Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) experience constant or recurring thoughts that can cause anxiety and may try to cope with those thoughts through compulsions. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels that they must perform. With what is going on right now in the world with COVID-19, some aspects of the virus can trigger anxiety and OCD behaviors like frequent handwashing and constantly checking the news. Here are some ways to take precautions and other coping techniques for OCD tendencies during the pandemic.
Contamination is one of the most common fears among those with OCD. It can be difficult for someone to cope with under normal circumstances, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, it can become even more of a challenge.
The real possibility of illness for people with OCD can cause them to take extreme measures to keep themselves and their families safe, like repetitive handwashing, cleaning, or being afraid to even leave their homes.
The worry of possibly harming others, either by accident or on purpose, is a common fear of OCD. During the pandemic, people with OCD may worry that they will transmit the virus to another person, and may go to extremes to try avoid doing so.
Researchers consider hoarding as a separate disorder from OCD, but many people with OCD also struggle with hoarding. People who hoarder usually collect things that are not useful, however during a pandemic, they may hoard things like medications, alcohol-based hand sanitizers, and toilet paper.
OCD Triggers During A Pandemic
There are many aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic that may trigger OCD-related fears and behaviors like:
- The advice to wash hands more often
- The emphasis on proper handwashing techniques
- The need to clean hands every time a person returns home
- The advice to only leave the home for food and necessities
Those triggers can contribute to behaviors like:
- Widespread panic-shopping that can trigger hoarding (which we have seen with the toilet paper and cleaning supplies shortage)
- Frequent reminding family members to wash their hands
- Searching for information on how long the virus stays active on certain surfaces
- Normalizing frequent washing and/or bathing
Sensible Precautions to Take
Most people with anxiety feel pressure to follow rules to the T, and as a result of this, someone with OCD may find it difficult to tell the difference between sensible precautions against COVID-19 and excessive or perfectionistic behavior. Many therapists suggest that those with OCD have a safety plan in place for themselves based on official public health guidelines. By following that plan, people with OCD will know if they are taking reasonable steps.
Therapists also encourage people to think about their cleaning and hygiene habits. If they did not go outside and no one came into their home, then they do not need to disinfect anything. However, disinfecting commonly used surfaces once a day is a reasonable plan.
When washing your hands try limiting your handwashing to 20 seconds each time and only wash them:
- After going outside
- Before eating
- After going to the bathroom
- After coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose
If you have OCD and find yourself adding extra steps to your plan and find it difficult to stop, you may consider seeking support.
Limit News and Social Media
Many news outlets offer free live streaming during the COVID-19 pandemic and publish news updated frequently. The American Psychological Association (APA) advise that people that notice they are checking the news more than usual set a limit on how many time a day you check the news updates or watch the live streams.
Seek Online Support and Teletherapy
To limit the virus from spreading, many therapists have stopped offering in-person sessions and allow access for people to have teletherapy online or over the phone. Online support groups, such as the International OCD Foundation’s My OCD Community, may also help others cope with OCD during a pandemic.
When To Seek Help
Pandemics do not have biological or medical implications. They also impact many people psychologically and socially, including people with mental health conditions. During a pandemic, those with preexisting mental health conditions are at higher risk of experiencing a relapse, stopping their medication, not engaging in self-care, or having suicidal thoughts. If you or a person you know with OCD is struggling with their symptoms during this pandemic encourage them to call us or:
- Their doctor or therapist
- A mental health helpline (Suicide Prevention Lifeline has talk and text options)
- Their local public health center
If you or someone you know is at immediate risk of self-harm, suicide, or hurting another person:
- Ask the tough question “Are you considering suicide?”
- Listen to the person without judgement
- Call 911 or your local emergency number, or you can text TALK to 741741 to communicate with a trained crisis counselor.
- Stay with the person until professional help arrives
- Try to remove any weapons, medications, or any other potentially harmful objects.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours per day at 1-800-273-8255, people who are hard of hearing can call 1-800-799-4889.
Here is another helpful suicide prevention link: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327007#hotlines
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