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

How to deal with a Breakup when you have OCD: Guest blog by Brooke Chaplan

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Your OCD symptoms may be triggered by situations that feel out of your control, and breakups can easily throw your life into a tailspin. On top of dealing with the hurt that comes with ending a relationship, you may also be dealing with serious anxiety about what your future holds. This is especially true if you find yourself blaming yourself for your flaws and inadequacies and holding yourself solely responsible for the breakup. These tips will help you begin to heal by dealing with your breakup in healthy ways that allow you to see this as an opportunity for growth.

Stick to Your Wellness Plan

The first thing that you need to do is practice self-care. Although your heart may be too broken to want to get out of bed, it is important to follow your normal daily routine. Exercise helps to release endorphins that make your symptoms more manageable. Eating a healthy diet also helps to reduce the symptoms of anxiety and OCD. Following your wellness plan sends signals to your brain that you will overcome this temporary life event. It’s important to know that while exercise and self-care will not cure either your mental illness or your broken heart, it will strengthen your body and give you the tools you need to handle the strain.

Seek Advice About the Future

When you have OCD, the realization that you have no idea of what will happen next can make your symptoms worse. Seeking relationship advice that addresses your current circumstances along with how they influence your future gives you a sense of control. Talk to a therapist, counselor, spiritual guide, religious leader, or family member. This advice can then be used to begin putting together a new life plan that helps you feel confident and mentally strong.

Find Healthy Distractions

Once you know that the future is bright, you can begin finding ways to overcome your pain in the present moment. Explore new hobbies and set goals that help you build for your better future while also avoiding the tendency to obsess over the past. Try taking a class or doing an activity that you’ve always wanted to explore. You’ll feel stronger and more excited about what the future has in store.

Take Note of Your Progress

During your breakup, you can expect to experience some high and low moments. When you feel down, try to recognize how much progress you’ve made. For instance, you might have made a new friend who helps you get through this rough patch. You might have managed to avoid checking your ex’s social media pages. These little signs of progress mean that you are moving forward, and recognizing them helps you see that the breakup truly is a chance to grow. Remember to not beat yourself up over slipping up. It is likely that an emotional moment like this could bring up past compulsions and obsessions you thought you had gotten over. This does not mean you have failed or somehow destroyed your past progress, because progress is not linear.

Your relationship might be over, but you can use this moment as an opportunity for personal growth. When you feel like your OCD symptoms are taking over, reach out to people who care. Soon, you’ll have this whole painful event behind you and be looking at the future with a positive perspective.

If you need further support, speak to your therapist doctor or psychiatrist.

 

Brooke Chaplan is a freelance writer and blogger. She lives and works out of her home in Los Lunas, New Mexico. She loves the outdoors and spends most of her time hiking, biking, and gardening. For more information, contact Brooke via Facebook at facebook.com/brooke.chaplan or Twitter @BrookeChaplan

We are 4! On Be Ur Own Light’s Fourth Blog Anniversary by Eleanor

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Its Today- 1st March 2020 and Be Ur Own Light is 4 years old! (cue the streamers!)

I still remember starting this blog as an outlet for my fears, thoughts and emotions dealing with my bipolar and anxiety. The blog started as a way to tell my friends and family how I was feeling and has evolved into working with guest bloggers and now brands/ partners on sponsored wellness posts too! Writing the blog and sharing thoughts has been so therapeutic and it has taken me on  a journey that I could not have imagined.

In November 2019, I published my first book Bring me to Light with Trigger Publishing which is the book of my life story with bipolar disorder, anxiety and my life in general (travelling, going to drama school, starting a career as a writer). The blog has also grown so much this year and is currently nominated in the Mental Health Blog Awards for Blogger of the Year, thank you to our nominee!

Additionally, Vuelio awarded us as a Top 10 UK Mental Health Blog for the second year running and interviewed me (Eleanor) about working as a blogger!  Thanks also to Feedspot.com and My Therapy App for listing us in their mental health blog lists too for social anxiety and bipolar!

This year, I have written about World Bipolar Day for the Centre of Mental Health, about my search for EMDR therapy on the NHS, living with depression in winter, about writing my book and new life changes (getting married) and 2020 new year round up with hopes for the future. We also promoted mental health campaigns such as Shout UK text line (founded by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry and Meghan),  Christmas 4 CAMHS, Time to Talk Day and Mental Health Awareness Week. Additionally, I spoke in Essex with my Dad about our joint story with bipolar for the Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat and we also spoke at Limmud Conference in Birmingham!

This winter I did some interviews for the book which can be seen on the Book tab above and also received some lovely reviews. It was amazing to appear in Happiful Magazine’s bonus wellness Mag this January (edited by campaigner Natasha Devon) and to write for Glamour and Bipolar UK. I also enjoyed being interviewed for the Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle! Hopefully at some point I will do podcasts about it too and more interviews.

From March 2019-2020, the blog has attracted wonderful and talented guest bloggers wanting to spread their messages about mental health and wellness.

We have also worked with the following brands on sponsored and gifted posts and hope to work with many more this next year :  YuLife, Nutra Tea, Essential Olie, Loveitcoverit on mental health apps, I-sopod floatation tanks, Core Wellness Maryland, Wellbeing Escapes Holidays.

