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Dealing with OCD in the time of the coronavirus

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.”

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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.

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How I’m going to work toward handling the coronavirus with my OCD: 

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