The COVID-19 pandemic has generated additional stress for months on end. There’s so much more to think about with nonstop news about case numbers, deaths and vaccines. This situation has been even more challenging for people living with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Managing OCD symptoms with the pandemic’s additional stress and uncertainties can be difficult, but good self-care and treatment make it possible.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health condition rooted in anxiety. Upsetting and intrusive thoughts repeatedly pop into a person’s mind, so they’ll try to make these thoughts go away by doing specific behaviors. This pattern creates an irresistible urge to do repeated behaviors whenever the thoughts appear.
Unfortunately, modern culture has taken OCD out of its mental health context. People sometimes describe themselves as OCD about organizing their work desk or obsessed with their favorite TV show. Because of popular references, the general public may not fully understand OCD. It’s diagnosed in 2 to 3% of the population, but many people never come forward or seek treatment.
OCD symptoms fall into two categories, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and compulsive behaviors. The following types of OCD are among the most common:
The term “obsession” is often incorrectly used to describe an all-consuming focus on something. The psychological definition of an obsession is a persistent, unwanted or intrusive thought. A compulsion is the urge to react by performing a specific ritual or behavior.
Obsessive thoughts can include:
Compulsive habits can include:
Researchers aren’t certain what causes OCD. However, several factors can increase the chances that a person may develop OCD, including:
Some people living with OCD have come through the last year feeling more stressed, especially if their thoughts focus on contamination. However, this is not the only stress-inducing factor that has come about during the pandemic.
Working from home changes how a person views their environment. In their comfort zone, people with OCD may not do all their typical self-care activities to keep symptoms in check. While this can feel more liberating in a way, symptoms may become more disruptive. Permitting their compulsive behaviors can become time-consuming, causing work quality and mental state to suffer.
Most people have stayed at home more during the pandemic, even if they go to their usual workplace every day. COVID-19 precautions can cause feelings of isolation and social disconnection. Many people with obsessive-compulsive symptoms may already find it challenging to interact with others and cope with their symptoms. Added isolation can feel like an extra dark layer over everything.
Unemployment is an emotionally exhausting and stressful situation. With the challenges of OCD, a person facing job loss may experience more intense symptoms. The concerns are realistic, but the intrusive and pessimistic nature of obsessive thoughts can make the situation feel even more daunting.
The pandemic has put hand-washing and hygiene habits in the spotlight. For individuals who already have anxious thoughts about health and cleanliness, this is an added emotional burden. Some people have developed rigid cleaning and hand-washing routines or have taken social distancing to an extreme.
Even people who don’t typically think much about illness prevention have taken notice. As a result, the pandemic has magnified the connection between anxious thoughts and personal health.
Self-care is a critical piece of a comprehensive OCD treatment plan. When a person creates good self-care habits, they learn to stay on top of their needs throughout the day. Self-care activities also promote the flow of endorphins and other calming body chemicals throughout the body. These healthy habits make daily life easier by keeping OCD symptoms in check:
There is no known cure for OCD. Like other chronic health conditions, people with OCD learn how to live with it.
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a counseling approach that addresses thought, emotion, and behavior patterns. A specific type that’s often effective for OCD symptoms is called exposure and response therapy (ERP). A person is gradually exposed to situations that cause them anxiety so they can learn to manage their compulsive behaviors.
Medication doesn’t specifically address obsessions or compulsions but can keep a person’s overall anxiety lower. Meanwhile, self-care habits ensure that a person stays healthy, rested and relaxed.
Treatment plans are unique for each individual with OCD. If you or a loved one is struggling with OCD symptoms and a co-occurring substance use disorder, contact us here at The Recovery Village Columbus to discuss treatment options that can meet your needs.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.