OCD & the easing of COVID-19 restrictions
Now that COVID restrictions have largely been lifted across the UK, coping with the return to ‘normality’ may be difficult and even overwhelming to those who suffer from Contamination OCD, with general population mixing, even though we know that the virus is still circulating. OCD demands a certainty of reassurance, which is impossible under these circumstances. For those who suffer from Contamination OCD, even the slightest risk of being in the proximity of someone who could have COVID can quickly escalate into a nightmare ‘worst-case’ mental scenario. This may lead to the belief that catching COVID, becoming extremely ill and giving it to your family members is bound to occur. This distorted view of reality is due to OCD forcing your thoughts into 'black and white' terms – either completely safe, or a complete disaster. Therefore, I have put together a list of ways which should help to deal with this.
1. See it as an exposure opportunity - Although carrying out exposures can cause a lot of anxiety, from my experience, it is worth it. Each exposure is a win against ‘the OCD monster’ which is gradually becoming weaker. An example of a Contamination OCD exposure could include going shopping for the first time since the start of the pandemic. It is useful to plan this event in advance, to prepare for anxiety and to help avoid compulsions. The key to recovery from OCD is by practicing and repeating exposures frequently and regularly. This repetition should gradually weaken OCD's voice, meaning that over time, situations that would have caused a lot of anxiety, now cause little or none.
2. Self-care - With doing exposures, it is important to be kind to yourself and reward yourself for your achievements. Self-care could simply involve rewarding yourself with your favourite food or having a nice bubble bath. It could also include connecting with someone such as a family member, friend, therapist, or a charity such as OCD-UK about how you have been feeling.
3. Try to avoid reading or watching too many COVID related news stories - Reading COVID-related news stories can be a trigger for those with Contamination OCD and it might lead to someone compulsively googling questions related to COVID. A lot of news headlines tend to focus on the negative, to encourage people to read them. Therefore, news stories related to COVID often feel even more terrifying, to those who suffer from Contamination OCD. Avoiding these stories is probably impossible, but you can at least try not to seek them out to an unhealthy extent. Paradoxically, avoiding all negative news stories may be counterproductive because avoidance can feed OCD and make obsessions worse. Instead, it is better to be exposed to some COVID related news but with a limit, so it does not become a compulsion.
4. Remember that you're not alone- You might feel marginalised or even ‘abnormal’, as your fears increase just when it seems like most people are excited about greater social freedom as restrictions are lifted. Just remember that there are countless others (including myself) and not only those with OCD, who feel anxious and uncertain about mixing with large numbers of people again. It is perfectly acceptable to feel concern about this. Living with OCD during a pandemic is especially hard. Any progress you can make is an amazing achievement.
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