COVID and OCD
COVID-19 and OCD. Wow. Can you believe it’s been a little over a year since the pandemic started? I’ve debated making this video multiple times and with multiple requests and emails I finally decided to take the plunge. I wanted to say with the disclaimer that I am not a medical doctor and I’m not giving you medical advice. I will however give you my thoughts on how somebody who struggles with OCD can do when it comes to the fears of possibly getting the virus. Not only the virus but any sickness.
Hi, my name is Nathan Peterson! I am a specialist with OCD and anxiety related disorders and the creator of the self-directed courses for OCD and BFRBs. I create videos every single week with tips and treatment strategies for OCD, anxiety, tics and Tourette’s, hair pulling and skin picking. Make sure you’re subscribed so you do not miss any of these.
You probably know what COVID-19 is. If you missed it, knock knock knock hello is anyone there. This virus in pandemic has sure set panic throughout the world. And rightfully so. When this thing first started, I made an ignorant comment. I said this is no different than getting the flu, or putting so much value and power on this thing. Boy was I wrong. With the countless lives lost, jobs lost, and mental health issues on the rise, I could never imagine what was going to happen.
Many people have asked me. Nate and I say uhuh, and they say so I’ve been doing treatment for my OCD, how does it now change because of the pandemic. This has been so difficult to figure out a great guideline. Because just like any other anxiety fear in our life, it is very uncertain. There isn’t going to be an answer that is given that is 100% sure.
When it comes to contamination OCD and the fear of possibly getting sick. Individuals felt the need to wash more, avoid more things, Thus sending them through massive spirals where they didn’t know they were following guidelines for fear creating their own rules.
Here is how I have been treating OCD in the midst of this pandemic. I have people create a guideline. How many times a day I want to wash my hands. Is it before I eat, after use the bathroom, or if I come in from outside. Maybe it’s if I physically see dirt on my hand. So typically maybe is five times or less a day.
I then say, we will follow the guidelines of the CDC. Even if we think they are incorrect or wrong. We have to follow some type of guideline or else the rules that your OCD will create could be catastrophic. For instance the CDC said, if you are vaccinated you no longer need to wear a mask. So guess over going to do, no longer wear a mask. But this doesn’t mean I’m no longer wearing a mask but I’m just gonna stay inside. We are following all the guidelines. They say I can go to a restaurant, I’m going to restaurant. They say I can hang out with my other friends vaccinated, I’m hanging out with my friends.
Here's the tricky part however, what about the things are not part of the CDC guideline. They can’t give every scenario possible that you are ever going to run into. This is where you take your best judgment. Meaning, the CDC didn’t mention if I go to my friend’s birthday party and is probably going to be 30 people there. What should I do? I say you do whatever you want to do. Sounds risky, but you do it following the CDC guidelines. They say wear a mask there’s over 20 people, I guess I’m wearing a mask.
I also wouldn’t want individuals to solely focus on this the rest of their life. I want individuals to live their life, sometimes feel like they are risking a lot. But knowing that the base of what I said was I want to wash my hands five times or less a day. How my going to do this.
Typically we use exposure and response prevention. We expose ourselves to things that make us scared or nervous and respond completely different to them. A lot of people hear this and I think that sounds pretty dumb. You want me to just go out and get myself contaminated and dirty and hug everyone I see. This is not an all or nothing approach. This means that I just went to the grocery store I got a lot of groceries other people probably touched, I’m putting them away in my pantry without washing them because the CDC did tell me I needed to. I did say however that if I come in from outside I can wash my hands.
But did the CDC say I need to wash my hands with 5 to 10 pounds of soap? NOPE! Did the CDC say that the water must be scalding hot? NOPE!
You may need to create your own guideline and foundation. I wash my hands for 30 seconds, one pump of soap, and the water may be hot or not.
Overall I want somebody’s experience to be a thoughtful one. Not in anxiety one. Meaning my decisions are based off of just general thought not my decisions are based off of my anxiety. And if anxiety is there I might risk the rules that have created in my brain and learn to respond completely different to them. A lot of times the magic words to the things we don’t know or maybe maybe not. Meaning I’m choosing to only solve the problem when there’s a problem presented in front of me. This is so incredibly hard to do. Because people have gone sick, people have died.
But we are living our life, OCD does not get to dictate what you do anymore. Because there is new value that is been placed in front of us doesn’t mean OCD treatment goes out the window.
