The Tell-Tale Sign Your COVID Anxiety Is Something Much More Serious

Here are the red flags to look out for when it comes to your everyday habits.

Before the pandemic began, most of us probably never monitored the surfaces we touched so meticulously or washed our hands so frequently, but for people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, following rigid routines related to personal hygiene, fear of disease, and general cleanliness has long been a part of everyday life. And with COVID having heightened everyone's anxiety about making sure they properly disinfect, sanitize, sterilize, and wash their hands, many are left wondering if this newfound fear of illness and the amped up health habits it has evoked has caused them to develop OCD during the last several months. But how likely is that? Read on for more on the difference between OCD and anxiety, and for other advice on the latter, know that This Is How You're Making Your Anxiety Worse.

"The answer is that generally, no, most of us do not newly have OCD if we did not suffer from OCD prior to the pandemic," Sharon M. Batista, MD, a board-certified psychiatrist in New York City, wrote for Psychology Today. "OCD involves recurrent obsessive thinking and/or compulsive actions (called rituals) that are severe enough to be time-consuming and to cause significant distress or interference with daily life."

However, Batista adds that one of the most common manifestations of the condition is called "contamination OCD," which she says "can be described as the fear of a threat such as dirt, germs, toxic chemicals, becoming ill, or spreading contamination to others." People with this form OCD, according to Batista, "typically have compulsive behaviors that are responses to the anxiety or level of threat and serve the function of reducing the level of distress or mitigating the threat." That makes the lines a bit more blurred when trying to determine whether or not your COVID-induced anxiety is OCD.

So, to clear things up, in addition to the primary determining factor of whether or not you had symptoms of OCD before the pandemic began, here are a few tell-tale signs your COVID anxiety is something more serious. And for more on maintaining your mental health, avoid these Secret Ways You're Hurting Your Mental Health Without Realizing It.

You're overwhelmed with fear for your health or safety.

Worried senior man sitting alone in his home

If you find yourself "preoccupied with intrusive worries and fears for your health and safety every time you have an abnormal sensation in your body or even for no apparent reason at all," Batista says this is something you may want to keep an eye on. Being unable to free your mind from persistent, often irrational, worry, is a sign you may be dealing with something beyond everyday anxiety. And for more on another common mental health condition, This Is How You're Making Your Depression Worse.

You have an uncontrollable need to over sanitize things you touch.


Surely, it's never been more important to keep a clean home and disinfect surfaces. But there's a line dividing what's practical and responsible and what's compulsive and debilitating. The latter may be at play if you find yourself feeling the need to "sanitize and decontaminate surfaces even if you have a suspicion they are not likely to cause you harm," says Batista. Speaking of sanitary environments, This Is the "Safest Indoor Public Space" During COVID, New Study Finds.

You can't break from strict and repetitive routines.


There's nothing wrong with having various routines and rituals to help bring some structure to your day—it's when they don't provide any value or positive impact that things become a problem.

"Individuals with OCD feel driven to engage in compulsive behavior and would rather not have to do these time consuming and many times torturous acts. In OCD, compulsive behavior is done with the intention of trying to escape or reduce anxiety or the presence of obsessions," the International OCD Foundation says.

You are unable to set realistic expectations.

Male Outdoors Wearing Face Mask During Pandemic Virus Outbreak

You of course want to take all the safety precautions possible to protect yourself and others from COVID, but the reality is you can't expect to go about your life without at least a minimal amount of risk. And Batista says you may be crossing over from anxiety to OCD territory if you find it "difficult to make peace with the limitations of your efforts to protect yourself—that you can't be 100 percent certain or 100 percent guarantee your safety." And for more helpful health information delivered to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

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