Many of us have experienced heightened concerns and anxiety about safety during the COVID-19 pandemic. For some individuals, these concerns may have become more pronounced due to a preexisting tendency towards avoiding perceived risks or dangers. In this blog post, we will explore how to cope with COVID anxiety and navigate safety precautions and social interactions, based on a question I received on my podcast.
The question comes from a listener who has always been more concerned than the average person with avoiding things they consider gross or dangerous, such as avoiding putting clothes that have been outside on their bed due to the risk of bed bugs or E. coli. While in their private life, they have been able to engage in certain avoidant behaviors to manage these concerns, they are now finding that these behaviors are becoming a barrier in their relationships, especially with the increased safety protocols due to COVID-19.
I want to start by acknowledging that these concerns are valid, and it’s important to prioritize one’s safety and well-being during the ongoing pandemic. However, when these concerns start to disrupt relationships, work, or health, it may be worth considering if there are underlying mental health conditions that need to be addressed.
It’s possible that the listener may be experiencing symptoms of contamination OCD or contamination phobia, which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. These conditions can lead to excessive worries and behaviors related to avoiding potential sources of contamination, which can significantly impact one’s daily life and relationships. It’s important to recognize that seeking help from a qualified mental health professional, such as a therapist who specializes in OCD, can be beneficial in understanding and managing these concerns.
One common approach used in therapy for OCD is exposure and response prevention (ERP). ERP involves gradually facing and confronting fears and triggers related to contamination, while learning to tolerate the anxiety without engaging in compulsive or avoidant behaviors. It’s important to note that ERP is typically done in a gradual and supportive manner, and a therapist would not simply ask the listener to stop wearing a mask or engage in activities that cause extreme distress.
Another aspect of treatment for OCD is addressing the cognitive component. This involves recognizing that we live in a world that inherently carries risks, and trying to control every possible source of contamination may not be feasible or necessary. Working with a therapist can help in identifying and challenging irrational beliefs or thought patterns related to contamination fears, and developing a more balanced and realistic perspective on safety.
It’s also important to consider one’s values and priorities in life. While safety is crucial, it’s important to recognize that taking excessive precautions may also have negative consequences, such as isolating oneself from social interactions, experiencing increased anxiety and exhaustion, and hindering personal growth. Reflecting on what truly matters to oneself and what risks are worth embracing in order to live a fulfilling life can be a valuable exercise.
Lastly, it’s important to remember that the ongoing pandemic has impacted mental health in various ways, and seeking support from a qualified therapist who is knowledgeable about the intersection of mental health and the pandemic can be immensely beneficial. It’s okay to ask for help and take steps towards managing COVID anxiety and related concerns.
In conclusion, coping with COVID anxiety and navigating safety precautions and social interactions can be challenging, especially for individuals with preexisting tendencies towards avoiding perceived risks. Seeking help from a qualified mental health professional, considering approaches such as ERP, addressing cognitive distortions, reflecting on personal values, and recognizing the broader impact of avoidance behaviors can be effective strategies in managing COVID anxiety and living a fulfilling life. Remember, you are not alone, and it’s okay to prioritize your mental health and well-being during these unprecedented times.
I believe in you!