A task that some choose to do is to write down all the rules are brain has created because of this pandemic. See if they match up with the CDC and the ones I don’t they may choose to do treatment with these. They feel like they’re doing a lot of risk. But without the risk there tends to not be the reward. The sound so incredibly scary, but what I’ve seen time and time again that the brains really good at saying once I get vaccinated then I will feel anxious about it. Once this one thing happens I will be nervous anymore. Guess what happens, a person gets vaccinated and there still anxious. The brain thinks it’s problem-solving but is continuing to keep you trapped. It’s only going to know that you’re the boss if you treated that way. Sometimes going against the rules that you’ve created in your brain.
I am in no way diminishing the effect that this virus is had on the world. I am diminishing the way OCD is making you think about the virus. Taking power and value away from OCD. It no longer deserves your attention.
If you’re looking for a little extra help, I’ve created a very specific course for OCD that takes you through understanding yourself, the treatment, and building your foundation for success. I will link this down in the description below.
Here’s my question for you. What rules are you following or are taking over your life because of this pandemic? Also, what you can start doing differently about your behaviors?
COVID and Anxiety
Spreading COVID and OCD
Exposure Therapy For OCD
When somebody is facing their fear, they repeat this process over and over again their body tends used to it. We’ve seen this in many different ways such as jumping into a really cool swimming pool. At the very beginning it is very cold but their body adapts and get used to it. We didn’t have to spend time convincing ourselves it was going to get better, it just happens. This can be seen when we are using exposure and response prevention. When you are exposing yourself to the upsetting fear it’s going to feel very difficult at the beginning. Overtime, you may face the same fear but notice that the anxiety level is a lot less. This is seen as the habituation model. That we essxentially are doing exposures to reduce your anxiety by half or more. You’re getting used to it, you’ve taken the value away from it. When it comes to the habituation model, it’s all about this anxiety reduction in your body adapting just like the swimming pool. We will often use us as a measure of success if you were doing exposures correctly. If you’re anxiety is reducing this is a good thing.
There are definitely some drawbacks from using the habituation model. Anxiety is something that we want to take value away from as well. If we are focusing solely on anxiety and having us go up and down individuals can get stuck in paying attention to the anxiety and wondering if they are doing the exposure correctly or not. Let me start obsessing about the actual anxiety versus the actual fear. Many will start to question and wonder why they’re in anxiety is not reducing. Well evidence shows that the habituation model does work, individuals can you get stuck with these pitfalls often.
This is why there is another approach to exposure and response prevention called inhibitory learning. While this is still being researched there is evidence that shows that this helps reduce OCD symptoms as well. The difference is not the actual exposure you were doing but rather the way you were approaching it. With the inhibitory learning model you are teaching your brain more than reducing anxiety. Exposures are all about what can your brain learned from this experience. It doesn’t matter if your anxiety reduces or not. It might not even matter if you have anxiety while you’re doing the exposure. The whole mindset is all about your brain learning something new. So if I was facing a fear that really caused some anxiety, the way I approach is designed is to face the fear, expose yourself to it and RESPOND differently to the fear. You sole focus is what am I teaching my brain by every movement, words I’m saying, what I’m thinking, how I’m behaving.
If I avoid touching something because it’s contaminated, my brain learned that that thing is dangerous. If I touched it and acted like it wasn’t a big deal and didn’t do any compulsions, then my brain learns it’s not a big deal. You may learn time and time again that you faced your fear and NOTHING happened. That is what the brain is learning.
If you’re confused by the two, here is an easy way to remember:
The habitual model means your body is getting used to it and your anxiety is reducing.
Inhibitory learning model means your mindset is all about what your brain is learning from the exposure regardless of the anxiety felt.
Realistically, there isn’t the right choice comes to do an exposures. You do what you feel like is best for you. I have used both models together where I focus majority of my time making sure that the person knows that the brain is learning something. We use anxiety as a measure but ultimately it doesn’t matter if the anxiety reduces or not.
If your brain can learn that the fear that you have is not happening and it is it because you’re trying to control the situation what is the compulsions and to me that’s one of the best ways to do an exposure. Let things be. Stop controlling. It feels like an experiment, but the experiment is worth taking for your brain to learn something major. That you’ve never been a danger.
Inhibitory Learning For OCD
Habituation For OCD
How to do treatment for health anxiety
Health anxiety can be confusing. It can trick you into thinking you may be in great danger when you’re not. It takes normal physical symptoms and makes you create catastrophes about what it actually means. Let’s go through what health anxiety looks like and how to do the treatment.
What does health anxiety look like
health anxiety symptoms
Nathan Peterson specializes in working with OCD and Anxiety related disorders and has done so for the past 7+ years.