Living with OCD during a global pandemic by Impulse Therapy

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Managing OCD without the stress of a global pandemic is challenging enough. COVID-19 has presented some unique challenges for many OCD sufferers, forcing people to be restricted to their homes, encouraging obsessive behaviours like handwashing and limiting access to in-person therapy. 

In this article, we’re going to break down the challenges OCD sufferers face in the times of COVID, along with how to support loved ones and how to access support. 

What are the new challenges for OCD sufferers?

People with OCD typically have behaviours that fall into the following categories:

  • Checking: Repeatedly checking tasks that have already been done, such as locking a door or turning off the tap. Checking behaviours can also include believing you have a medical illness and repeatedly getting medical exams or visiting the doctor. 
  • Contamination: A compulsion to repeatedly clean yourself and the surrounding areas. Being in a dirty environment can cause feelings of fear or anxiety. 
  • Symmetry and Ordering: The need for things to be in order and/or symmetrical. Behaviours related to symmetry and ordering can be triggered if things are not organised. Some people with OCD may experience hoarding behaviours which also fall into this category. 
  • Ruminations and Intrusive Thoughts: These are common for people with OCD. Intrusive thoughts experienced by OCD sufferers can sometimes be disturbing and violent, directed towards themselves or loved ones.

New behaviours and triggers are being experienced by OCD sufferers in all of the above categories since COVID-19. 

New Checking Behaviours

With OCD sufferers being confined to their homes, they may be experiencing more frequent checking triggers, repeatedly turning off lights before bed, locking doors, even repeatedly checking the news for updates. People with OCD checking behaviours may also convince themselves they have COVID-19, with a desire to repeatedly get tested while also experiencing paralysing anxiety around leaving the house through fear of infecting others.

New Contamination Behaviours

As you can imagine, experiencing contamination behaviours and triggers as an OCD sufferer during a global pandemic is a complete nightmare. 

OCD sufferers who experience contamination triggers likely already experience anxiety soothing behaviours such as repeatedly washing hands, cleaning themselves and their surroundings. COVID-19 will only be worsening these triggers and behaviours for OCD sufferers. 

With more emphasis being placed on how we wash our hands, the frequency of handwashing and using hand sanitiser, OCD contamination sufferers will likely be triggered whenever they are reminded of COVID-19 to do these behaviours compulsively. 

New Symmetry and Ordering behaviours

Spending more time at home in lockdown and isolation may be triggering symmetry and ordering behaviours for some OCD sufferers. They are constantly surrounded by their triggers, resulting in more frequent behaviour indulgences to ease anxiety. Frequent changes in COVID regulations could become a new trigger for OCD sufferers with symmetry and ordering behaviours. 

During lockdown, a lot of people have been inspired to ‘Marie Kondo’ their homes, organising and discarding items that no longer ‘bring joy’. Many OCD sufferers will be organising and reorganising their homes compulsively to ease anxiety. 

New Ruminations and Intrusive Thoughts

During a global pandemic, OCD sufferers could start to have intrusive thoughts about loved ones being infected with COVID-19. These thoughts can quickly spiral, with sufferers believing they are the cause of their loved one being infected, even if they are not showing symptoms or have tested negative.

People with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic, meaning they can have COVID and be infectious without showing any symptoms. Due to this fact, many people with OCD will convince themselves that they have COVID and are asymptomatic, causing them to isolate themselves possibly unnecessarily. 

How to support loved ones during these challenging times

As unfortunate and uncomfortable as it is, one of the best treatments for OCD is exposure and response prevention, a type of therapy that exposes the patient to the situations that make them anxious as a way of normalising these moments and learning ways to cope with the anxiety without resorting to the usual anxiety soothing behaviours. 

For the OCD sufferer, this means facing a lot of discomfort throughout treatment. If you’re living with an OCD sufferer who is struggling with frequently being triggered, possibly even by things you are doing, it may be tempting to stop what you’re doing that is triggering your loved one. However, it could be more beneficial long-term to behave normally, continuing whatever action you are doing that may be triggering, as a way of exposing your loved one to their trigger to normalise it. If you live with someone with OCD and are triggering them and don’t know how to behave around them, it could be worth speaking with a therapist to get some advice. 

Talking things through can always be helpful for anyone suffering from any mental health issue. If you can talk to your loved one about their OCD struggles in a patient, calm and empathetic way, this is a great way to support. 

How to access support as an OCD sufferer

Access to in-person therapy is currently limited worldwide due to COVID. If you’re looking for a way of accessing support, either for yourself or a loved one, there are online options. 

Online therapy is becoming more and more popular, with users enjoying the ease and accessibility without having to leave their homes.

The best form of treatment for OCD is therapy treatment using CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and ERP (Exposure and Response Prevention). This type of treatment can be done in-person or online. 

Alongside therapy, there are many other tools that someone suffering from OCD can use to reduce and manage symptoms, such as worksheets, meditation, journaling and more. Each OCD sufferer is individual and has a unique experience. One person with OCD may struggle with contamination behaviours, while another could only ever experience ruminations. This is why everyone’s treatment plan will look a little different. 

When speaking with a loved one about getting help, remember to approach the conversation with patience and empathy. Seeking help for OCD is tough, and the person struggling may need time to come around and ask for the help they need. Discuss options with them in an open-minded way without any expectations. 

This blog was written by Impulse Therapy

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