Question your behaviour
For OCD sufferers with a fear of germs, it may be difficult to identify which hand-washing behaviours are ‘acceptable’ and recommended, and which are driven by OCD and anxiety. Health anxiety sufferers may be concerned about developing OCD as a result of an increased focus on hygiene.
“The key issue to look out for is function,” a spokesperson for OCD Action says. “For example, is your hand-washing being carried out for the recommended amount of time to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, or is it being done ritualistically in a specific order with the end goal of feeling comfortable or just right?”
OCD, which affects between 1 and 2 per cent of the population, is a treatable condition. The recommended treatments, according to OCD Action, are cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with exposure and response prevention (ERP) and medication.
It’s important to remember that there are many misconceptions surrounding OCD. Not everybody who suffers from the disorder has a fear of germs or a need to be neat and tidy; these may be symptoms for some people but the condition can manifest in a number of different ways.
“OCD is defined by obsessions and compulsions,” the charity’s spokesperson explains. “Obsessions are unwanted, intrusive thoughts, images or urges which cause anxiety. In order to try and alleviate that anxiety, people with OCD will carry out compulsions, which are mental or physical behaviours.
“These compulsions may temporarily relieve anxiety but they ultimately reinforce the original obsession and cause a vicious cycle to occur, which can become extremely time consuming and distressing.
“Common obsessions include, but are not limited to, fears of coming to harm or causing harm to others, sexual thoughts such as the fear of being a paedophile or acting sexually inappropriately, religious or blasphemous thoughts, or worries about your sexual identity. Common compulsions include reassurance-seeking, avoidance, rumination, counting or tapping and checking.”