Managing Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder During COVID-19

Updated: Oct 27


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Sarah felt better than she had in months. Her obsessive hand-washing had stopped, the panic attacks were subsiding, and she had even forgotten to re-lock her door for the past few weeks. The intense therapy coupled with medication to treat her obsessive-compulsive disorder seemed to be working. She finally felt like she was approaching a mental clarity that encompassed normalcy.

Suddenly, there was news that a strange virus had overtaken parts of China. She tried to ignore the nightly, hysterical broadcasts filled with fear-mongering and panic-inducing headlines. But after a while, she could no longer ignore the reality of COVID-19. There was a real threat-a real virus, and it was here, right now. She wasn’t quite sure how to handle this. Would obsessive handwashing be acceptable now that there was a real reason to do so? Was this her OCD symptoms rearing their ugly head, or was this just her following the health guidelines and protocols?

The reality of COVID-19 has been a hellish experience for many who suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder in which patients have unwanted thoughts, ideas, or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel compelled to act repetitively (compulsions). Thoughts are persistent and unrealistic, often interfering with one’s ability to function at work, school, or home.

Because there is a real-life threat in COVID-19, those with OCD have struggled to manage their unhealthy thinking patterns and actions. Many have spent years working through obsessive hand-washing/mask-wearing, only to be taught that they need to now perform those actions. How can a patient suffering from OCD manage their symptoms and still stay safe during COVID? Here is some key information and suggestions.

OCD Amidst a Pandemic

When it comes to COVID-19 in particular, those with OCD should pay attention to behaviors pertaining to:

· Obsessing over the health of a loved one or yourself

· Compulsively washing hands over and over again

· Obsessively watching the news or logging into social media

· Feeling an uptick in all OCD-related tendencies

How to Manage These Thoughts and Compulsions

Here are some suggestions to manage OCD symptoms during the virus:

1. Write in a Journal

Use a journal to note any changes or upticks in OCD symptoms. Awareness is a huge step in overcoming these obsessive feelings and compulsions. Write down what happened before you engaged in obsessive behavior. Were you watching the news? Did you read something that upset you? This will help to see a pattern in your obsessive thoughts/actions.

2. Minimize News and Social Media

Try to stay away from the 24/7 news cycle and social media. Much of the information on there is speculative, opinionated, and unnecessary. If something serious happens, you will hear about it without having to watch the news. Try limiting yourself to an hour or less of social media/ television per day.

3. Learn the CDC Guidelines

The goal is to follow the CDC guidelines, not to follow your own guidelines. The CDC guidelines never tell anyone to wash their hands 7-8 times after going outside. Those are unrealistic thoughts stemming from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Make a point to follow the guidelines as best as you can. Take the attitude that their expertise is sufficient enough to keep you safe.

4. Practice Self-Care

Find activities that make you feel soothed and safe. Take a hot bath, paint your nails, eat a piece of chocolate, watch a funny movie. Take part in anything that distracts you from the coronavirus or news-related events to manage the anxiety that comes from an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Exercise is also an essential component of healthy living and mindfulness.

5. Take Meds and See a Therapist

Continue to take obsessive-compulsive disorder medications and see a therapist if you aren’t already. Both of these activities will help to dramatically reduce your OCD symptoms. It will also give you a sense of control because you are taking charge of your mental health in an uncertain time. If your medications aren’t working, be honest with a physician. It can take time to find the right meds to help ease your anxiety.

Do you struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder? Has COVID-19 made these symptoms worse? If so, please contact Straight Talk Counseling at 714-828-2000 or visit our website at straighttalkcounseling.org. One of our professional counselors would be happy to speak with you.

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If you are in a life threatening situation, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a free, 24-hour hotline, at 1-800-273-8255. Your call will be routed to the crisis center near you. If your issue is an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.