How Not to Become OCD During a Pandemic

Wash your hands frequently. Wipe unclean surfaces. Wear a facial mask. Wear gloves and replace them often. Immediately take a shower when you get home and wash your clothes right away! Use hand sanitizer when you cannot wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. Remain at home. Stay at least 6 feet away from people. Did I miss anything?

For the first time for many of us, we are living in a global crisis where the world has slowed down. People are staying at home as businesses and schools either shut down or go online. Fear is widespread and is showing itself to be just as contagious as the coronavirus. With these fears, rules are established to prevent the spread and protect ourselves from suffering, and even death. And because we love our lives and families so much, we become diligent in protecting ourselves and our families from such harm. Yet how do we remain diligent without it turning into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)?

First, let’s define OCD. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is an anxiety disorder which involves obsessing on a certain fear, followed by a compulsion (an intense urge/need) to quench the fear. An intense fear of germs can lead hand washing. Not once or twice, but excessively. For some, they feel the compulsion to wash their hands 10 times in order to feel that they are safe…until the fear intensifies again. Someone who fears for their lives by someone breaking into their home will lock, unlock, and re-lock their doors a number of times to make certain the door is locked. OCD is a battle of control and certainty. It is to make certain the fear does not come true by performing a ritual that brings peace.

So, how do we face our fears without them overtaking us? How do we not become OCD during this pandemic?

  1. Recognize that we are spiritual beings. As such, how we interact, interpret, and respond to what is going on in our world will flow from our Christian worldview. Dr. Mike Emlet, counselor at CCEF states, “At our core (our heart) we choose to worship either the God who created us and thus organize our thoughts, emotions, and actions around Him or we choose to worship something or someone that He created and organize our lives around that (Romans 1:21-25).”  Therefore, we ought to address our fears in light of His Word, and not simply address it by actions alone.
  2. Focus on facts over fears. Author and speaker Leslie Vernick states, “Fear gets a voice, but it doesn’t get a vote.” While recognizing that a virus can be scary, quarantine and hand washing is a fact-based response. Considering the contagiousness of the virus, we absolutely ought to follow these exercises. However, when fear takes control of our responses, we begin to tumble into the excessive. The “what if’s” that master those with OCD lead us to go beyond facts towards prophecies which rarely, if ever, come true. As an exercise, Foundations’ counselor Janet Lanton recommends we use colored crayons to draw a roadmap, or our safe zone based on facts. Using Philippians 4:8, we can write down whatever is true, noble, right, good, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy inside the roadmap. Then, write all of the “what-ifs” outside. This will help to recognize the fears and focus on the facts. While we may not have control over the pandemic, we can control our thoughts and minimize our fears as we focus on Him.
  3. Peace and certainty come from God, not from us. OCD is battle for having control over an outcome. Performing rituals to fulfill intense compulsions to bring certainty or peace is only temporary at best. Jeremiah 17:5-8 explains the conflict between one who trusts in man (oneself or others) and the one who trusts in God. The one who trusts in man (or rituals performed by man) does not produce good results or lasting fruit, yet the one who trusts in God will not give in to fear because their confidence is in God, not in rituals performed by us. Trusting in Him produces good fruit that lasts for eternity. As long as we look to ourselves to bring certainty and peace, we will continue to falter. However, the more we look to Him, to trust in His goodness (Ps 34:8), His love (1 Jn 4:16), His provision (Php 4:19), His plan (Jer 29:11), the greater the peace we have.

Whether you already struggle with OCD or OCD tendencies, or you are trying not to let your fears turn into OCD, building confidence in our God is the best path towards healing. Spiritual tasks such as meditating on the Psalms (one per day), declaring our trust in Him, asking God to help our unbelief, singing praises, and giving thanks are ways to help our spiritual walk and hearts. Physically, we may follow the exercise above (see #2 above), or we may write out our fears of suffering, sickness, or death on a separate piece of paper and put it in a “God box” (i.e. empty tissue box). This signifies that you are giving your fears to God and trust Him with them. 

Overall, the goal is to address our fears through our relationship with God, and not allow them to run amok or take control. We want to respond to the facts of the pandemic without fears taking center stage. Finally, we ought to look to His character of love, grace and mercy. Whether facing a pandemic or not, God’s love, faithfulness, sovereignty, and grace are the only certainties in this world. Therefore, let us focus on what is certain and the One who gives peace in uncertainty – Jesus, the Prince of Peace.


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