Even for the most laid back person, the COVID-19 pandemic can cause excessive anxiety. And, for those with OCD, the constant warnings about proper hygiene practices can be a breeding ground for compulsive behavior. In the Q&A below, Angie DeNicholas, Travco Behavioral Health Counselor, shares some of her expertise in treating anxiety and OCD—offering useful suggestions on how to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic while maintaining peace of mind.
How can a person determine whether they’re just taking normal precautions against COVID or if they might have OCD?
First, it is essential to assess how the obsessions and compulsions affect the individual. If the thoughts and behaviors begin to interfere with daily life, whether extremely time-consuming or causing a great deal of distress, professional help may be necessary.
The DSM-5 (the manual used by mental health clinicians to determine diagnoses) explains the criteria that a client must meet in order to be diagnosed with OCD.
What is the treatment for OCD?
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP) is the evidence-based treatment that includes a “fear hierarchy” to challenge clients to complete “exposures” (activities that help clients face their fears while resisting the urge to complete compulsions).
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is a technique widely-used to encourage the acceptance of difficult feelings and the understanding that enduring them for a short time will lead to healing.
How can a person protect themselves against COVID—WITHOUT enabling compulsive behavior?
- Reduce excessive news watching: Follow only trusted media sources. Limit yourself to learning about news updates from a trusted friend or family member only, say,once per day.
- Only follow guidelines compiled from valid sources: Use the preventative measures set forth by the World Health Organization or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (and only to the extent specified). For example, if you are prone to hand washing compulsions, set a timer for only the recommended 20 seconds of hand washing and commit to completing the task in no longer than that amount of time.
- Be wary of over-avoidance: Avoidance is a common "safety behavior" of anxiety and OCD, so it may be easy to fall into old habits of isolation and choosing not to participate in a feared situation. Work hard in challenging yourself to maintain a healthy balance.
How can people with anxiety and OCD achieve peace of mind amid the COVID pandemic?
- Learn to tolerate uncertainty: It is an essential skill that offers a sense of freedom and rationality.
- Practice mindfulness: It enables you to tolerate distress and cultivate an attitude of acceptance.
- Remember self-care: Incorporate gratitude, self-compassion and positivity as part of your daily routine.
Author: Angie DeNicholas, a Licensed Social Worker at Travco Behavioral Health, received her Master’s in Social Work from Youngstown State University in 2018. Angie has since worked with clients who experience anxiety and wide-ranging OCD symptoms. Angie’s personal struggle with OCD and her journey through treatment enable her to truly empathize with her clients and to benefit them through sharing her unique experience.