Dr Ian Nnatu , a consultant psychiatrist at the Doctify-rated private mental health hospital Nightingale Hospital (doctify.co.uk), gives advice on looking after your mental health during the lockdown.
Q: I have always had an issue with germs and cleanliness. The Coronavirus epidemic has heightened my anxiety, so how can I keep it in check?
A: The coronavirus pandemic has caused a lot of anxiety in the general population and it is entirely normal to have such feelings.
However, people who have underlying anxiety disorders are particularly at increased risk of anxiety at this time. This would include people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, where patients might have an underlying obsessional fear of contamination. However, there are a number of strategies that might be of help to keep symptoms of anxiety ‘in check’.
The scientific advice is for people to wash their hands for 20 seconds. Set this as a limit, and wash for no longer than 20 seconds. This will reduce the risk of obsessive hand washing.
Try to think about the function of hand washing, which is to reduce the risk of transmission of the coronavirus, and do your best to reduce any tendency to keep washing until it ‘feels right’.
You may find it helpful to plan to do a task after the 20-second limit, to help provide a distraction and give yourself a different focus.
Find strategies that work for you
We know stress and anxiety can sometimes make symptoms of OCD worse. Once you start to recognise the onset of increased stress and anxiety, it might be helpful to practise strategies to help manage and reduce those feelings.
For example, learn simple relaxation, breathing or mindfulness techniques. These strategies should ideally be built into your daily routine.
Get help if you need it
If these approaches do not seem to be effective, there are treatments available. It may be that you need the intervention of a qualified therapist or a psychiatrist, trained in cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Many experts are delivering such therapy remotely via Zoom or Skype, so you can access them online if needs be.