The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a difficult time for a lot of people, but for those with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) it may be particularly challenging. Here one of our counsellors shares their tips on coping:
- Don’t overdo news
It is so tempting to watch the news 24/7 on the latest updates and what is happening. Although it is good to keep informed, scouring the internet for every bit of information, and watching the news bulletins for long periods, will only increase your anxiety. If possible, try and limit your exposure to news about the virus to 15 mins a day, and preferably in the morning. It is probably best not to watch disturbing news before going to bed because this can interfere with a good restful sleep. Sleep is really important because not sleeping enough can supress your immune system and make you more vulnerable to illness.
- Stick to NHS guidelines
Scientists around the world are now focusing on this virus and collectively working to come up with quick testing, vaccine and how to best prevent its spread. The NHS is guided by this science and has come up with recommendations how to protect yourself from the virus. For example, it advises that you wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. This doesn’t mean you should wash your hands twice as long a hundred times a day. If you’re rubbing your skin raw and leaving it chaffed, you’re actually increasing susceptibility by creating ways for the virus to infect your body.
- Resist the OCD Loop
Be aware of obsessive worries that start looping in your head and tell yourself to “stop!” Understand that having OCD is associated with too much activity in an area of the brain called the anterior cingulate gyrus (ACG). Looping worries are a sign that your ACG has gotten stuck. One way to get unstuck is to write down the fearful thought and ask yourself if it is true. It may also be helpful to distract yourself by singing a song you love, reciting a prayer, or playing with your pet.
- Don’t isolate yourself
Although we should be avoiding large crowds, shaking hands, and close contact particularly with anyone who has developed symptoms, the present self-quarantine is likely to ramp up anxious thoughts and worries. Therefore, it is important to stay connected to friends and loved ones online or by phone and make it a point to talk about your concerns. It is also a time to keep your spirits up by exchanging jokes, songs or news about how you have kept yourself busy; books you have read or shows you are watching. Lean on your support network to help you.
- Don’t feed your fears with sugar
When we feel anxious we often experience cravings. We turn to cakes, biscuits and sweets that give us that quick boost of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Unfortunately this mood boost is only temporary and will lead to a crash that is likely to only increase feelings of anxiety, and potentially more cravings. If possible eat a well balanced diet with plenty of fruit and vegetables and focus on eating complex carbs (found in beans and whole grains), which offer sustained rise in serotonin, without the crash.
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