My guest bloggers have written about their recovery and living with mental illnesses, as well as advice on how to improve your mental health. There a posts for whether you are going through a divorce, a bereavement, are stressed or have anxiety. We also had posts with people’s first hand experiences of mental illness including a brave post about being a sibling of someone with mental illness and one of living with an eating disorder. Furthermore, Be Ur Own Light has also covered World Mental Health Day and Time to Talk Day this year, featuring personal mental health stories as a way to raise awareness and fight misconceptions.

We have also covered new books coming out, a mental health fashion brand and a song about social anxiety, as well as posts about different therapies to help you.

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Thank you to my amazing guest bloggers (non sponsored) March 2019-2020 for your fantastic content:   

Ashley Smith- How Massage Therapy helps Anxiety Disorders

Emily Bartels- 5 tips for a mental health emergency plan

Dale Vernor- Understanding PTSD by Gender 

Tan at Booknerd Tan- How audio books and walking has helped anxiety

Emma Sturgis- Loving yourself, tips for a body positive life

EM Training Solutions- How to maintain mental health at work

David Morin- On social anxiety and talking to others

Lyle Murphy- How equine therapy can help those with mental health issues

Charlie Waller Memorial Trust- Best of Musicals event

A Time to Change Hypnotherapy-  Hypnotherapy for self esteem

Nu View Treatment Center- The connection between anxiety and substance abuse

Shout UK- Royal family launches mental health text line

Mental Health Foundation – Mental Health Awareness Week  May 2019 Body Image

Emerson Blake- Coping with the stress of becoming a single parent

The Worsley Centre- A guide to therapies and finding the right one for you

Byron Donovan at Grey Matter – How I recovered from depression to form a fashion brand 

Luci Larkin at Wooley and Co Law- How to reduce stress and maintain mental health during a divorce

Nat Juchems- How to keep your loved ones memory alive after bereavement

Emily Ilett- on her book ‘The Girl who Lost her Shadow’

Mark Simmonds- an interview about his book ‘Breakdown and Repair’ with Trigger Publishing

Curtis Dean- 5 facts about music for stress relief

Robert Tropp- How quitting illegal drugs helps anxiety in the long term

Aaron James- the difference between psychotherapy and counselling

Dr Justine Curry- 4 ways to help a friend with bipolar disorder

Christmas 4 CAMHS campaign for children in childrens mental health wards

Ani O- 4 ways to ease the fear of doctors appointments

Katherine Myers- Ways that spending time outdoors can improve your mental health

Anita- 5 ways to lift you out the slump of seasonal depression

Chloe Walker- taking care of your child’s mental health

CBT Toronto- how to deal with social anxiety and depression

Katy- a true story with anorexia and OCD

Vanessa Hill- Life changing habits to bring into the new year

Rachel Leycroft- Expressing social anxiety through songwriting

Shira- Living with a sibling with mental illness: the meaning of normal

Capillus- 10 signs you may have an anxiety disorder

Brooke Chaplan- When therapy isn’t enough 

Jami Mental Health Awareness Shabbat 2020 

Mike Segall- Time to Talk Day- 9 years undiagnosed, my story with bipolar disorder

Jasveer Atwal- Living with PCOS and managing mental health

Leigh Adley at Set Your Mind Free- How CBT helps children with anxiety

Lizzie Weakley- How to heal and move forward when you have an eating disorder

Sofie- Living with an eating disorder

Thank you so much to all of you and I am excited to see what 2020-21 brings for the blog!

Be Ur Own Light continues to be read globally and I love receiving your messages about the blogs and finding new writers too.

Heres to a 2020 of positive mental health, of fighting the stigma against mental illness and creating a positive and supportive community here. 

Happy 4th birthday Be Ur Own Light!  ❤ May this be an enlightening year of growth for us.

 

Love and Light always,

Eleanor    

xxx

Guest post: How nOCD App helps thousands with OCD- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder by Stephen Smith

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In the summer of 2014, I was tired of struggling with OCD, Obsessive compulsive disorder, so I decided to do something about it and begin my app, nOCD. nOCD, standing for “No OCD”, is an online platform that I believe would have helped me during the worst of my struggles and that currently is already helping thousands of others with OCD today. The platform is designed to help people with OCD during all four phases of treatment: 1) coping with the onset of OCD symptoms, 2) selecting a care team, 3) actively managing OCD treatment, and 4) maintaining OCD treatment progress.

My team and I at nOCD are able to address each phase of treatment using a unique combination of highly vivid content and 21st century technology. For instance, people with OCD can view our content on Instagram or Twitter at @treatmyocd and download nOCD for free on the App Store (m.treatmyocd.com/saveslives).

