The Obsessive Compulsion Disorder (OCD) is characterized primarily by fear of contamination and excessive hand washing. Wearing gloves, masks, avoiding close contact are some symptoms of OCD. But now, in the face of the pandemic situation, that has become the new normal. These same behaviours are accepted and even encouraged to keep everyone healthy.
All the public places post rules mandating face masks and hand sanitizer use and limit the number of customers allowed inside at one time. Pedestrians maintain distance from each other, do not use elevators, etc. these acts, a few months ago, would be seen as symptoms of OCD.
So, doctors help in drawing a line between vigilance to avoid being infected with the coronavirus and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Where to draw it?
Many habits, earlier considered as pathological are now being called essential to human health and are adapted.
Before COVID-19, excessive use of digital devices was called compulsive use of the internet or internet addiction. However currently, entire world is depending on the internet devices for every need like working from home, attending school online and socialising through online book clubs. Even certain health care needs are increasingly being met remotely through telehealth and telemedicine.
While they may look similar to OCD, there are key distinctions between preventive behaviours and symptoms of OCD.
First, let us know what is OCD.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder in which time people have recurring, unwanted thoughts, ideas or sensations (obsessions) that make them feel driven to do something repetitively (compulsions). For example, chef who is very attentive to detail may be referred to as “obsessive-compulsive.” So may a detail-oriented engineer building a bridge or an accountant doing taxes by examining files from many different angles.
The critical difference is that the persistent, repetitive, ritualistic thoughts, ideas and behaviours seen in those suffering from clinical OCD often take over the person’s life.
Let us dwell on this with an example. Every night, before going to sleep, it is common that we check the main door once or twice to be sure if it closed and safe. Our brain gets the ‘safe’ signal and we go to bed. But the problem with OCD patients is that they never get this ‘safe’ signal, keeping them insecure and on edge. This sometimes even prevents them from leaving their home.
Excessive use, be it sanitisers or digital devices, can interfere with work and school and harm psychological and social functioning. Besides social and familial problems, those behaviours can lead to medical problems, including back and neck pain, obesity and eye strain.
Expressions such as being “so OCD” or “addicted to the internet” may take on different meanings as frequent hand-washing and online communication become common.
For people adapting to the new normal, it is okay if we are in our limits of folloing the norms. But once you feel internet use or hand-washing becomes uncontrollable or “compulsive,” or if intrusive “obsessive” thoughts about cleanliness and infection become problematic, it’s time to seek help from a mental health professional.