Coronavirus and OCD: A Good Thing or a Nightmare?
Are you one of those people who compulsively wash your hands, won’t touch doorknobs, and refuses to shake hands with people. These are common symptoms of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and if you’ve been diagnosed with this condition you may feel like you typically overreact to a fear of germs or contamination.
But with the coronavirus (now called COVID-19), which the World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC have now classified as a pandemic, your compulsive hand-washing may be a good thing! This may actually be a time when being obsessed with avoiding germs is beneficial for your health and may protect you from contracting the virus.
However, as anyone with OCD knows, that likely won’t soothe your obsessive worries. In fact, with the COVID-19 outbreak, you may be overwhelmed with anxious thoughts about the virus.
Facing COVID-19 When You Have OCD
People with OCD often have intrusive recurring thoughts that include fears of getting sick or of harm coming to a family member or loved one. With a global epidemic looming large, it can exacerbate feelings of stress and anxiety. And those compulsive behaviors that interfere with your everyday life can become even more time-consuming and more disruptive.
They may keep you from getting to work on time, or from going to work at all. They may cause you to cancel social engagements and to avoid any crowded areas, effectively leading to social isolation and increased feelings of panic.
5 Don’ts for Managing OCD During an Epidemic
1. Don’t go down the rabbit hole.
You may be tempted to watch the news 24/7 for the latest updates on COVID-19, or you may feel compelled to scour the internet for every bit of information you can find on the virus, but this will only ratchet up your anxiety. Limit your exposure to news about the virus to no more than 5 minutes a day, preferably in the morning. It’s best not to watch disturbing news at night right before going to bed because this can interfere with restful sleep. And not getting enough sleep can depress your immune system and make you more vulnerable to the illness.
2. Don’t overdo it on the CDC guidelines.
The CDC offers specific recommendations to protect yourself from the virus. For example, it advises that you wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This doesn’t mean you should wash your hands twice as long a hundred times a day. If you’re rubbing your skin raw and leaving it chafed, you’re actually increasing susceptibility by creating ways for the virus to infect your body.
3. Don’t isolate yourself.
Avoiding large crowds, shaking hands, and close contact with anyone who is sick is recommended. However, going into voluntary self-quarantine is likely to ramp up anxious thoughts and worries. Even if you need to work from home or keep your kids home from school, lean on your support network to help you deal with it. Make it a point to reach out to friends and family to talk about your concerns.
4. Don’t get stuck.
Be aware of obsessive worries that start looping in your head and tell yourself to “stop!” Understand that having OCD is associated with too much activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG). Looping worries are a sign that your ACG has gotten stuck. There are ways to get unstuck. For example, write down the fearful thought and ask yourself if it is true. It is also very helpful to distract yourself by singing a song you love, reciting a prayer, or play with your dog or cat to take your mind off the worrisome thought.
5. Don’t feed your fears with sugar.
When anxious thoughts hit, you may experience cravings for simple carbohydrates that will give you an immediate boost of the “don’t worry, be happy” neurotransmitter serotonin. But the temporary mood boost from candy, cookies, and cake will lead to a crash that increases feelings of anxiety, which causes even more cravings. Instead, focus on smart “feel better fast” foods, such as eating complex carbs—think sweet potatoes—which offer a more slow-release, sustained rise in serotonin without the crash.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, panic attacks, depression, or other mental health issues, you aren’t alone—45% of Americans say the coronavirus pandemic has impacted their mental health. Just because you’re sheltering at home doesn’t mean you have to wait for the pandemic to be over before seeking help. In fact, during these uncertain times, your mental well-being is more important than ever and waiting to get treatment is likely to make your symptoms worsen over time.
At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples, as well as in-clinic brain scanning to help our patients. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834. If all our specialists are busy helping others, you can also schedule a time to talk.