5 Ways to Remain OCD-Controlled in the Face of the Coronavirus

Techniques to conquer OCD during a crisis.

Posted Mar 16, 2020

The novel coronavirus is top of mind for most people. The virus would be scary for most, but it poses a distinct fear for those with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). People with OCD may be triggered to practice many compulsions in order to “protect” themselves and their families. 

So, what should that person do? Ideally, you would want the OCD sufferer to follow general protocols, such as CDC handwashing guidelines and local restrictions on travel and social isolation. However, this is not easy for the person diagnosed with OCD. Picture telling a person with a drinking problem to only have one drink and imagine how challenging that would be.

Once the OCD sufferer starts engaging in compulsive behaviors, it is extremely difficult for them to control the compulsions. This is because when a person with compulsive handwashing begins to wash their hands, 20 seconds will never feel clean or right to them. The strong urge to continue washing will begin.

Furthermore, more and more doubt thoughts will enter their mind. An example of a doubt thought could be, "I don’t think I cleaned well enough under one of my fingernails." This doubt obsession will not stop in the OCD person's head and the obsession can become so strong that they will experience a strong desire to wash again. The consequences of this can be harmful. Not only will they be legitimizing the scary obsessions but they potentially might not be able to function in their daily life. Here are five ways to control compulsive behaviors:

1. Observe

Look around you at all of the non-OCD population and see what they are doing. Are they still sending their children to school? Are they using Purell or handwashing after touching everything and anything in the environment? Are they no longer shaking hands? Are they refusing to buy products made in China? A great strategy is to behave like your non-OCD counterparts. 

2. Exercise

Release compulsive energy into cardiovascular exercise. Try taking a speed walk around your neighborhood. Weight lifting is another way to release anxious energy. Anything to resist doing the compulsions.

3. Sit with the anxiety

Find a corner to just sit or stand still. Track where in your body you feel anxiety and discomfort. Find that spot and allow yourself to just experience the feeling of anxiety. What I mean is to ride the anxiety like a roller coaster. Let the anxiety carry you up and then let it carry you down. Do not do anything to make that feeling go away because whatever you would be doing at that moment would most likely be a compulsion. 

4. Cognitively reframe

Did you know that 647,000 Americans die every year from heart disease? It is the leading cause of death in the United States. Why are people not panic-stricken at this very moment about this? Why are Americans not terrified of fast food? The answer: desensitization. People have had so many exposures to heart disease and have been hearing about it all of their lives. There is no longer a scary adrenaline rush. A new disease that people are unfamiliar with becomes novel and therefore terrifying. So, to cognitively reframe this is to remind yourself of this fact.

5. Force

No easy way around this one. If you know you are doing too many compulsions, it would be beneficial to get tough with yourself. Since the OCD person will never feel 100 percent clean or right, you can actually tell yourself, "I need to stop!" I recommend saying this out loud because it may make the statement more intense. Additionally, saying it while looking in a mirror may also help you feel strong enough to resist. This way you can remind yourself that the overuse of compulsions will only make your anxiety worse, in turn, leading you to do more compulsive behaviors. This harmful cycle will make everything worse and will eventually interfere with daily functioning.