The CDC recommends frequent hand washing, avoiding close contact with others, and routine disinfecting to help us fight the spread of COVID-19. We should all be following these guidelines, but for those with contamination-related OCD, these behaviors are all too familiar. How can you tell if your behaviors are an appropriate reaction to COVID-19 or are veering into OCD?
Right now, washing our hands and disinfecting surfaces is expected, but ask yourself if what you are doing is above and beyond what is recommended or what most people you know are doing. Are you engaged in healthy protective behaviors or unhealthy coping strategies to deal with your anxiety about COVID-19? The CDC recommends washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap before eating, after going to the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing, and anytime you reenter your home after being outside or in public. Many people are being “extra cautious” and find themselves washing and cleaning more than ever before. However, are you washing your hands for a few minutes, dozens of times a day, or even when you haven’t gone anywhere? Are you wiping down the same surfaces repeatedly? Are you frequently asking others if you cleaned enough or if you did it properly? Are you constantly ruminating over whether you or your home are contaminated? Are these behaviors in themselves having a significant negative impact on your life? If so, these may be signs that your abundance of caution has crossed the line into OCD.
It is normal to feel anxious about COVID-19 and feel you are spending a lot of time and energy in both worrying about it and protecting yourself from it. However, if you feel you are struggling with the stress, or are veering into OCD behaviors, mental health professionals are available for guidance, support, and assistance in helping you learning more appropriate and healthy coping strategies.