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Ways to Manage OCD During COVID-19

An interview with Rita Michelle Rivera and Denise Carballea on OCD.

Rita Michelle Rivera, used with permission
Source: Rita Michelle Rivera, used with permission

Mental health issues like obsessive-compulsive disorder and illness anxiety disorder can become difficult to manage during times of stress and limitation like the current COVID-19 pandemic. But there are methods that can help as well as ways for loved ones and friends to be supportive during this trying time.

Rita Michelle Rivera is pursuing a Psy.D. in clinical psychology at Albizu University, FL. She is a student representative for the Florida Psychological Association - Division of Graduate Students, president of the student council at Albizu University, Student Ambassador for APA Division 15, Student Representative for APA Division 49, and co-chair of the Gender, Sexuality, & Aging APA Division 20 SIG. Rita’s research is focused on psychoneuroimmunology and Hispanic populations. She is currently working on projects examining the relationship between hormone fluctuations and human behavior, specifically in patients with depressive disorders.

Denise Carballea is pursuing her doctorate in clinical psychology with a concentration in neuropsychology at Albizu University in Miami, Florida. She is currently the president of the Neuropsychology Club, vice president of the Students Advocate for Youth Club, and vice president of the student council at Albizu University. The majority of her clinical experience has been focused on working with individuals with cognitive impairments following a brain injury. Her primary areas of research include traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) and Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). Professionally, Denise is interested in contributing to the field in areas involving rehabilitation.

Denise Carballea, used with permission
Source: Denise Carballea, used with permission

JA: How would you personally define OCD?

RMR & DC: Both obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and illness anxiety disorder are mental health conditions. OCD causes individuals to have recurring negative thoughts, called obsessions, as well as engage in repetitive behaviors, known as compulsions. People with OCD often feel powerless as they may not be able to control their obsessions or compulsions. In addition, the obsessions or compulsions may interfere with daily functioning, which can result in people experiencing other conditions, such as anxiety, depression, and fatigue.

Individuals with illness anxiety disorder, commonly known as hypochondriasis, have obsessive thoughts regarding sickness or diseases. These people may also engage in compulsive behaviors, such as visiting doctors frequently, researching diseases and symptoms, and performing bodily examinations. These obsessions and compulsions usually stem from a fear of being ill and, similarly to OCD, the recurring thoughts and behaviors may interrupt activities of daily living.

JA: What are some ways understanding OCD can help people live more resiliently?

RMR & DC: Understanding OCD and illness anxiety disorder can help individuals with these conditions manage the symptoms. It is important for people to understand what these conditions entail to identify the signs and possible solutions. Amidst the pandemic, there are many ways we can foster resilience in our environment. People with OCD or illness anxiety disorder can practice relaxation and mindfulness techniques, such as breathing and grounding exercises. It is also important to learn how to cope with stress effectively and dedicate time for self-care. Focusing on goals can also help individuals stay on track and motivate them to overcome stress induced by the coronavirus.

Furthermore, it can be tempting to watch the news regarding the pandemic. However, it is specifically important to limit the amount of time spent consuming news because media content can become triggering for those with mental health conditions. Moreover, it is always more than okay to ask for help. Those with OCD or illness anxiety disorder should consider seeking treatment from health care providers, such as psychologists and psychiatrists.

JA: What are some ways we can cultivate an awareness of OCD amidst this pandemic?

RMR & DC: The main way we can cultivate awareness of OCD, illness anxiety disorder, and other mental health conditions is through education. We should try to research these conditions and make sure we are consuming information from reliable sources. Online educational resources can also help us fight the stigmatization of mental health conditions. We can also engage in conversations with family members and loved ones who may be experiencing OCD or illness anxiety disorder. Furthermore, we should try to acknowledge that even though the coronavirus pandemic is a collective experience, all individuals are facing it differently. Being aware of the different circumstances people encounter can help us remain supportive of one another.

JA: Any advice for how we might support a friend or loved one struggling with OCD during COVID-19?

RMR & DC: When we have a loved one with OCD or Illness Anxiety Disorder, we should strive to promote safe and supportive environments by fostering feelings of self-worth, trust, and security. We can also reassure these individuals that OCD and illness anxiety disorder are recognized and treatable conditions and encourage them to seek professional treatment. Though it is OK to discuss with our loved ones how these conditions affect them, we should not question the logic of their obsessions or compulsions. If our loved ones do decide to seek help and adhere to treatment, try to acknowledge improvements and progress. We should also try to maintain a non-judgmental attitude and be patient because people tend to benefit from encouragement and acceptance.

JA: What are you currently working on that you might like to share about?

RMR & DC: Both of us are currently part of the APA’s Interdivisional COVID-19 Taskforce. We are co-chairs of several subcommittees, including the Higher Education Workgroup. Through these platforms, we have been working on the creation and dissemination of resources focused on the psychological impact of the pandemic.

Regarding research, we are working on several projects. We recently wrote a piece on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on grieving. Our plan is to examine how sanitary regulations and health practices enforced by different organizational authorities and governments are interrupting individuals’ bereavement process. In addition, we published a commentary in Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy focused on the increased rates of interpersonal violence (IPV) throughout the world and the need for digital mental health resources tailored to both IPV survivors and perpetrators. This is an initiative that we are also supporting through our leadership roles in the APA’s Interdivisional COVID-19 Taskforce.

Also, we just began a study focused on the impact race plays on psychological processes. We encourage psychological education on broader issues of diversity and believe it is important to promote the recognition of cultural differences of our society as a whole.


Rivera, R. M., & Carballea, D. (2020). Coronavirus: A trigger for OCD and illness anxiety disorder? Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication.

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