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The COVID-19 pandemic has upended the lives of people from all walks of life. As uncertainty is the basis of all anxiety, in some ways COVID-19 has reignited the foundations of anxiety.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a sub-group of the wide spectrum anxiety disorders, in which a patient experiences intrusive, distressing and recurrent thoughts, urges and images. This virus has become a nightmare for people suffering from OCD. The irony is their routine of hyper cleanliness has suddenly become everyone’s reality.
Although this might seem helpful in the midst of the outbreak, it is actually much more complicated. People with OCD who have a history of excessive hand washing, cleaning and avoiding contamination may be triggered by the news. The compulsion to wash and clean is likely to intensify; they may find difficult to stop washing after 20 seconds and may repeat the washing cycle a number of times.
Some people may go to excessive lengths such as using bleach and other abrasive material, which is counter productive as it will break the skin, making it more prone to infection. People with OCD may also fear getting someone else sick, even if they are not showing symptoms.
Those who already keep sanitiser and disinfectant with them all the times can’t get those products at stores now, thanks to panic shoppers. Not just the virus – but other people’s hysteria and panic may also trigger them.
The most effective therapy for OCD, along with the medication, is behavioural treatment including exposure response prevention and cognition therapy. This requires people to go through what they are most afraid of. If a person feels they must wash their hands every time they touch door handle, this treatment will help them see that nothing will happen if they don’t.
However, this is not necessarily true right now. They are not able to decide what is more dangerous for them – getting infected with the virus or an OCD relapse.
Dr Ali Mahdi Naqvi, assistant professor at Lucknow’s Unity Degree College, said, “It’s now my daily routine to practice hand washing more than 3-4 times per hour and I sanitise everything that comes to my house.” He is of the view that it’s better to be over cautious.
Similar trends have been noticed in other individuals too, as people are now used to in sanitising their hands, cleaning, etc. Although this is the time to maintain hygiene and develop good habits, mental health experts believe you need to be cautious and not go overboard. Panic strikes when one always thinks the worst.
So wash your hands and surfaces, check for symptoms, but not every minute. And try not to hoard, these are the times when you need to show compassion. Community participation and equal distribution of essentials with your loved ones and neighbourhood is what that will surely give your mental peace and satisfaction.
People with OCD need to find balance: to some extent, their disorder can help them to cope with this viral outbreak, but if their illness start causing them distress, they have to take some definite steps. While more information might seem like the best defence against illness, it is far more likely to ramp up panic, especially if this information is from unreliable social media platforms.
People suffering from OCD can limit their COVID-19 news consumption to once a day and only get news from a trusted, verified source. Set a basic safety regimen, follow the guidelines structured by WHO and health ministry, and strictly stick to that.
When they feel urge to wash their hands, they should think first whether there is actually a chance to pick up a new pathogen since they scrubbed last. Mobile phones, light switches, door handles and other frequently touched surfaces can be sanitised once a day, and the entire process should only take a few minutes.
Self-quarantine may amplify anxiety, staying on top of general fitness and wellness regimens is even more important during a stressful time like this one. Make sure to have enough and sound sleep, a balanced diet and get some exercise, as it is better to get your heart racing from the activity rather than anxiety.
To answer queries, they can visit the WHO official website or call helpline numbers. If they still find it difficult to calm themselves down, they must seek help from their general physician and psychiatrist. We all have to believe that we will get through this outbreak if we take proper precautionary measures. So be informed, prepared, smart and safe.