I’m more likely to earn the democratic nomination for President than to successfully avoid discussion about the coronavirus right now.
You can’t turn on the news without seeing sensationalized headlines about the progression of the virus. Our phones are inundated with notifications about the climbing death tolls or the number of those infected nearby. Governmental officials are declaring states of emergency, shutting down schools and encouraging us to stock pile food and supplies.
It’s like the entire world has suddenly developed an obsession with COVID-19, the formal name for the coronavirus, and it’s causing society to celebrate compulsive behavior.
It’s something very familiar to people who struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, particularly those of us who struggle with health anxiety/contamination OCD. We have always been hyper-vigilant about diseases, constantly checking our bodies for any sign of illness and going over the top with preventive measures to avoid “getting sick.”
It’s incredibly difficult right now for people with health anxiety and OCD to be able to tell what’s healthy, precautionary action and what’s extreme because it feels like the entire world is encouraging us to be compulsive.
People are buying so much hand sanitizer that stores are selling out, toilet paper is being snatched up like it’s pure gold and every family is developing a “just in case” plan. And they’re right to be worried but, due to this frantic behavior, people with OCD are uniquely struggling.
Suddenly, “Wash your hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds” becomes, “I’m going to wash my hands every couple of minutes even if I haven’t touched anything because the CDC told me to wash my hands.” Or, “Sanitize frequently touched surfaces with cleaning products to kill the disease” is now, “I must use a Lysol wipe on everything that comes into my house, including groceries, because I don’t know who handled my food and whether or not they’re sick.”
See the problem?
I feel encouraged to dive deeper into my compulsions to keep myself safe because they are technically rooted in a fundamental truth: the coronavirus is highly contagious and we have a chance of contracting it. But, instead of allowing myself to lose hours of my life googling coronavirus, scouring online forums and desperately trying to reassure myself, I’m going to direct that energy into writing this blog post.
How I’m going to work toward handling the coronavirus with my OCD:
1) Accept that you might get the virus.
This is by far the most difficult thing to come to terms with but for me it makes the most difference. For years, I’ve had compulsive health concerns about brain tumors, aneurysms, periphery artery disease, deep vein thrombosis and much, much more. Needless to say, I got really good at losing my mind over conditions that I couldn’t even prevent.
One day, after listing all the factors that put my at high risk for disease, my therapist looked at me and said, “At a certain point, you can’t control this. If you’re going to die, then you’re going to die. All you can control is how you decide to let it impact your life right now. The future is impossible to predict. Maybe you’ll die of an aneurysm in a few years, maybe you’ll live until you’re 100 but you have to decide if you want to live your life riddled with fear. ”
Is this the life you want to live, really got to me. I realized that I wanted to live fully instead of just shooting for some arbitrary number to feel like I “made it.” If I lived to 108 but had to compulsively worry to get there, would that even be a life worth living?
It’s the same thing here. We can’t deny that we’re acting risk for contracting the virus. It’s an objective fact. However, we can’t let it ruin our present moment.
2) Follow the thought all the way through
My therapist explained that most troublesome thoughts happen when we’re stuck in a repetitive cycle. We think, “What if I get coronavirus?” and instead of following that thought all the way through, we’re already thinking, “What if I need to be hospitalized?” But, it’s important to really think about what we’re afraid of in these circumstances.
Ask yourself, “What will happen if I get coronavirus?” For the vast majority of people under the age of 70, you’ll get a bad flu and move on with your life. [This is coming from a girl who got the swine flu when she was 18]. If you get coronavirus and need to be hospitalized, then follow that thought through too. Chances are you’ll get premium health care because they want to stop its spread. Even if you die of coronavirus, will worrying prevent it?
3) Trust the people around you
When you have OCD, it can be very isolating because many of us are ashamed of our thoughts. But, try not to give into this feeling. Trust your family, friends and maybe even coworkers to know what’s going on with you. Recently, I’ve been very open about my own difficulties handling my OCD in the time of COVID-19 and it’s brought so much love into my life. Being open and honest about your struggles may not lessen its severity but it’ll make it much easier to navigate.
4) Limit exposure to coronavirus coverage but don’t avoid it all together
We all know that engaging in compulsions actually makes OCD worse because it validates thoughts and ultimately strengthens obsessions but avoidance is just as bad. Feel free to mute the topic on social media sites, avoiding actively googling the subject and limit discussions about it. However, if it’s on the TV or comes up in conversation, allow yourself to hear about it, talk about it and then try to move on.
5) Ask yourself what someone without OCD would do
This is another thing that’s massively helpful. My therapist said that a really good way to handle OCD is by asking, “What would your friend who doesn’t have OCD do in this situation?” It’s a good way to be cautious without going overboard. When you’re starting to question whether your behavior is bordering on OCD, ask what your most mellow (but still hygienic) friend would do!
6) Take care of yourself
Playing the sims, go for a walk, eat delicious food, talk to friends and get enough sleep. Do everything you can to bolster yourself emotionally and physically. I know how difficult this is but coronavirus can only run our lives if we let it.