The Ever-Blurring Lines of O.C.D. During COVID-19


Hannah Starcher, B.A.

As the weeks press on in quarantine, we are urged take extra precautions. We’re warned to frequently wash our hands and keep away from our faces - inducing a lack of distrust in the outside world and a constant fear for the health and safety of ourselves and those around us. For individuals struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), these warnings can be even more damaging.


According to a study done by the International OCD Foundation (IOCDF), roughly 1 in 100 adults - or between 2 to 3 million adults in the United States - have OCD. OCD is defined as a “mental health disorder that affects people of all ages and walks of life, and occurs when a person gets caught in a cycle of obsessions and compulsions” (IOCDF). These obsessions and compulsions can manifest in a multitude of different ways. Now, with COVID-19, individuals diagnosed with OCD - contamination OCD in particular - are faced with new challenges of distinguishing between appropriate safety measures and their own compulsions.


OCD treatment frequently involves exposure therapy, which is defined as “a psychological treatment that was developed to help people confront their fears” by the American Psychological Association (APA). The APA explains further that exposure therapy can create a safe environment for individuals, allowing them to become exposed to the things that they avoid and fear. Individuals that have had exposure therapy, or practice Exposure Ritual Prevention and Awareness Exercises (ERPA), may be attempting to figure out which actions of theirs are extreme and which are rational.

As social distancing and incessant sanitation become normalized, those diagnosed with OCD may feel even more afflicted. Unfortunately, there are no perfect solutions for dealing with COVID-19 yet. But, there are ways to keep yourself safeguarded. The Centers for Disease Control (CBDC) have a list of guidelines which will give you the most accurate and up to date information on preserving your health and the health of others amid this pandemic. These guidelines may serve as a map, navigating you through reliable and preventative measures that you can follow in your every day life. Watch their video on the how-tos of hand-washing, or read more about cleaning and good disinfectants to use. There are reliable resources available to show you the way, and they don’t have to be life-changing.  


If you have OCD and are feeling overwhelmed or especially anxious, please reach out to a specialist near you - you are not alone in this.  


Society of Clinical Psychology. “What Is Exposure Therapy?” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association,

“What Is OCD?” International OCD Foundation,

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