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How COVID-19 Worsens the Anxiety among People Who Suffers From Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

Covid 19 – Experts and media have warned that mental health crisis will rise during the pandemic will take toll. A recent KFF poll found that about 4 in 10 adults say stress from the coronavirus negatively affected their mental health. (KHN is an editorially independent program of KFF, the Kaiser Family Foundation.)

Amidst the pandemic, people who are suffering from OCD have heightened OCD phobias such as fear of germs due to the virus that doubles their anxiety. People with obsessive-compulsive disorder and other serious mental health crisis are having difficult mental health battles but patients who have undergone successful treatment often have increased abilities to accept the pandemic’s uncertainty. OCD can also cause nonstop, unnecessary thoughts to repeatedly perform certain behaviors, such as compulsive cleaning, and they may fixate their daily basis.

Chris Trondsen, 38, is a therapist who treats those with obsessive-compulsive and anxiety disorders, washing his hands from time to time and experiencing tightness in his chest from anxiety—something he hadn’t felt in so long that and decided to check-up right away.  He was diagnosed with OCD felt his life was finally in control. It’s been a tough and long ride for Trondsen who has battled obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and other mental health issues since early childhood.

“I’ve been doing really, really well,” Trondsen said. “I felt like most of it was pretty much—I wouldn’t say ‘cured’—but I definitely felt in remission or under control. But this pandemic has been really difficult for me.”

“I definitely am needing therapy,” Trondsen said. “I realized that even if it’s not specifically to relearn tools for the disorders … it’s more so for my mental well-being.” He added.

Carli, a 43-year-old from Jersey City, New Jersey is on the same boat as Chris. She’s really terrified of the elevators in her building, so she doesn’t leave her apartment. Also she has struggled with finding the right treatment for her mental health issue.

Instead of going on a therapy, in April, she started using an app that connects people with OCD to licensed therapists. While skeptical at first, she has appreciated the convenience of teletherapy. 

“I never want to go back to actually being in a therapist’s office,” Carli said. “Therapy is something that’s really uncomfortable for a lot of people, including me. And to be able to be on my own turf makes me feel a little more powerful.”

Elizabeth McIngvale, director of the McLean OCD Institute in Houston, said she has noticed patients struggling to differentiate reactions, as Carli described. Her response is that whereas guidelines such as hand-washing from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are generally easily accomplished, OCD compulsions are usually never satisfied.

 “It’s just a part of my life and how I maintain my progress,” McIngvale said.

However she later found out that she’s getting paranoid over having symptoms of the virus. But she was able to redeem herself through treatment. 

“The pandemic, in general, was a new experience for everybody, but for me, feeling anxiety and feeling uncomfortable wasn’t new,” McIngvale said.

“OCD patients are resilient,” she added. Treatment is based on “leaning into uncertainty and so we’ve also seen patients who are far along in their treatment during this time be able to manage really well and actually teach others how to live with uncertainty and with anxiety.”

Wendy Sparrow, 44, an author from Port Orchard, Washington, has OCD, agoraphobia (fear of places or situations that might cause panic) and post-traumatic stress disorder. Sparrow has been in therapy several times but now takes medication and practices mindfulness and meditation.

When the lockdown was imposed, she does not worry too much because she’s used to sanitizing frequently and she doesn’t mind staying home. Instead, she has felt her symptoms worsening as her home no longer felt like a safe space and her fears of fatal contamination heightened.

“The world feels germier than normal and anyone who leaves this house is subjected to a barrage of questions when they return,” Sparrow wrote in an email.

Patrick McGrath, a psychologist and head of clinical services at NOCD, the telehealth platform Carli uses, said he’s found that teletherapy with his patients is also beneficial because it allows him to better understand “how their OCD is interfering in their day-to-day life.”

Trondsen hopes the pandemic will bring increased awareness of OCD and related disorders. Occasionally, he’s felt that his troubles during this pandemic have been dismissed or looped into the general stress everyone is feeling.

“I think that there needs to be a better understanding of how intense this is for people with OCD,” he said.

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