People with OCD very often get plagued by constant obsessive thoughts that can lead to compulsions such as obsessively worrying about their health, hygiene (which includes rigorous hand washing) and worries about contamination, to name just a few.
Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) are susceptible to uncontrolled thoughts and behaviors that can severely impact their daily lives.
Throw in an unprecedented outbreak such as the Covid-19 pandemic into the mix, and people with OCD and obsessive-compulsive behaviors are likely to suffer significant mental health drawbacks.
The rise of OCD during the COVID-19 pandemic
OCD presents differently for many people, particularly during times of incredible stress and trauma, like the Covid-19 pandemic.
Many people with OCD experienced a worsening of their OCD symptoms during the coronavirus outbreak, including:
- Fearing for their health
- Obsessively checking their body for coronavirus symptoms
- Becoming preoccupied with hand washing and having obsessive worries about contamination or infection
For other people, their obsessions were centered around cleanliness and washing, or the need to be constantly kept up to date about information to do with the outbreak, such as reading online articles or obsessive news watching.
Anxiety is normal during tough times
When coronavirus was at its rifest, there was a reported rise in depression and anxiety among the general population (4 in 10 American adults).
Worries around infection
Dealing with the severity of a global pandemic is a terrifying prospect for many of us!
Social distancing and social isolation resulted in a worsening of mental health conditions such as OCD, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and other anxiety disorders.
People constantly got told to stay indoors and isolated – and because of all this, many groups of people spiraled into a mental health crisis (particularly OCD sufferers).
Walking the fine line
There is a fine line between worry and that obsessive, all-consuming concern over contracting coronavirus.
This article outlines some of the symptoms associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, signs you might be experiencing an exacerbation of your OCD, and practical coping methods both during and after Covid-19.
What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?
According to Mind, OCD features two main parts:
- Obsessions are unwelcome thoughts, urges, images, doubts and worries that constantly appear in someone’s mind. These thoughts and feelings very often cause mental discomfort for the sufferer.
- Compulsions feature repetitive activities that a person engages in to reduce the anxiety caused by the obsessions – for example, constantly checking that a window is locked or that the hair straighteners are off, repeating specific phrases in your head and checking how your body feels.
Living with the distress of OCD
Many people characterize their obsessive-compulsive disorder as having no control over their negative thoughts and not doing things in a way that may cause harm.
People may find that their obsessive-compulsive disorder symptoms get heightened during times of stress such as:
- Family worries
- During times of psychological distress such as getting diagnosed with depression and anxiety (or other healthcare issues)
- Financial worries
- Relationship issues
People with OCD may also experience severe life disruptions because of their mental health and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and the pandemic may very well have heightened people’s symptoms.
Research suggests that when the coronavirus was at its highest peak – many individuals experienced more profound symptoms of anxiety disorders, with OCD providing many daily disruptions such as:
- Daily life disruption – repeating compulsions most of the time and avoiding people and places that may have the Covid-19 infection.
- Impact on relationships – anxiety disorders such as OCD can significantly impact the sufferers’ associations, such as family, friends, and partners. They may feel like they have to hide their symptoms from the people closest to them – and this often results in a more profound health care crisis.
- Feelings of shame and loneliness -the symptoms of OCD can have a detrimental impact on people’s mental health to the extent that they experience pervasive feelings of loneliness and isolation. People must seek family, friends and mental health professionals support during periods of an OCD crisis. All this can help relieve the stress and burden that often gets experienced.
Symptoms of OCD
Since OCD gets categorized as being fueled by both obsession and compulsion, the symptoms associated with OCD operate within a similar framework.
Self-cycle of OCD
Obsessions associated with OCD often lead to compulsion acts – as we have already established, compulsions are repetitive behaviors driven by obsessive thoughts. A compulsion aims to try and resolve the mental distress caused by obsessions.
You might find yourself in a long-term cycle of negative thoughts and behaviors by repeating the compulsions until the anxiety disappears. Unfortunately, the reassurance that compulsions may bring is temporary.
Compulsion signs and symptoms
Compulsions involve a variety of thoughts and behaviors such as:
- Physical rituals
- Mental rituals (often classified as Pure O, which characterizes people suffering from mental compulsions as an isolated symptom)
- Involving a number – this is where you feel you have to complete a compulsion a certain number of times without disruption
A compulsion may involve completing rituals such as:
- Touching things in a specific way or at a particular time
- Washing your hands, body or items in your environment a particular number of times
- Organizing objects in a specific way
# Checking behaviors
Another example of compulsion may involve following a specific sequence of behaviors such as:
- Checking windows and doors to make sure they are locked
- Checking your body to find out how it responds to intrusive thoughts
- Checking your route to school or work to make sure you didn’t cause an accident
- Checking your clothes or body for signs of contamination
# Thought correction
A person with OCD may also correct their thoughts for fear of something terrible happening- this may involve:
- Counting to a specific number
- Repeating a name, word or phrase in your head or out loud
- Replacing an intrusive thought with a different image or picture
Clinical data also suggests that ”reassurance-seeking” behaviors often get featured in OCD. It is common for OCD sufferers to repeatedly ask family and friends to reassure them that everything is OK.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, there was a dramatic increase in mental illness and anxiety disorders such as OCD.
More than half of the adult population and over two-thirds of young people said that their mental health declined during the period of lock-down restrictions.
Loneliness had been a critical contributor to the decline in mental health, which further impacted people’s well being with 18-24 year old’s experiencing the most impact.
Most people did not feel comfortable or entitled to seek mental health support during the pandemic, with 1 in 3 adults and 1 in 4 young people not accessing support during the lock-down.
They felt undeserving of this type of support.
# Issues with technology
A quarter of young people and adults who did reach out for support during the crisis could not get access to help.
They were uncomfortable using technology such as call/ video conferencing and saw all this as significant barriers to getting the help they needed.
These worrying statistics would have likely increased any OCD symptoms for the general population during the pandemic. The same goes for other related disorders such as anxiety disorder and depression.
Treatment for OCD
There are a few psychological treatments and medications available to help curb the symptoms of OCD ranging from inpatient primary care to therapy.
Some of the critical steps to getting treatment for OCD include:
- Psychological evaluation: This involves talking to a therapist about your thoughts, feelings and behaviors to determine whether you have obsessions and compulsions that disrupt your daily life.
- OCD diagnostic criteria: Your doctor will likely use the statistical diagnostic manual of mental disorders (DSM-5) to determine your diagnosis.
- Physical examination: A physical exam may get done to rule out any other problems causing your OCD symptoms.
Therapies such as cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT) is a type of psychotherapy that often gets recommended to those suffering from OCD.
Exposure to fears
A component of CBT is ERP (exposure and response prevention), which includes the gradual exposure to a feared object or obsession, such as mud and germs, all of which allows patients the space to build a resistance to their urges.
It may take some time before OCD sufferers experience the positive effects of ERP. Still, if they persevere with treatment, they should enjoy life without distress and learn to manage their obsessions and compulsions.
Medications may also get prescribed to people with OCD which may help them control their obsessive thoughts and behaviors.
Commonly, antidepressants get prescribed, and the type of medication that an individual receives will depend on their age, other co-occurring conditions and the severity of the OCD symptoms.
If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above symptoms of OCD, you must seek the help of a specialist who will help.
Living with OCD is not easy, but it is possible to get a grip on your OCD and live a happy and abundant life with the proper treatment and support.
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