OCD & Coming Out of the Pandemic

A recent CNN article caught my attention: OCD isn’t just about being a neat freak. And for those with it, this next stage of the pandemic may be hard.

I’ve written quite a bit in the last couple of years addressing some of the pandemic challenges for those with anxiety and OCD. There’s no denying the pandemic’s been extremely difficult for everyone struggling with mental illness, including those with OCD.

As we seem to be approaching the move from pandemic to endemic, it’s important to keep in mind that these challenges don’t just disappear. In fact, the change brings up new challenges.

No one likes uncertainty

Covid anxiety isn’t just impacting those with OCD. My 86-year-old dad doesn’t have OCD but was doing lots of mental gymnastics before he flew for the first time in 2 years.

We, as humans, generally want to know things “for sure.” Real life, however, is uncertain. People with OCD and/or anxiety disorders have a more difficult time with uncertainty and start to imagine more catastrophic consequences.

The pandemic elevates that difficulty.

As we ease out of it, more uncertainty appears, and we want to adjust our ability to tolerate it.

For instance, thanks to pandemic restrictions, we may have gotten out of the practice of doing things we took for granted prior. For some, this “sanctioned” avoidance may have felt really good. I know lots of people who enjoyed some aspects of quarantine. As they return to activities like socializing, traveling, and dating, they’re feeling anticipatory anxiety, shame, disgust, embarrassment and other unpleasant feelings.

Most of us believe what we think and feel

If you think it, it must be true, right? If you feel something, it must be important, right?

You should investigate right away.

Most of the time, and certainly for those with excessive worry and irrational fear, what you think and feel generally aren’t anything to be investigated. The truth is that our brain spits up a lot of random emotions and thoughts. Even when they come on strong, it doesn’t mean anything other than they are coming on strong. They’re not indicators of something.

And, no, you cannot manifest your OCD.

Certainty is a feeling, not a fact

When we’re intolerant to uncertainty, we react in ways to relieve that distress. We could all benefit from getting better at NOT knowing, at remembering that uncertainty is a feeling, and that all feelings are temporary.

The next time you get the urge to research something, seek or give reassurance, or figure something out, ask yourself, “can this wait?” Then, go do something. Don’t wait until you’re ready. Do it while you’re scared.

If you’re avoiding something, avoid the avoidance.

Getting help

For those with OCD, getting help is vital. Obsessive compulsive disorder can be debilitating. The CNN article talks with Malena Dell who, prior to getting treatment, spent up to 12 hours a day in her compulsions. Moving out of this does not happen instantly.

If you’re in Ohio, contact me for treatment options. For anyone, please find a therapist trained in exposure and response prevention therapy.