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The COVID-19 pandemic has bought with it a lot of anxiety for the general population, but for persons with OCD, this anxiety may reach unbearable levels. This can cause some extra tension in the family especially when you are stuck indoors. Here are some things to help you cope with the situation.

People with OCD consistently report that change of any kind, even positive change can be experienced as stressful. It is often during these times that OC symptoms tend to flare up; however, you can help to moderate stress by modifying your expectations during these times. Family conflict only fuels the fire and promotes symptom escalation, (“Just snap out of it!’). Instead a statement such as “No wonder your symptoms are worse— look at the situation you are going through,” is validating, supportive and encouraging. Remind yourself the impact of change will also change; that is the person with OCD has survived many ups and downs, and set backs are not permanent. This situation will eventually change and we can live our life normally again.

People with OCD often complain that family members don’t understand what it takes to accomplish something, such as cutting down a shower by five minutes, or resisting asking for reassurance one more time. While these gains may seem insignificant to family members, it is a very big step for your loved one. Acknowledgment of these seemingly small accomplishments is a powerful tool that encourages them to keep trying. This lets them know that their hard work to get better is being recognized and can be a powerful motivator.

With the goal of working together to decrease compulsions, family members may find that they have to be firm about:

  1. Prior agreements regarding assisting with compulsions;
  2. How much time is spent discussing OCD;
  3. How much reassurance is given; or
  4. How much the compulsions infringe upon others’ lives.

It is commonly reported by individuals with OCD that mood dictates the degree to which they can divert obsessions and resist compulsions. Likewise, family members have commented that they can tell when someone with OCD is “having a bad day.” Those are the times when family may need to “back off,” unless there is potential for a life-threatening or violent situation. On “good days” individuals should be encouraged to resist compulsions as much as possible. Limit setting works best when these expectations are discussed ahead of time and not in the middle of a conflict.

Family members often have the natural tendency to feel like they should protect the individual with OCD by being with him all the time. This can be destructive because family members need their private time, as do people with OCD. Give them the message that they can be left alone and can care for themselves. Even now, when stuck inside, it is good to try to find some own space and private time. Also, OCD cannot run everybody’s life; you have other responsibilities besides “babysitting.” You need and deserve time to pursue your interests too! This not only keeps you from resenting the OCD it is also a good role model to the person with the OCD that there is more to life than anxiety.

As a family member it is important that you remember take care also of yourself. Maintain a support system: Although it may be difficult to meet face-to-face, it’s still important to remain in touch with family and friends. This will both help you to get through this difficult time and help you to be there as support for your partner suffering from OCD.

References:

International OCD Organisation: Retrieved 02.04.2020 from https://iocdf.org/expert-opinions/expert-opinion-family-guidelines/

Vilhelmiina Välimäki is a Clinical Psychologist at Willingness Clinic. She works both with children and adults. You can contact her on vilhelmiina@willingness.com.mt or on 79291817