COVID-19 and OCD

Our society has become focused and obsessed with germs recently, and for a good reason.  The COVID-19 virus continues to spread throughout our cities and states and infect our friends and families.  We wear masks, carry around hand sanitizer, and wipe everything down with Clorox wipes.  My hands have even become dry and cracked at times from all of the hand washing that I’m doing.  Many of us have become preoccupied with the fact that COVID-19 germs could exist on any shopping cart, door handle, or public railing.  This hyperfocus on germs is a positive thing in most cases as it is for our own health and safety.  For some people, however, the focus on these microscopic germs becomes a paranoia or obsession and can lead to compulsive and irrational behavior.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, also known as OCD, affects roughly 2.2 million Americans in any given year.  This makes up about 1% of the American population, and it equally affects men and women.  25% of OCD cases present themselves before the age of 14.  OCD is characterized by unreasonable and intrusive thoughts or fears, which we call obsessions, that lead to compulsive and repetitive behaviors, called compulsions, to try to alleviate those thoughts and fears.  An example of this would be someone who is worried that there are germs lingering on their hands.  This person has a fear that germs are on their hands and so he or she may wash their hands over and over and over again to try to alleviate this fear of the germs being on their hands.  Another example would be someone who is obsessed with safety.  This person may circulate the house 3 times every night, making sure all of the doors are locked.  With OCD, there is generally a type of ritual or repetitive behavior to help relieve anxiety.

COVID-19 is causing more cases of OCD because anxiety is increasing and people are more concerned about germs.  At the onset of the pandemic there was actually a decrease in OCD cases as many people realized that society as a whole was carrying some of the load of eliminating germs and seeking to improve public health.  As COVID-19 has continued, however, these individuals are becoming more and more obsessed about germs and cleanliness, and their anxiety is continuing to increase.

OCD is an extremely invasive and controlling disorder that can quickly disrupt your life if you do not get help.  The therapists at Water’s Edge Counseling work with clients with OCD on a daily basis, and have helped many people to work through this disorder and keep it from controlling their lives.  Here are some tips they recommend to help keep OCD from disrupting and taking over your life:

  1. Accept that you may have OCD. – No one wants to admit the fact that he or she may have a disorder of any type, but if you find yourself having fears that you are trying to stop by engaging in compulsive behaviors, then there is a good chance that you may be experiencing OCD.  The first step in getting help for this is admitting that you may have OCD.  Repressing the thoughts that you may have OCD will only feed this disorder and make it more consuming.
  2. Pay attention to your triggers. – What are the common thoughts you have?  What are your compulsive behaviors you have to do when you have those thoughts?  What triggered you to have those thoughts?  Write the answers to these questions down.  Becoming more aware of what triggers your OCD will help you to exchange the compulsive behaviors with a more healthy alternative.
  3. Do the opposite of your anxiety. – This sounds backwards, but when we do what our OCD tells us to do, we actually feed it.  Everytime we give into our OCD, we are opening the door to making it bigger.  When we do the opposite of what our anxiety or OCD tells us to do, we actually make our OCD weaker and smaller.  For example, if you feel the need to check the door for the 3rd time at night, you should not check the door.  You have already checked it, and you need to not check the door again.  If you continue checking the door 3 times each night, you are telling yourself that you NEED to do this in order to feel safe.  Breaking this cycle takes away the power of the OCD and helps you to realize that you do not NEED this to feel safe.
  4. Replace your compulsive behavior with something else. – In the above example, instead of checking the door for a 3rd time, engage in a different behavior that helps you relax and feel safe.  Some people find journaling, prayer, meditation, and reading can help them to relax and alleviate obsessive thoughts.  Work to find the strength within yourself so that you do not have to engage in that compulsive behavior.
  5. Reach out for help. – If your OCD or anxiety is controlling your life, reach out for help.  There are many therapy techniques that are used to successfully help those with OCD.  Some of these include Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, and Family of Origin Therapy.  Most people find that after 6-8 therapy sessions, they are seeing a huge decrease in their anxiety and OCD tendencies.

If you or someone you know is struggling with OCD, please reach out to us for helpOur therapists have helped many people to break free from the control of OCD, and they would love to help you, too.  Give us a call at 912-319-5552.  We are here for you!