Ask a Therapist: Is This OCD, or Just Normal Anxiety About the Pandemic?

Published on: 05 May 2021
Ask Reshawna Chapple

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Q: Ever since the pandemic started, and to this day, my husband seems to have developed an intense fear around getting COVID, and now he obsessively cleans everything. He Lysols our home almost daily, washes his hands constantly, and still refuses to take the subway or any public transit to work for fear of contracting COVID, even though the vaccine is here. Is this OCD, or just normal anxiety about the pandemic? If it’s OCD, how can I help him? — Peter

Hi Peter,

I can tell this has really been on your mind, and I am sure you are concerned about your husband. It would be difficult to know whether or not he is struggling with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) without conducting an actual psychological evaluation from a mental health professional.

OCD is a psychological disorder brought on by anxiety, intense stress or fear which produces behaviors that are both obsessive and compulsive. OCD symptoms are generally brought on gradually over the course of years, but are heightened during times of intense stress. It sounds like your husband’s behavior is likely a result of the pandemic — it’s likely a common reaction to the changes we have had to make in order to adapt from this pandemic. The pandemic came on fairly quickly, and left many of us feeling a loss of control. Information about COVID-19 and vaccinations are ever changing. 

In your husband’s case, wanting to keep things clean, and not wanting to take the subway are both completely understandable, given our current circumstances. If you can talk to your husband and help him rationalize why he doesn’t want to take the subway, or even get him to begin to think about when he is ready to do those things again, it will likely get better on its own. 

One some level, many people have no fear regarding unclean spaces, or rituals surrounding leaving the door unlocked or the oven on before going to work or on vacation. These feelings have been heightened by the pandemic. If he can control those thoughts or think about them logically, it’s probably not OCD. If he cannot control them, or they take up at least an hour or more of his day, or cause problems with his work or routine, he might find it helpful to explore seeking professional help. In the meantime I would support your husband and try to help him work through some of his stressful thoughts and fears regarding the pandemic.

–Reshawna

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