Updated: Apr 24, 2020
In the last two months, life has changed dramatically, often daily, and without an end in sight. In my lifetime, I haven't witnessed this level of global panic and surely, in anyone's lifetime, a pandemic coupled with an overwhelming onslaught of multi-format media coverage is new territory. But as I always say, 'let's away from the problem and focus on the solution'.
So, we are in unprecedented times and as such, this calls for an extraordinary focus on our OCD. By extraordinary I mean, in the face of a global threat has all the hallmarks of the worst OCD obsession, and guidelines which look very much like OCD compulsions, we need to rise to the challenge. The challenge to work harder on our OCD at a micro level whilst at a macro level, the world is in chaos.
We have, and will continue to post individual coping skills here and on our social media, but I wanted to move away from the manual briefly and talk about the philosophy of managing OCD in a global crisis. Our mindset, our approach, our outlook, our system of beliefs, values and principles. In CBT we talk a lot about the mechanics of beliefs and values and it can get pretty detailed, but let's keep it nice and simple here. For those with OCD, absolutely take care of the small stuff and stick to your therapy, but know that mindfulness and compassion will see you through. Naturally they will see you through anything, but if you are struggling and want to use this time as an opportunity, mindfulness and compassion are your best friends.
When you are confined to your home (which may be your norm) and the world is in crisis, being present without judgment is your personal path through the mess. Deliberately focusing on projects, other people, pets or your work, and not engaging in the inner scramble of thoughts and feelings, should be your basis. Similarly, observing rather than engaging in the external commotion of chit chat, news and social media, needs to be your follow on. That's not to say that you can't watch the news, post on social media or listen to chit chat but it's helpful to limit your exposure to the inevitable catastrophising that will ensue. You already know that analysis, evaluation, problem-solving and comparing haven't served you well in the past, let alone in a global crisis.
Try to do the above with an overriding sense of compassion, for you, for others, for the world. In an increasingly unwell environment where we may be able to attribute our immediate problems to the sale of live animals in markets, the world and it's non-human inhabitants are desperate for compassion. People with OCD tend to feel this pain so let's use this quality for good and find ways to help voiceless animals and the environment. As world pollution takes an enforced dip and the abuse of animals is highlighted, let's collectively drive change, from our bedrooms.
Next, let's view others with kindness. Although this is an OCD default setting (especially responsibility OCD), let's change intrusive thoughts, anxiety or guilt into positive action. OCD forces us to focus inwardly, to check how we are feeling, to predict how bad we will feel if something happens. If that's the case, then here's a chance to ask others how they are coping and to really listen and feed back. If OCD makes us self-absorbed, instead, take part in the increased sense of community and kindness we are seeing each day. It is fine to start small. Then later, in a society which has the capacity to be very unkind indeed, let's maintain our compassion in ways which help our OCD and others. If isolation has taught us anything, it has shown that all of us are needed by someone.
Finally, compassion starts at home but more specifically, it starts with you. If OCD has eaten away your at your self-worth and self-love, you can't effectively direct outwards what you don't feel inwards. COVID-19 proves that we are all the same. Regardless of wealth, success, achievement, relationships or social media/social life. Inside we are roughly the same delicate mix of cells and biology. No one is better than you (or worse, of course) and you are always good enough, for anything and anyone. If you believe the 'great and the good' are confined to their homes, remind yourself every day that you are one of them. Reinforce the fact that you are valuable and worthwhile simply because you are here. In a level playing field there has never been a better time to realise that it's always a level playing field.
So please, don't do your OCD any favours. Now is a unique time to take special care - of the present, of you, of the world.
Improve your mindfulness and try our meditation aimed at Coping with the Corona Crisis here
Image: Shane Rounce