Living with OCD in a post-Covid world

Govind Sekhar is a Bengaluru-based digital marketing specialist. He also has Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), an anxiety disorder due to which people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). Such repetitive behaviour can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions.

For him, and many others living with the disorder, the pandemic was a huge trigger. “The news alone was triggering. My partner’s brother was in China and when he picked him and came from the airport, it was extremely difficult,” he says.

Increasing numbers

Dr Naveen Jayaram, consultant psychiatrist, says that many people who had obsessive-compulsive personality have, over the course of the past year, developed OCD. The signs can be hard to miss as they simply indulge in behaviour that could be misconstrued as simply following the guidelines.

So how does one define ‘excessive’? “How much time is the person spending on worrying about this? Have they become fixated on the virus and following precautionary methods. Yes, wash your hands, but if they are washing it 10 ten times, it is a problem,” he says. 

The compulsiveness does not simply have to be in terms of indulging in behaviour to help prevention but can also be seen in terms of an obsessive fear of contracting the virus.

“While most people have become more careful than before, people with OCD will clearly overdo it. And, they are always aware that the behaviour is hampering their day-to-day life,” he says.   

Nithya J Rao, co-founder, Heart It Out says that about 20 – 30 per cent of their clients came with a diagnosis of OCD and most of them fall within the 25-39 age group.

“For some people, it’s a temporary trigger, which probably will worsen and then revert back to a healthy amount of anxiety when the environment becomes safer, but for some, the situation has deepened the symptoms,” she says. 

The biggest struggle, she observes, is the knowledge that it’s irrational. “People with OCD know that their fears aren’t true. But, because they are being exaggerated by the news, and there is constant fear-mongering on social media, they can’t now just brush it off as a stray thought,” she says. The self-doubt coupled with the compulsions takes away from their time being used productively and efficiently as well as causes emotional distress. 

Share the struggle

For many, sharing their struggles have become difficult because of people have co-opted the term ‘OCD’, taking away from the people that actually
struggle.

“I met a couple recently. The wife was obsessed with following the precautionary measures and would force everyone in the family to do so. Initially, everyone obliged because they thought she was being careful. After a point, however, they couldn’t comply,” says Dr Jayaram. In most cases, people started seeking help after the lockdown as others in their life started to show irritation over their obsessive behaviour.

“Awareness is important. You need to take note of the small things so people can get the needed help earlier,” he says. 

Govind made it a point to stay away from news and unfollow social media pages or people who constantly kept posting about the pandemic.

“I went to a couple of close friends for legitimate information and didn’t get lost in the clutter that gets shared on platforms,” he says.

While the guidelines that asked people to follow basic hygiene routine and sanitise proved to be a source of relief for him, for others the way they have been communicated didn’t help.

“They mostly only deal with what to do and what not to do. There is no reassurance, or information about where to seek help, or how to deal with it after one tests positive. It gives no information on emotionally coping with the situation, which makes it all the more confusing and worse,” adds Nithya.

Ask for help 

Guidelines and safety precautions are important, especially with the increasing numbers.

“Safety is difficult to define. If you feel distressed that the precautionary methods are taking over their life, reach out for help. Mindfulness and meditation help,” says Dr Jayaram.

Keeping himself occupied helped Govind during this time. “I started a company, which was something I have always wanted to do. I devoted all my time to it, which helped. I also kept my therapist close and got help to any employee that required it through a friend,” he says.

 

Signs to watch out for

Very often signs that point out the condition can go unnoticed as many are unaware. Nithya J Rao, co-founder, Heart It Out, lists out some things to watch out for:

Compulsively checking the news

Agitation

Compulsive hoarding of pamphlets and information

Hypervigilance

Impulsivity

Meaningless repetition of one’s own words

Repetitive movements

Ritualistic behaviour such as repeated sanitising

Social isolation

Increased anxiety

Apprehension

Guilt

Panic attacks

Lack of motivation

Anger outbursts

Meltdowns

Food aversion

Nightmares

Repeatedly going over thoughts. 

Here are some tips she suggests for someone with OCD, who may be struggling to cope during this time:

Create a reasonable safety plan.

Be in touch with a therapist that can help manage flareups.

Limit news consumption

Limit listening to other people’s opinions on what’s right to do.

Practice self-compassion

Develop healthy distractions such as hobbies that consume time (example: carpentry, puzzles, gaming)

Ask for support

Share with peers