How to Deal With COVID-19 If You Have OCD or Anxiety

BY Shayla Love

For people with OCD and anxiety, the constant warnings and prevention guidelines can trigger bouts of intense anxiety and compulsive behavior.

I’ve been in therapy for OCD for several years now, where I’ve made a lot of progress on not responding when anxious thoughts arise.

Even though I’ve made big strides in recovery, the coronavirus outbreak can bring on a little voice in my head that says things like: A ha! See, I was right that every surface is an infected cesspool that will kill you. And: I knew it wasn’t safe to touch anything, and also you should start showering in bleach.

So how can a person with OCD manage, when suddenly confronted with messaging coming from all directions that sounds almost exactly like intrusive OCD thoughts? Here are all the things to keep in mind.

Understand the Reason Why It’s So Triggering

All this attention to germs, hand-washing, or illness can bolster anxious thoughts on those topics, and so if you're having more of them, that's completely normal. The trick is to not let it trickle out into your behavior, which validates those thoughts.

Follow Official Guidelines, but Don’t Go Above and Beyond

Once you follow CDC recommendations, tell yourself it was enough. If thoughts like, did I do it right, are you sure we did it for long enough, or let me check what I cleaned one more time come up—acknowledge them, but then let them go.

Don’t Be Glued To the News

Figure out how infrequently you can check the news and still get the information you need without making you too anxious. Maybe it’s once a day, maybe it’s once a week. It could be that the best thing for you is not checking at all, and relying on and trusting friends and family to give you updates that you need to know.

Accept That There Is Going to Be Uncertainty

Ultimately, all exposures in therapy are about teaching a person that they can handle not knowing what’s going to happen when they do something that scares them. If you can accept that there are a lot of unknowns and try to live with the discomfort, it will go a long way to managing stress during the outbreak.

Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

All of that is easier said than done. This is going to be an extremely difficult time for many people with anxiety and OCD, and so it’s important to be kind to yourself during this process.

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