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How COVID-19 crisis is impacting those with OCD

Fears of transmitting coronavirus have everyone checking the news and being extra careful with handwashing.

For people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, this crisis is particularly difficult because it can be hard to decide which behaviors are reasonable and which reflect excess anxiety.

Patients with OCD live with excessive fears that turn into obsessive thoughts that spark compulsive behaviors, and now coronavirus is intensifying all of it.

“I think the biggest issue for people with OCD is that everything is out of control,” said college professor Michelle Szydlowski, who lives with OCD.

With medication and therapy, Szydlowski was able to control her OCD -- until COVID-19 rattled her world.

“On the way to the store, I actually had what I would describe as a panic attack,” Szydlowski said.

Experts say the fear of the virus can intensify OCD symptoms.

“I have actually seen that it’s affecting people more in the way that their routines have changed,” said Kelsey Blahnik, a licensed clinical social worker.

But there are ways to regain control.

“The No. 1 thing would be to limit media absorption to maybe once a day,” Blahnik said.

Follow the media exposure by doing something positive, like writing in a gratitude journal, exercising or connecting with someone.

“Have a trustworthy person nearby to help you decipher what are those obsessive thoughts and what are true thoughts,” said Lauren Eadie, a mental health counselor.

And don’t let your behaviors get out of control.

Szydlowski hopes the pandemic will help to change opinions about OCD.

“It is somewhat liberating when I go to the CDC website and see them making recommendations of things that I was doing anyway, I feel like saying, yes,” Szydlowski said, smiling.

Although you may believe you are experiencing OCD due to the coronavirus, experts say being overly organized or excessively clean are just personality traits.

To be diagnosed with OCD, your actions and thoughts have to be followed with obsessive patterns. Once everything calms down, experts believe all of our anxiety levels will go back to normal.

If you would like more info on OCD and ways to find help, go to the international OCD foundation at iocdf.org.