The outbreak of COVID-19 has lead to enormous stress and anxiety which is manifested in different ways for different people. One of the most common ways this anxiety manifests is as Obsessive-Compulsive tendencies. In a way, this time of uncertainty and fear of contamination offers an unusual insight into an anxious mind. It’s like you are spending a few days in the lives of people who battle full-blown anxiety in the name of OCD.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is an Anxiety disorder that traps you in recurrent and persistent thoughts and behavioral rituals that are intrusively inappropriate and impair your daily life functioning. You may attempt to suppress or neutralize these obsessive thoughts, but instead, you end up indulging in repetitive behaviors like washing hands, checking, and hoarding things or mental acts like praying, counting, or repeating words in your head. These compulsive behaviors relive your anxiety momentarily and lead you to adopt a superstitious magical belief that by engaging in compulsive behaviors and mental acts you’d prevent all dreaded events.
The question is HOW?
How COVID-19 can trigger OCD behaviors for you?
The answer to this question is no mystery. Coronavirus is a debilitating threat to your safety and survival. The hyper-focus on hygiene practices, together with the whirlwind of anxiety about your financial security and the safety of your family members has the potential to trigger these tendencies in many of you. Even if you have no history with such tendencies, you might notice a few of these creeping in.
People with OCD engage in ‘compulsions’ or ‘safety behaviors’ like washing hands multiple times or hoarding things, as it temporarily relieves their anxiety. These behaviors or mental acts range from mild to extreme. And during this pandemic, what you are experiencing is very similar to this. You are sanitizing your hands multiple times in a day, hoarding month’s worth of ration, cleaning your groceries several times before consuming them, and are cleaning your doorknobs every few hours even if no one is entering or leaving the house. To top it off, you believe that you haven’t been infected by the virus, solely due to your safety behaviors. So, the element of safety behaviors and magical thinking are the common links amongst both the worlds of OCD and coronavirus!
Does this imply that coronavirus can make you OCD?
YES, it can! Coronavirus does have the potential to instill obsessive-compulsive tendencies in you which get reinforced by your behavior. Each time you perform a compulsion as simple as obsessively washing your hands even if you just did a few seconds/minutes ago, you feel a sense of protection from your fear of contamination. The more you do a compulsion, the more you feel the need for it, and the more your OCD is fuelled.
Truth be told, when the virus days are over, some of you might just naturally stop performing these compulsions while others may develop a full-blown OCD! Now, the point worth pondering is what will be the deciding criteria about which group you will fall in.
What is the decisive factor?
The prime point is your predisposition, i.e, your vulnerability to it. If you aren’t genetically predisposed to get OCD, the chances are that you will resiliently come out of all these stressful weeks of compulsive hand washing. However, if you have OCD predisposition but were safe until now, coronavirus can be that stimulating trigger to your anxiety.
The crucial question to ask yourself is “Am I washing my hands, groceries, and clothes as a precautionary measure against coronavirus as directed by the government or the World Health Organisation?”
If Yes, then you are in the safe Green Zone. Congratulations!
But if you’re indulging in recurrent cleaning and other compulsive behaviors only due to intrusive and disturbing thoughts/images that you are unable to redirect your attention from, then you’re in a Red Zone – the corona triggered OCD risk zone!
What Can you do if you’re at-Risk?
- Regulate the in-flow of news – Just as physical contact can infect your body with the virus, news can infect your mind with obsessive thoughts, images, and impulses. It’s therefore, essential that you limit information to what you need to stay informed and connected to the outside world. This way you stop fuelling your obsessions.
- Interrupt your compulsions – Be prompt in your safety behaviors to stay safe, but don’t go overboard by indulging in compulsive behaviors – like restrict your hand wash time to 20 seconds and adhere to the routine, no more or no less. You need to establish what preventive measures are worth taking and then sticking to that plan.
- Be perceptive to the feedback you receive – One of the major drawbacks of a human mind is that it cannot examine itself objectively. So to say, there is a need for you to reach out to others who can provide you with valuable feedback on your thoughts and behavior. This will help you to recognize when you’re overdoing things and are inclining towards obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Your family and friends can be invaluable in this time to put a finger on your spiraling behavior.
- Be kind to yourself – It is almost normal for you to become extremely self-critical during these times of uncertainty. This is so because what once was your desire i.e; security, calmness, comfort, and safety, has now become your necessity. This is provoking anxiety, fear, worries, and self-criticism. However, just be kind to yourself. This won’t be easy for you. But, this is what you need right now.
Take Away Message – The image that the society has painted about OCD is quite deceptive as the signs of OCD when you say things like ‘its good to be a little OCD in this time to be safe’ isn’t a complete picture of OCD in itself. Rather, OCD or any anxiety disorder is a world full of stress and consistent calculations that keep you pre-occupied. This implies that OCD in no way makes you fine at cleaning or organizing. On the contrary, this disorder of perpetual doubting leads you to always doubt whether or not you cleaned enough in the first place.
If there’s one important learning from coronavirus, it is the insight you’ve gained about living in this anxious state of mind, the empathy you can now feel for people who constantly live in that state, are fighting this battle with themselves, and also why it’s so important to adequately detect and treat anxiety and OCD, because no one, absolutely no one should have to live like that forever!
So, let’s promise to stay home, stay safe, and do it all without being even a little OCD.
Do you feel you’ve indulged in obsessive-compulsive behavior lately? Share with us in the comments section below.