OCD and Health AnxietyPat Fontana
Fear of a serious health condition can cause anxiety even in the best of times. During the coronavirus pandemic, the uncertainty of the disease can make obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and health anxiety that much worse for those who suffer from the mental health issues.
Concern with Illness
For someone with OCD, obsessions and compulsions are, in part, focused on reducing or eliminating the possibility of becoming ill. A person with OCD might be obsessed with germs and diseases, environmental contaminants, household chemicals, and anything related to dirt. Their major concern with these obsessions is the possibility of getting a disease or a physical illness.
Compulsions for an individual with OCD can include washing their hands excessively or in a specific manner. They are concerned with cleanliness to the extreme, and will shower, brush their teeth, and groom excessively as well. Their focus on cleanliness extends to household items and they will do whatever it takes to prevent contact with potential contaminants.
Anxiety About Health Issues
Health anxiety is a deep fear that results in a person worrying about their health so much it affects their daily life. The individual with health anxiety will obsessively look for signs of a disease or illness, checking their body constantly for indications such as new lumps or marks on their skin.
They will seek reassurance from those around them regarding their health and will not believe a healthcare professional who tells them they are okay. The individual will obsessively request that tests such as blood tests and scans be done to check for an illness or disease.
The Cycle of Health Anxiety
Even though a physician may reassure the individual that there is nothing wrong with them, physically, their anxiety about their health will persist. A vicious cycle typically develops for the individual, which involves noticing a sensation, such as a tingling in the fingers, then learning about an illness with similar symptoms. The person will misinterpret a symptom as threatening, become more anxious, and then go to their doctor.
The individual may insist on repeated medical tests and even go to the emergency room or an urgent care center to have the perceived symptoms investigated. Reassurance from a healthcare professional may provide temporary relief, but usually the cycle begins again with the next odd feeling or new bump on the skin.
Real Symptoms of Anxiety
The anxiety involved in OCD and health anxiety can have real physical symptoms. A person might experience stomachaches, a rapid heartbeat, dizziness, tingling, jitteriness, chest pressure, muscle tension, and other symptoms that stem from their mental health condition. With these symptoms, the cycle continues as the person feels they have real evidence that something is wrong with them and then goes to their physician and request tests to confirm their ailment.
Reason for Concern
The reasoning behind the obsessions of OCD and health anxiety may be due to several factors. The individual may have someone close to them with a similar illness, so they believe it’s only a matter of time until they become ill themselves. They may read too much online about the spread of a disease, even if the disease is based in a country halfway around the world, and expect that it will soon arrive at their door.
Staying Safe During Coronavirus
During the COVID-19 pandemic, news of the virus is constant. So is misinformation. Someone with OCD or health anxiety may also become obsessed with items posted on social media, announced on newscasts, or broadcast through other channels. They can then become preoccupied with any physical sensations they experience, in fear of contracting the virus.
It is important to take precautions to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, such as wearing a mask and maintaining appropriate distances socially, but the excessive actions and thoughts involved with OCD and health anxiety can be extremely detrimental to the mental health of those already affected by isolation and the uncertainty of the outbreak.
Therapy and Self-Care
While therapy can be the key to overcoming the fears and obsessions of OCD and health anxiety, it’s important to take steps to manage the symptoms of anxiety in everyday life. The first thing to do is to go offline for a while. Get off social media and turn off the television. Constantly watching the news and other stories about the pandemic can increase the feelings of anxiety.
Try some stress reducing activities such as exercise, yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. When a person becomes more aware of their thoughts, and more aware of their body in a healthier way, they can reduce the negative effects of anxiety during the pandemic and beyond.
Contact R&A Therapeutic Partners for Help
At R&A Therapeutic Partners, we understand that the stress of the pandemic environment can cause you significant challenges. We support you and your mental health needs, helping you find the path that works best for you. To keep you safe and healthy, we offer in-office and online therapy options during COVID-19. We encourage you to contact the Miami therapeutic consultants Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno to find out the services R&A Therapeutic Partners offers. Call us at 786-452-7352 to schedule your appointment.
At R&A Therapeutic Partners Raymond Estefania and Ana Moreno specialize in substance use and mental health disorder evaluations, treatment, intervention and therapeutic/educational consulting for clients throughout the greater South Florida area, as well as nationally and internationally. For more resources and information please visit Therapeutic-Partners.com or on Facebook.