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How to Manage OCD and Anxiety During the COVID-19 Outbreak

By Chelsea Moravek and Susan Foosness | September 17, 2020 | 4 min read | Healthy Lifestyle, Coronavirus, Mental Health

Woman outdoors in pink fabric face covering

We’ve all heard people joke about their “OCD tendencies.” You might think of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) as a mild problem, or even a helpful behavior for “neat freaks.” But the truth is that OCD is a serious behavioral health condition. It impacts nearly 1 in 40 (or 2 to 3 million) adults in the United States at some point in their lives. It can significantly impact a person’s relationships with others, their work or school, and their sense of self.

We talked with Dr. Patrick McGrath, Head of Clinical Services at NOCD to learn more about this behavioral health condition during COVID-19.

Q: What impact has COVID-19 had on people with anxiety and OCD?

A: The COVID-19 outbreak has caused an increase in anxiety in just about everyone. We’ve adopted new behaviors to decrease the chances of getting ourselves or others sick. While it’s reasonable and ethically responsible to be more careful, the added risks and responsibilities have worsened many people’s OCD.

The pandemic has also introduced uncertainty in day-to-day life, disruption of routines, and new health and safety requirements, including distance from loved ones.

What is OCD?

OCD is a chronic condition where a person has recurring unwanted thoughts, images, urges, and fears (obsessions) that trigger significant anxiety. This leads to repetitive physical or mental behaviors (compulsions) in an attempt to reduce the resulting distress. That relief is only temporary, igniting an endless cycle if not treated.

Q: What does this new day-to-day and disruption look like to those who have OCD?

A: These changes may increase the frequency of unwanted thoughts, images, or urges for people with OCD. Those who are distressed with thoughts that they will accidentally infect someone may respond by ramping up their hand washing or cleaning efforts, to the point of exhaustion and having cracked and peeling hands. Others who are desperately searching for certainty about COVID-19 may respond by excessively seeking new information.

Q: Why is it important for someone experiencing OCD to connect with a behavioral health provider?

A: We have no way to estimate how long this might go on – creating a perfect storm of uncertainty for anxious minds. Therefore, receiving a diagnostic assessment and therapy from a licensed, OCD-trained professional may be more beneficial than ever. However, due to ever-changing regulations, many people are finding themselves unable to physically go in for appointments.

Q: Is virtual treatment an option for OCD?

A: Yes! The most effective therapy for OCD—Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)—is just as effective through online video appointments as it is in an office. When done with a licensed OCD therapist, ERP is the most reliable way to decrease distress caused by OCD.

Trying to “fight” thoughts, images, or urges is a losing battle. Instead, ERP works by helping people recognize and resist their compulsions. It gradually teaches them that they can tolerate even their most distressing obsessions. An OCD-trained therapist can create a personalized treatment program to help people effectively manage their OCD.

Q: How can people get connected to virtual treatment for OCD?

A: Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina offers eligible members a diagnostic assessment and specialized online therapy through an in-network telehealth provider. – NOCD provides live one-on-one video therapy with OCD and ERP-trained therapists. This can help reduce OCD symptoms for most people in just a few weeks. Between sessions, members can access a peer community and personalized self-management tools at any time for ongoing support.

Eligible members can schedule a free 15-minute phone call with NOCD to learn more about how to work with an in-network therapist to help manage OCD, especially during these times of heightened anxiety. It could be one of the most important calls you ever make.