OCD

Coping with OCD During a Pandemic

Triggers related to the COVID-19 pandemic can challenge those affected by OCD.

Posted Mar 02, 2021 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

  • Fears about health and safety during the pandemic can be especially challenging for people with OCD and anxiety.
  • Respecting other people's boundaries when discussing safe interactions is a helpful approach for people with OCD.
  • Telehealth can help people with OCD manage their symptoms during the pandemic.
Pheelings Media/Shutterstock
Source: Pheelings Media/Shutterstock

By Nicole Blanton

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended many social behaviors and forced us to isolate from others. For those who are suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and related conditions, the impact of the pandemic can be particularly challenging, including trying to distinguish concerns brought on by their conditions from general fears shared by the public about COVID-19.

“In general, individuals with anxiety, OCD and other psychiatric conditions have struggled during this pandemic,” said Dr. Eric Storch, a psychologist at Baylor College of Medicine. “With OCD and anxiety, there is also an increased fear of contracting the virus or passing it on to someone else.”

Conflict Over Safety Can Be a Trigger

Even prior to the pandemic, some people with OCD might have already felt preoccupied with worries about their health or the health of their loved ones—worries that have often been intensified by COVID-19. People with OCD often feel compelled to repeatedly perform certain behaviors, such as compulsive cleaning, and they may fixate on routines. OCD can also cause nonstop, intrusive thoughts.

As the COVID-19 vaccine continues to be distributed throughout the country, there may be complicated discussions on how to safely interact with friends and family members. For individuals with OCD, this conflict can be a trigger point. Storch says it’s important to respect boundaries when having discussions about activities or gatherings.

He shares the following advice and reminders:

  • Have conversations about what others are coping with when it comes to dealing with safety matters.
  • Ask yourself: What do I really want to accomplish here? Sometimes, the best approach is to take a step back.
  • You have a right to your opinion and your perspective. If someone disagrees with you, that is their choice.
  • Engage in dialogue about what you believe is best for you.
  • Give other people a break. Appreciate that your perspective may differ from others, and that’s OK.

“There are differences in the ways that people think about approaching interactions with loved ones. It’s all about the individual’s preference in terms of what’s comfortable for them.”

Telehealth and Resources for OCD

The rapid adoption of new communication technologies offered new avenues of virtual treatment of OCD and related anxiety disorders. As the pandemic intensified last spring, many doctors and mental health providers moved to telehealth appointments—and insurers agreed to cover them—to cut down on the risks of spreading the virus. While some patients may have been skeptical at first, many have appreciated the convenience of virtual visits. Participating in telehealth visits, as well as continuing to engage in self-care like eating well, getting regular sleep and exercising, can be helpful for managing OCD symptoms.

“While telehealth has opened up a number of possibilities for providing care remotely, it has not necessarily changed the number of providers who are available. The International OCD Foundation is an excellent source of information. There are also a number of providers providing remote care.” Patients can also find an OCD specialist through the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

A version of this piece also appears on the Baylor College of Medicine Blog Network.