Can Coronavirus Anxiety Cause Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

As we head toward easing stay-home orders, it’s normal to be concerned about keeping you and your family healthy. This new way of life brought awareness to handwashing, disinfecting surfaces, distancing, and more. Those things are important, but how do you know the difference between being cautious and being compulsive? Here are some points to consider if you’re concerned about OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) behaviors:

Can Coronavirus worries turn into OCD?

In short, no. OCD is caused by a lot of things, such as changes in your brain or body chemistry, genes you’ve inherited, and habits learned over a long time. People who have OCD often have unwelcome thoughts or obsessions — ideas, images, feelings, and desires to act, but what makes it unique is that it’s a long-term pattern. It doesn’t come on suddenly, even in the face of something as troubling as COVID-19.

For people who don’t have OCD, these feelings don’t take over or make them want to try to solve something through rituals or compulsions. They can take a break from their worries while still following guidelines to help keep themselves and others healthy.

What to do if you feel your contamination anxiety is too extreme

Protect yourself based on the recommendations of trusted health organizations, and do not add to it. See the tips below and visit the CDC website for additional guidelines:

  • Disinfect surfaces once a day. Focus on the surfaces that are frequently touched, and think about whether this is truly needed For example, if you stayed home all day and had no visitors, do you really need to disinfect that doorknob? This process shouldn’t take you more than a few minutes per day.
  • Remind yourself that no one can protect themselves “perfectly” from COVID-19. Use common sense instead of going to perfectionistic extremes. 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds after being outside or in public, before eating, after going to the bathroom, and after you’ve coughed/sneezed/blown your nose. If soap and water are not available to you, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Wear a mask when you’re not able to keep a safe distance from others.

What if you’ve been diagnosed with OCD in the past?

If you’ve struggled with OCD in the past, contamination triggers brought on by COVID-19 can be paralyzing. Along with reaching out to a therapist, the American Psychological Association recommends the following:

  • Stay informed, but reduce compulsive news watching – Restrict your news intake to a frequency and duration that works for you. For instance, you might only check once a day for a maximum of five minutes, or once a week you might watch the evening news, or you might decide not to check news at all. Do whatever is most useful for you (and not for OCD).
  • Follow valid recommendations for health behaviors – The CDC and the WHO have the knowledge to make recommendations. OCD, no matter what it says, does not. 
  • Practice self-compassion – Recognize that it’s normal to be anxious about Coronavirus and you’re not alone. Allow yourself to feel anxious and realize that your anxiety might not go away while the situation is still unfolding.

Reach out if you need help

If you’ve been previously diagnosed or are currently being treated for OCD, continue to see your therapist and/or doctor during this time. Your medical team can help identify your triggers and guide you through this pandemic. If you need additional guidance or resources, don’t hesitate to reach out to Edgewood.

Our counselors can also help if you don’t have past OCD symptoms but are concerned about your current behaviors and ability to resume life after lockdown. Contact Edgewood for tools to ease your fears and help you cope. Reach out via the link below for a confidential in-person or Telehealth appointment.