People With OCD Respond to COVID-19

COVID-19: It’s Surreal Isn’t It?

This is the moment you’ve trained for. You’ve spent a lifetime imagining all kinds of catastrophes. And now that the real catastrophe is here…you’re like, what’s sup?

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You’re thinking it shouldn’t be this easy. Everybody’s freakin’ out and you’re not. WHY AM I NOT FREAKIN’ OUT??? 

Because you’ve trained for moments like this.

ERP Before COVID-19

With the pedal to the metal, you touched all kinds of crap without washing your hands. You learned to watch people touch stuff that was “contaminated” and shrug it off. “That’s your problem OCD, not mine.”

You stopped washing excessively. Fabric and surfaces no longer bothered you. Showers got down to less than 15 minutes. You freely moved around without scanning and monitoring. Sure, you still had pop up thoughts about contamination but you were wise to it. “Nope, not going down that rabbit hole.”

OMG, you did it!!!

You got your life back!!! You learned to “Boss it Back.”

And then…

Enter COVID-19

It’s surreal, isn’t it?

As an OCD therapist, I’m asked a lot about how clients are holding up with what’s happening. Many are thriving–some are struggling.

I’m Okay:

“You might think this pandemic would make anxious people way more anxious. But for those of us who’ve been catastrophizing our entire lives…We can be surprisingly calm in a crisis and many of us are right now.”

“I’m personally more anxious when things are typical. My brain is always trying to find what’s going to blow up in my life and fall completely apart. When there’s a real crisis happening it’s stressful, but not in the way I see it stressing other people out.”

“I feel like it’s helped me focus my anxiety–instead of worrying about hundreds of things, I just have to worry about one big thing.”

“My planning for the worst and hoping for the best finally comes in handy. And it feels good.”


“I’m an expert in crisis management because I’m an expert in crisis creation.”

“I’ve been training my whole life for this.”

“I actually feel some kind of release. It’s like I’ve been waiting for “something” to crash, and now that it finally does, it seems emotionally easier…”

“…kinda just a “well I’ve been expecting this to happen” feeling.”

For some people, they feel worse. Not so much because of the virus itself but because of the change in daily routine and the way other people are behaving. Being cut off from a purposeful day or from being around support systems can be stressful.

I’m Not Okay:

“I acclimated quickly to the restrictions and changes and felt surprisingly okay, feeling like I had what I could under control, but this week I’ve just been a mess.” I think many people are experiencing the second or third week as more stressful. So what you’re feeling is reasonable. It’s okay to fall apart. Put yourself back together though.

“Reality checks and distraction normally help me but when the world confirms my obsessive fears of germs, disease and loved ones at risk, that doesn’t help so much.” It’s hard taking the recommended precautions because it might seem like you’re agreeing with OCD. But you’re not. You’re agreeing with the experts who tell us to take these precautions. Your fears are no different than the rest of the world right now. Don’t give OCD credit.

“I was starting to get better before the pandemic, but now I fell back into a hole and my anxiety is off the charts. In times of peace, I’ll be anxious. In times of crisis, I’m more anxious.” Anxiety is uncomfortable but don’t let it keep you from being who you want to be. You can do anything no matter how anxious you are. You can do nothing by avoiding anxiety. How do you want to spend your time and who do you want to be?

“How am I supposed to tell OCD no when everyone in my house is bonkers? They keep telling me to wash my hands! So I’m back to square one.” It might feel like you’re back to square one but that doesn’t make it true. Once you’ve confronted OCD and faced your fears you don’t forget how to do it. Remember, you just have to start somewhere and build momentum. You’ve got muscle memory on your side.

This situation we’re in is fluid and ever-evolving. We’re all in it together. Remember it is crucial that you:

  1. Maintain a routine. 
  2. If you’re not living alone find some “me” time.
  3. Follow the recommendations of physical distance but find ways to stay socially connected.
  4. Find something better to do than perseverate and ruminate.

Courage is not the absence of fear but rather the assessment that something else is more important than fear” ~Franklin Roosevelt