Managing OCD in the pandemic

Hearing messages of, ‘wash your hands’, ‘don’t leave the house’, ‘disinfect all surfaces’ and ‘the world has become a dangerous place’, have become the norm in our current pandemic. But what if these messages were already an internal liturgy that individuals faced? What if the existing unfounded fears of dirt, mess and infection and intrusive thoughts of yourself or others dying have suddenly become a reality? And what if everyone around you started adopting your safe ritualistic patterns?


The COVID-19 pandemic presents a unique challenge to individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), who are continuously seeking out reassurance and safety and have difficulties with tolerating doubt and uncertainty. Not only this, but their safe practices and behaviours, which can typically be reasoned or levelled with a knowledge that not everyone is doing this, has now been challenged, as everyone hijacks their ways of coping. Thus, making their practices less powerful, and increasing the OCD behaviours and intensifying the thoughts. What we would have once typically deemed an irrational fear – of individuals across the world dying from a lethal virus, of not being able to touch loved ones – has now become a rational fear that we are all facing.


The pandemic is not going to be easy for individuals who face OCD, and no blog will suffice or console the fears, but we have devised some tips for managing during this pandemic.


Create routine

Creating healthy habits in the current pandemic is essential. This includes limiting the number of times you check for news updates and information. The news feeds us competing and contradictory stories. By limiting your news to once a day, you will still hear the important updates but you will safeguard yourself from anxiety provoking over exposure. As well as doing this, it is also important to limit the number of sources you check for information. If you find yourself endlessly scrolling news and social media websites to gather information, limit yourself to two or three websites that provide accurate reporting, such as the World Health Organization or the NHS.  

You could also seek out good news stories, such as those on The Good News Network or  Huffington Post.


Use grounding techniques

OCD can feed off the ‘what ifs?’ in life; therefore, it is essential to remain present in the moment. The pandemic can easily make us ruminate in the past or worry about the future – yet in doing so, we can miss out on the life we are living right now and the possibilities and joys we could experience. Grounding techniques such as breath work, stopping and noticing what is around you and using your senses to focus on the present such as putting your hands in water or savouring a scent also work.


Show self-compassion

In this time of epic uncertainty, it’s easy for individuals living with OCD to become harshly self-critical. After all, when our desire for comfort and security turns into a requirement, that mindset drives a great deal of our worries, fears and self-criticism. Remember to be compassionate to yourself and kind during this season. This is not easy. In fact, at times, it’s impossible and frightening. So if you experience regression in your progress to control and manage your worries, if you feel like skipping an exposure practice of facing a fear, or if you occasionally give in to some of that buzzing, internal, incessant chatter, then be kind and forgive yourself, reminding yourself that tomorrow is a new day.


Practise gratitude

Gratitude can help counteract against all anxiety and mental health problems. Expressing and harnessing gratitude has shown to have the ability to rewire the brain and ultimately eliminate anxiety completely.  This is through the process of neuroplasticity, which studies have revealed, that with the right actions and thought patterns, you can rewire your brain and eliminate anxious triggers.

Furthermore, being optimistic is a huge part of overcoming anxiety. After all, when you’re automatically wired to see the negative side of things, it can be hard to move forward and remain positive. Fortunately, since gratitude rewires and trains your brain to see the good in everything, you can habitually become more optimistic. You’re able to see things differently, and more positively. Why not try practising ending the day with three things you’re grateful for? Or using a gratitude journal?

You can use our gratitude journal prompts at the bottom of this blog.


Be honest and reach out

Be honest with both yourself and those around you about what you’re struggling with and your triggers. Inviting others into your suffering and pain can be invaluable to moving forward, as well as helping you to possibly create a crisis plan.


Author: Esther Dark

Twitter: @EstherDark3

Bio: Esther is a UK-based Occupational Therapist and also one of the leadership members for Beyond Covid.


Further resources and help:

Changing the Conversation on Eating Disorders podcast – OCD and Anxiety during the COVID-19 Pandemic.


OCD Canada

International OCD Foundation

Gratitude Journal Prompts


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