Can the Coronavirus Aggravate OCD?
Can the coronavirus aggravate OCD? The answer is, “Yes, very likely”. Mental health experts warn that people with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) can aggravate their symptoms when they see the news coverage of coronavirus pandemic.
OCD is a mental illness in which there are obsessions about certain things and compulsions to do something to tackle the obsessions. Obsessions are intrusive and distressing thoughts, images, or urges that occur repeatedly. Common obsessions include fear of contamination, fear of things not being in order, and fear of causing harm to others.
Fear of contamination, for instance, can lead one to be obsessed with hand hygiene, general cleanliness, and avoidance of situations perceived to be of high-risk for contamination, such as usage of public transport.
News of an infectious disease pandemic is a cause for concern for most people, but those with OCD are more particularly prone to become intensely afraid of getting affected by the pathogen.
People with OCD who have a history of excessive cleaning, handwashing, and avoidance of contamination may well find those symptoms ‘triggered’ or intensified by news of a viral outbreak such as that of coronavirus. These compulsions to clean or wash can even return in those who had successfully recovered from them.
Symptoms and Causes
Some of the obsessions can be ones like: “Should I wash my hands more often? Did I touch my face? What did I touch on the subway? What if I get infected without realizing it, and unknowingly pass on the virus to more vulnerable loved ones? Maybe I should wear a surgical mask when I pay a visit to my parents. Perhaps I should not visit my parents. Maybe I should not step out of the house.”
The stress of the coronavirus outbreak can exacerbate these kinds of fears and obsessive thoughts, leading to increased compulsive behavior, such as time-consuming rituals that end up disrupting one’s life or resorting to extreme self-isolation.
What predisposes people to OCD is not clear, but genetics and prior experiences are thought to play a role. In some, OCD could be brought on for the first time by the coronavirus threat. Evidence suggests that simply asking people to wash their hands can make them more anxious about their health.
How to Respond if the Coronavirus Aggravates OCD Symptoms
Watch Out for Aggravation of Your Symptoms
The guidelines for preventing coronavirus infection include hand washing, wearing a mask when sick, not touching your face and disinfecting your face and other objects you touch are some of them. Washing your hands every time you come home from the outside is necessary, but you need not wash your hands every hour if you are at home.
Do Not Overdo It
Try to wash your hands as directed by the CDC/WHO, and not go overboard with that. If you wash your hands so much that they become raw or chafed, you are overdoing it. Further, the feeling of contamination/dirtiness may still linger even if you do the recommended wash. Hence, use that as an opportunity to allow those feelings to be there without yielding to the compulsions.
Clean Up Surfaces
To reassure yourself that you are taking all precautions, self-quarantine yourself and wipe thoroughly countertops, phones, light switches, and other frequently touched surfaces. You can do this with a Clorox wipe once a day—once a day is sufficient, and the entire exercise should only take a few minutes.
Do Not Judge Yourself Harshly
Realize that it is normal to be anxious about coronavirus. The situation is making even people without OCD anxious and fearful. Allow yourself the luxury of feeling anxious and tell yourself that the anxiety is likely to remain while the situation is still unfolding.
Do Not Overconsume the News about Coronavirus Pandemic
Avoid the temptation to learn everything you possibly can about Covid-19. Arming yourself with more information might only ratchet up your panic levels. This is especially so if you are getting that information from social media. In social media, the information comes fast, thick and unverified, so you get overwhelmed. So, limit your Covid-19 news consumption to once a day, and get your news from a trusted and verified source.
Make Your Travel Plans Wisely
If you have to travel to a region affected by the coronavirus, decide based on the information you have and the risk. But, once you make the decision, do not overcheck the news or seek constant reassurances from others. Doing that will only increase your level of anxiety.
Boost Up Your Immunity
The best protection against coronavirus infections, apart from following the safety measures, is to boost up your immunity. If your immunity if good, you will not come to harm and you will tide over the illness easily. Hence, get enough sleep, eat a balanced diet, keep stress under control, and get some exercise.