. CONCLUSIONS: This study provides empirical evidence of a connection between greater anxiety and depression severity and increased instability in daily mood and physiological symptoms. The findings underscore the importance of consistent symptom monitoring to understand overall mental health trajectories. Additionally, it highlights the role of daily routines in stabilizing the circadian system, potentially regulating physiological and psychological processes and reducing symptom instability.