Are We All OCD Due To COVID-19?

The most common obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is the fear of contamination and excessive hand-washing. Years ago it was viewed as “weird” if someone went out in public with gloves and a mask, excessive use of hand sanitizer, and excessive hand washing. With the pandemic that is going on right now, most of those actions are actually encouraged to keep everyone healthy. Most public buildings and stores mandate face masks, hand sanitizer be available, and limit the number of customers allowed inside at one time. A year ago this behavior would have been considered strange and excessive, but now we are asking doctors where the line for vigilance to avoid being infected with the virus and obsessive-compulsive disorder that can be harmful.

Excessive use of electronic devices and the internet

Many behaviors that was previously considered pathological is now considered essential to protect our health. Before the pandemic there were concerns about compulsive use of internet or internet addictions by overuse and overdependence on digital devices. Excessive use can interfere with work, school, and harm psychological and social functioning. There can also be medical issues that can come with overuse of the internet like back and neck pain, obesity, and eye strain. During COVID-19 society has adapted to online opportunities. From people working from home, attending school online, socializing through online book clubs, and certain health care needs are being met through telehealth and telemedicine. Almost overnight, digital connections have become the new norm for some people and places.

The American Pediatric Association suggests that teens should spend no more than two hours per day using the internet OR electronic devices. Teens with internet addictions are spending as many as 80-100 hours per week on the internet and refuse to do anything else, including schoolwork, outside activities, and interacting with family. For teens and others that are struggling with the compulsive overuse of the internet, the new increased demands to use digital platforms for work, school, grocery shopping, and extracurricular activities can make them dive down deeper into the black digital hole they are in.

Healthy practices VS excessive sanitizing routines

There is a clear distinction between protective behaviors that may look like clinical OCD and someone who has clinical diagnosis of OCD. The ritualistic thoughts, ideas, and behaviors in clinical OCD are very time-consuming for the people with with them and takes over their lives. It will significantly interfere with areas of a person’s life including work, school, and social interactions. There may be some people who’s OCD traits are less severe. For instance, many of us will check the front door once or twice to make sure it’s locked, or wash and sanitize our hands after going to the grocery store and our brains send us a signal telling us it is safe to move on to other things. Someone who has OCD will never get that signal. It is not uncommon for someone with OCD to spend several hours a day washing their hands to the point that their skin will crack and bleed. Some also have checking rituals that may prevent them from ever leaving their homes.

Everyone is learning how to adapt to our new “normal” and it is important to recognize that it is healthy to follow guidelines regarding social distancing, washing hands, and wearing masks. Due to social distancing it is to be expected that people are going to be spending more time on the internet and social media. However, if internet use or hand washing becomes “compulsive” or “obsessive” and problematic, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional.

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