Tips for coping with OCD during the coronavirus pandemic
The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a difficult time for a lot of people, but for those with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) it may be particularly challenging. Charlie, 21, shares their tips on coping.
I have experienced symptoms of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) since childhood, long before I was diagnosed aged 16. These days, I am usually able to manage by applying cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) skills to my daily life, and taking medication. However, when COVID-19 started to make headlines, I knew that this would be difficult for me to cope with. Within weeks, the compulsions I had spent years trying to overcome were becoming public health advice – wash your hands frequently, avoid large gatherings of people, and don’t go outside if you are, or think you may be, infected.
OCD feeds off of uncertainty and doubt. I often refer to it as an “opportunist”, as my obsessions and compulsions will change depending on what is happening around me. With this in mind, I have found some of the following strategies helpful in managing my anxiety:
Controlling exposure to news
The first thing I decided to do was create rules around when - and how often - I would read the news, and be selective about where I got information from. One of my main compulsions is checking, so early on I decided to limit myself to checking once a day, at the end of the day. I also decided to stick to trustworthy sources of information such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the NHS, rather than social media. I also decided to mute the words “coronavirus” and “COVID-19” on twitter.
Follow recommended advice
For some people, the current guidelines may be a trigger, and cause anxieties to spiral. As part of my treatment for OCD, I had to learn to resist the compulsion to wash my hands and clean every surface that I touched. To keep my compulsions from getting worse, I have made sure to stick rigidly to guidelines. This means I wash my hands as frequently as the current guidelines tell me to, and not a second more. I wipe surfaces before and after preparing food, not whenever the thought that they may be dirty pops into my head. I avoid large gatherings of people; I don’t stop myself from leaving the house if I’m well and just want a walk in the fresh air.
If I’m in any doubt, I ask myself what the function of carrying out a behaviour is – is it genuinely to reduce the spread of passing on the virus, or is it to quell my anxious thoughts?
As more and more people are socially distancing or self-isolating, it’s important to try and maintain a support structure. Just because you may not be able to see each other in person doesn’t mean you can’t still talk; try to find other ways to connect, whether it’s through phone calls, video chat or instant messaging. There are many ways to stay in touch with friends, and as time goes by, more suggestions are popping up. Some people have started streaming movies at the same time as each other and talking about them in a group chat to mimic the experience of watching it together, and a few of my friends have rediscovered their love for writing letters.
Many charities provide support over the phone or online, such as OCD Action, Anxiety UK and Samaritans. These can be invaluable resources if you need to reach out to someone that will listen and understand. If you are receiving treatment from a mental health professional, you may be able to continue your sessions over the phone, even if face-to-face contact has been stopped.
Setting a routine
As schools, colleges, universities and many workplaces have closed to prevent the spread, many people are now finding themselves at home.
With nothing to occupy my time, I have found that I am spending more time ruminating. To counter this, I have set myself a routine to keep some structure in my day. I have taken advantage of the extra spare time and built enjoyable activities into my day that I don’t always have the chance to do, such as painting and reading. I have also ensured that I keep to a regular sleep schedule and that I am doing regular, enjoyable exercise as I know that is something that I find beneficial.
Be compassionate to yourself
Many people who struggle with anxiety and OCD can be really hard on themselves. I tend to berate myself when struggling and feel deeply ashamed and embarrassed when I act on compulsions. It’s normal and expected that there will be times that are more difficult than others, when it feels as though OCD has got the better of us, even after putting in all of the hard work and using every skill that we know. In these moments, it’s important to be kind and avoid judging ourselves, and pick up from where we left off, understanding that the aim isn’t perfection and that recovery isn’t linear.
Author: Charlie, 21
Where to find help
If you are struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder and need some support, have a look at our OCD page for tips, advice and suggestions on where you can get help.