The COVID-19 Pandemic and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD): A Path to Recovery Thumbnail

Learn how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted OCD sufferers and find a path to recovery. Expert insights and strategies to manage OCD during this time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the lives of people all over the world. Individuals have had to navigate a new way of living, with sudden changes and unexpected challenges brought about by the outbreak. Not only has the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated symptoms for those already struggling with mental health disorders, such as OCD, it has also contributed to the development of new cases.

If you are among those dealing with OCD and the added stress and anxiety from the pandemic, it can feel overwhelming to navigate. However, seeking professional help and integrating self-care strategies can help you manage OCD and lead a fulfilling life.

An Overview of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental illness affecting millions of people worldwide. It is a condition that is often misunderstood, and individuals who suffer from it can experience significant distress and impairment in their daily lives. OCD is characterized by intrusive, persistent, and distressing thoughts, images, or impulses (obsessions), which are usually followed by repetitive, ritualistic behaviors or mental acts (compulsions).

Similar to OCD, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) is a personality disorder characterized by rigid perfectionism, orderliness, and control. While both conditions share some similarities, OCD is a mental illness caused by chemical imbalances related to anxiety and is more behavior-focused. In contrast, OCPD is thought to be more environmental, stemming from growing up in a chaotic or uncertain environment, and is more thought-focused.

Obsessions associated with OCD can take many forms, including fear of contamination, fear of harm coming to oneself or others, a need for symmetry and order, and repetitive checking of locks or appliances. These obsessions can lead to a range of compulsions, including hand washing, checking and rechecking, counting, and repeating specific phrases or prayers.

While getting help can be challenging due to the stigma surrounding the condition, it's important to seek help as soon as possible. Untreated OCD can negatively impair a person’s daily life, leading to difficulty in maintaining relationships, holding a job, and completing daily tasks.

Fortunately, there are effective treatments available for OCD and OCPD, including therapy, medication, or a combination of the two. With the right treatment and support, many people with these conditions can learn to manage their symptoms and live a happy and fulfilling life.

The COVID-19 Pandemic and OCD

Around the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted people's mental health. One particular area that has been affected is individuals with anxiety disorders, particularly those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The pandemic has created a perfect storm for people who already suffer from OCD, as the chronicity of the crisis and the uncertainty it brings have exacerbated their symptoms. As a result, many individuals have reported an uptick in compulsive behaviors, such as excessive hand washing, cleaning, and checking.

The pandemic has also created new challenges for people who were already struggling with OCD before the crisis began. Lockdowns, social distancing, and quarantine have made it more difficult for individuals to access the support and resources they need to manage their symptoms effectively. As a result, many people with OCD have been forced to cope on their own, without their usual level of support from mental health professionals and support groups.

In addition, the pandemic has triggered several new cases of OCD. The constant stream of news about the virus and its spread has left many people feeling overwhelmed and anxious. For those with pre-existing anxiety disorders, the added stress of the pandemic has made their symptoms more severe. For others, the pandemic has acted as a catalyst, leading to the development of OCD symptoms for the first time.

Self-Care Strategies for OCD Management

While living with OCD can be challenging, there are several self-care strategies that individuals can use to alleviate their symptoms and improve their mental well-being. If you or a loved one are suffering from OCD or added stress from the COVID-19 pandemic, try incorporating the following strategies:

  • Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness involves being aware of the present moment and observing your thoughts and emotions without judgment. This technique can be helpful for managing OCD symptoms by helping you to recognize when you are experiencing obsessive thoughts and to avoid engaging in compulsive behaviors.
  • Get adequate sleep: Lack of sleep can exacerbate OCD symptoms and make them more difficult to manage. It is essential to prioritize getting adequate sleep each night. Establish a bedtime routine, limit screen time before bed, and create a relaxing environment to promote restful sleep. Getting adequate sleep can also help reduce stress and anxiety levels, which can, in turn, help alleviate OCD symptoms and improve overall mental health.
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise has been proven to improve mood, reduce anxiety, and promote overall well-being. Incorporating regular movement into your daily routine can help to reduce OCD symptoms by providing a healthy outlet for anxiety and stress. Even stretching or going for a 10-minute walk can be beneficial.
  • Manage stress: Stress can trigger OCD symptoms, so it is essential to manage stress levels. Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can help you relax and reduce feelings of anxiety and stress. You may also find it helpful to set boundaries with people who cause stress, delegate tasks, or find ways to simplify your schedule.
  • Avoid triggers: Identify your OCD triggers and develop a plan to avoid them. Triggers can vary from person to person and may include specific people, situations, or objects. For example, someone with OCD may feel triggered by touching surfaces in public, while someone with a “fear of harm” OCD may feel triggered by violent news stories. To identify your triggers, it may be helpful to keep a journal of your obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
  • Connect with supportive people: It can be helpful to connect with friends, family, or a support group to gain support and understanding for your OCD. Sharing your experiences with others can make you feel more connected and reduce feelings of isolation.
  • Seek professional help: A therapist can provide support and guidance in identifying the root cause of your OCD and developing a treatment plan tailored to your individual needs. Treatment options may include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), medication, or a combination of both.

Treatment for OCD

OCD can have a significant impact on a person's daily life. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatment options available to aid in the management and reduction of OCD symptoms.

A form of talk therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one of the most common modalities used to treat OCD. This technique includes exposure and response prevention (ERP), a type of therapy that gradually exposes individuals to situations or objects that trigger obsessive thoughts while preventing them from engaging in compulsive behaviors. CBT teaches people how to control their anxiety and resist the urge to perform compulsive behaviors.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) is another form of talk therapy commonly used to manage OCD. This technique, along with alternative therapies such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and acupuncture, assists individuals in developing mental resilience and accepting their thoughts and emotions without trying to control them.

In addition to talk therapy, mental health providers may prescribe medication. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most widely prescribed medications for OCD. SSRIs work by increasing serotonin production in the brain, which can help to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. In most cases, a combination of medication and therapy is typically recommended for individuals with OCD.

It's important to note that not all treatments work for everyone, and finding the right treatment for OCD may require some trial and error. Working with a qualified mental health professional can provide guidance and support throughout the treatment process. With the right treatment, individuals can learn to cope with OCD and live a healthier life.

Managing OCD with CHE

Managing OCD requires a comprehensive approach that addresses both the mental and physical manifestations of the condition. By incorporating self-care strategies, seeking professional help, and taking steps to reduce stress and triggers, individuals can manage their symptoms and feel more at ease during the pandemic.

With CHE Behavioral Health Services, individuals can access therapy and medication management services online, making it easy to connect with a licensed mental health professional from the comfort of their own homes. Our team at CHE Behavioral Health Services is dedicated to providing personalized and evidence-based care that is tailored to each individual's needs, and we offer a range of resources and support to help individuals overcome the challenges of living with OCD or pandemic-related stress.

For more information about OCD and treatment options offered by CHE, please call 888-515-3834. We are ready to talk and ready to listen.