If you live with OCD, you probably know what it’s like to experience common OCD symptoms, including having ongoing thoughts and urges that cause you significant anxiety, as well as the compulsion to engage in behaviors like constant checking, or perhaps excessive cleaning, to help you cope with these unsettling thoughts.
For instance, you may have fears of becoming ill, and because of this constant fear, you may compulsively wash your hands to avoid catching a virus. If your OCD involves fears over becoming sick, it makes sense that being in the midst of a pandemic can make things worse.
If you’ve noticed that the pandemic has made your OCD more severe, chances are that you are not alone. You may even find that your usual treatment regimen isn’t as effective. Here’s what you can expect, as well as what you can do to cope.
What does OCD prevalence look like amid the COVID-19 pandemic?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, around 1.2 percent of U.S. adults experience OCD within the course of a calendar year, and given the circumstances surrounding the pandemic, we can expect that symptom severity among those with OCD has increased over the past two years. This can lead to problems in functioning, especially since prevalence data show that just over half of adults with OCD experience severe impairment, meaning that OCD symptoms can significantly interfere with daily life and make it difficult to manage responsibilities, maintain relationships, and fulfill duties at work or in school.
A new study in the Journal of Anxiety Disorders surveyed 394 people with OCD and found that 72% of them reported an increase in OCD symptoms as a result of the pandemic. Increased OCD severity was particularly common among those who had a washing compulsion. Factors like reduced mobility and relationship conflict were linked to increases in OCD symptoms, suggesting that the stress that comes with pandemic-related isolation can result in worsening mental health.
Furthermore, an October 2020 study conducted in Canada found that OCD cases seem to be on the rise in the wake of the pandemic. The study, which included over 32,000 respondents, found that 60.3% experienced OCD symptoms during the pandemic, with 53.8% indicating that they had started to engage in compulsive hand-washing. The study’s authors concluded that OCD symptom prevalence increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic and contributed to elevated levels of stress.
What This Means for Your OCD Symptoms
Given the fact that COVID-19 has been found to contribute to an increase in OCD symptoms, you might expect the following effects on your OCD and your overall functioning:
- Your level of anxiety may be more severe than it was prior to the pandemic.
- You might notice that you are feeling the urge to engage in compulsive behaviors like hand washing or cleaning more often than usual.
- Your usual OCD treatment may not seem to be as effective, or you may find that you need to talk with a counselor or therapist more often to get the same benefits.
- Keeping up with usual responsibilities, such as completing tasks at work and caring for your family and home may seem more burdensome than usual.
- Your stress levels will likely be higher, which could make it difficult to function or make you appear more irritable.
- If your OCD symptoms were previously in remission, they may have reappeared after the start of the pandemic.
- Perhaps you are someone who suffers from anxiety from time to time, and you started to show symptoms of a new case of OCD after the pandemic began.
How to Manage OCD During the Pandemic
If you’ve had a relapse to OCD symptoms during the pandemic, or the severity of your OCD symptoms has increased in the midst of the health risks, stressors, and isolation that can come with a global pandemic, there are things you can do to cope. As the National Institute of Mental explains, antidepressant medications called SSRIs are commonly used to treat OCD symptoms, but you may need a higher dose for OCD than you would need for depression. If OCD symptoms are interfering with your daily functioning, you may benefit from visiting with your doctor to discuss a prescription for SSRI medications.
In some cases, medication for OCD is paired with therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, often called CBT, is a specific type of treatment that can be beneficial if you are struggling with OCD symptoms from the pandemic. During CBT sessions, your therapist can help you to overcome distorted ways of thinking that are contributing to your obsessive thoughts. Over time, as you benefit from counseling, your fears surrounding the pandemic may reduce in severity, so your daily functioning and coping skills improve.
If you are concerned about the risks associated with visiting a public office for OCD therapy, you might consider meeting with a therapist virtually. Many providers began offering teletherapy using webcams, apps, and other technology during the pandemic, and numerous providers continue to offer therapy in this modality, not only for safety but also for convenience.
Beyond seeking treatment, it is important to take care of yourself. A pandemic can be anxiety-provoking, even for those who do not live with OCD. Do not be ashamed to reach out for help, seek support from friends, or practice self-care habits such as getting regular exercise and engaging in hobbies you enjoy. If you start to struggle with intrusive thoughts, it can be helpful to practice a calming activity, such as reading a favorite book or magazine, taking a walk, practicing yoga, or relaxing with a hot bath.
What to Do When OCD Symptoms Do Not Improve
While a combination of counseling and medication is often helpful for treating OCD, sometimes people do not experience symptom relief with these usual treatment methods. If your OCD symptoms are especially severe in the midst of the pandemic, you may need additional treatment beyond counseling and/or medication.
Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) is an FDA-approved treatment method for OCD symptoms, and it can be added to the usual course of treatment, such as medications and/or counseling, when patients do not respond adequately to these treatment methods.
For patients in the Los Angeles area, Pulse TMS offers these services in conveniently-scheduled 18-minute appointments. This non-invasive treatment method occurs while patients wear a device that rests against the head and delivers pulses to the brain to treat OCD symptoms. Contact us today to learn how we can help you to manage pandemic-related OCD.