People with OCD say the app has been a major difference maker. It gives people guidance in the moment of OCD episodes, a structured platform to do Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) exercises, a community to talk with others (in beta), and real-time data 24/7. Here is more information about how it works:

  1. SOS Guidance: nOCD offers members clinically effective guidance in the moment of any OCD episode, using OCD specific Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. During an episode, members can hit the button “SOS” on their phone, which tells the app to immediately provide Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy and Acceptance Commitment Therapy (Response Prevention). For instance, if the member is obsessing, nOCD will ask questions such as: “Are you experiencing an Obsession or a Compulsion?”,  “What Obsession are you experiencing?”. “What triggered the Obsession?” And “How intense is your anxiety?” Then, based on the answers, nOCD will offer specific Acceptance Based Therapy guidance, to help the member effectively respond to the obsession without doing a compulsion. We believe the SOS feature can empower people with OCD to live their lives fully, knowing help is always in their pocket.

  2. Structured ERP ExercisesnOCD provides members with the tools and organization needed to consistently do planned OCD treatment exercises regularly and effectively, acting like a mental gym. The main challenge with doing these planned mental exercises is that they instigate anxiety. Since the anxiety alone can reduce OCD treatment adherence rates, the app attempts to remove all pain point. It offers members the ability to create loop tapes, scripts, and drawings. It also has built in exercise reminders and educational tips.

  3. Custom Therapy : nOCD customizes the entire treatment process to each member, helping augment therapy with licensed clinicians. Patients can customise their hierarchies, their compulsion prevention messages (acceptance based messages), their ERP schedule, and more.

  4. 24/7 In-App Support Group :Inside the nOCD app, people with OCD can join different support groups and anonymously post to each groups wall. We’ve created a platform where people can support each other through treatment and learn quickly that they are, in fact, not alone.
  5. Real-Time Data Collection: It collects real-time data about every aspect of the patient’s condition and treatment. It also longitudinally displays the data for every patient and clinician to see at any time. nOCD protects each users PHI data to the highest degree possible. For example, it uses a dedicated (encrypted) Ec2 instance on Amazon Web Services, SSL connection, Touch ID login access, LastPass Password security, and new, monthly, VM keys. nOCD is a HIPAA compliant commercial enterprise.

 

The best way to support a friend or family member through anxiety and depression.

I have been asked by my friends to write an article about how best to support someone through a mental health issue. There is not a one sized fits all answer, due to the fact that every illness and person is unique with their own brain chemistry and life experience. However, I am  going to offer a few tips on what you can do if someone is suffering from an anxiety disorder or depression (for this article I am going to leave out other illnesses eg bipolar, schizophrenia, psychosis, addictions but will speak about them at a later date)

So what can you do if your loved one is suffering from  an anxiety disorder/ depression?

Anxiety disorders are a group of multi faceted disorders which can include things like generalised anxiety, social anxiety, health anxiety, OCD, PTSD and more. Your loved one may be suffering from lack of sleep, nightmares, inability to sit still, palpitations, racing or obsessive thoughts, panic attacks and hyperventilation. They may feel more on edge, or in the case of OCD- be checking and analysing everything. Anxiety disorders run in certain patterns and all are unique to the individual- what one person with anxiety may have will be different to another, however there are some general patterns to anxiety.

When a person is suffering from anxiety, they may also have physical health symptoms as above due to the increase in adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol.

Depression or depressive disorders are sometimes caused due to a chemical imbalance in the brain (not enough seretonin) and can require medication to return the brain to its usual state. Some are a mixture of chemical imbalance and challenging life experiences or brought on from a period of stress eg divorce, moving house, losing a baby, having a baby, being unemployed etc . Symptoms typically can include loss of motivation, feeling tearful, low and hopeless, not wanting to engage socially or be involved with activities one enjoys.

If your loved one is suffering from anxiety or depression the best way you can help is by speaking and interacting with them calmly- not judging them or accusing them of anything bad, but simply being a laid back, supportive friend or partner. If someone can’t socialise, its best to just text once in a while and check up on how they are doing- or send a hand written note or card. Most importantly, do not pressure the person to see you, talk to you or go out.. but just be there for them calmly as a listening ear and encourage them to do small achievable things for themselves.

It is good to encourage your friend to go out with you but not to pressurise. Similarly, getting a bit of fresh air can help. If your friend or loved one is at crisis point ie threatening to take their own life, feeling suicidal, not eating or sleeping and being involved in self harming or risk taking behaviours, it is very important to do the following:

1) If a friend is suicidal, listen to them but do not promise to keep it a secret. You must tell their nearest relative/ best friend/ someone they trust if you believe they are in danger of a suicide attempt or at harm to themselves . Encourage them to see their GP immediately or speak to a help line and the GP will be able to tell you if a psychiatric referral is needed. A psychiatrist and team known as the Crisis Team will then  step in to help.

2) If a loved one you live with is suicidal, go with them to the Doctor or get a doctor to come out to you. There is stigma around this BUT if your loved one is really ill and their brain is effectively temporarily ‘broken’ much like a broken leg, it needs fixing. Your loved one needs help and support to recover whether its medication, counselling or more support at home. Do not blame yourself. This is an illness- not something you have done.

Ultimately, be loving, caring and supportive and CALM- however angry or frustrated you feel. Being frustrated to someone who is unwell can cause them to have feelings of guilt, low self esteem or worthlessness which the depression/ anxiety may perpetuate.

Be there as a support and listening ear but make sure you have a break and take time for you too.