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COVID-19 Challenges to OCD and ED Recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic can be a challenge to people who are recovering from OCD and Eating Disorders. The very precautions advanced to protect oneself, such as washing your hands often and disinfecting surfaces can evoke the hypervigilance an individual with OCD has worked hard to subdue. The scarcity of food on groceries shelves and the shutdown of many other restaurants and specialty food outlets can prompt someone who has overcome an eating disorder to overbuy or hoard, binge to deal with the stress, or restrict due to the difficulty of acquiring foods they normally eat, disrupting their routine and creating a need to assert some control over the seemingly ongoing chaos.

We know what the trigger is, and it is real. It is perfectly normal to be scared of the uncertainty we are dealing with and angry about the upheaval we are experiencing in our lives. What we do have control over is how we respond.

How can we get through these challenging times?

We all need support during this pandemic, and the physical isolation that is demanded can make it all the more challenging.  It is important to stay in touch with friends and family, in any number of ways — by phone, FaceTime, Zoom or text. You don’t have to talk about your struggles, sometimes just connecting and talking about something other than your challenges and COVID-19, such as what you’ve been binge watching or your favorite shared memories of a holiday or vacation, can lower your anxiety and help shift obtrusive thoughts. 

It may be helpful to reach out to someone who knows about the challenges you faced before and who supported you; often they can remind you of the techniques you used to overcome the challenges. It may also be worth contacted your therapist again and for a few sessions, a tune-up, and if they are no longer available, psychological support is available through telehealth, talkspace.com and betterhelp.com. If you are having a bad night or intense moment, call or text a crisis line; that’s what they are there for.

Having the impulse to engage in one of your old behaviors? Take a step back and try breathing for five minutes or set an alarm for 15 minutes and engage in another activity — text a friend, take a walk, watch a YouTube video, allow the urge to pass.   

Revisit the coping mechanisms you originally used to defeat the behavior: did journaling, meditating, yoga, or working out help before? Have you subsequently given those old coping mechanisms up as you moved on to a different phase of your life? It may be useful to dust them off and give them another try.

Keep to a routine/schedule: Worried you are washing or disinfecting too much? Determine times when you should logically do these things and try to abide by practicing these behaviors only at specified times, such as when you return from outside, or when someone comes or leaves, and allow yourself to only do it once or for 3-5 minutes. Plan your meals and keep a routine to avoid impulsive or restrictive behaviors. It can help to write down your plan of action and to post notes in places such as the bathroom and kitchen as reminders as well as encouragement to stay strong and to honor the hard work you have done so far.

Groceries stories can be triggering right now: consider having someone else buy your groceries, having them delivered, or using pick-up to limit your visits. If you do need to go yourself, evening is often less stressful, as most people go in the morning to grab what was stocked overnight. Most stores stock at the beginning of the week, so try Monday or Tuesday evenings. There may be less options on the shelves than earlier in the day, but it may worth shopping later to lessen your anxiety.  

Don’t make any drastic changes in your routine and self-care; now is not a good time to decrease your meds, your therapy, your exercise routine (though you may have to modify it, if you are used to going to the gym). If anything, pamper yourself a little more. This is a stressful time.

Treating yourself doesn’t have to be expensive. It can be as simple as a long bath by candlelight, a favorite drink or snack that you enjoy preparing and/or fancifully presenting, a new hobby or one you have neglected — pick up and strum that guitar, draw or cartoon, pound some clay and sculpt, try the hula or a few ballet positions. There are a number of instructional videos on YouTube that can help you to uncover a new interest or reconnect to an old hobby.

Indulge in sleep: it’s restorative, and it’s ok to sleep a little more right now.

Most importantly, remember a slip is not a relapse. Dealing with a slip as soon as you notice it, can prevent a relapse. It is easy to judge yourself harshly, to dispute your progress, and to feel like your condition is consuming you again. If you slip, reflect on the work you have done before, honor your inner strength, and recognize you have the ability to get back on track. You’ve done it before. You can do it again. Using the skills you developed, you can continue your success.

Free Resources:

Need to talk: Crisis Text Line, text HOME to 741741 to connect with a crisis counselor.

Breathing, Relaxation and Meditation exercises from Dartmouth Downloads

Coping methods: Breathing exercise on Calm.com

Peer support: on the Inspire App

99 Coping Skills by Your Voice Your Life

COVID-19 Challenges to OCD and ED Recovery


Colleen Donnelly

Prof. Colleen Donnelly teaches University of Colorado at Denver and specializes in medieval and twentieth-century literature, language and linguistics. Returning to her earlier science training, she is currently conducting research in medical humanities on issues of mental illness, disability, and narrative voice.


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APA Reference
Donnelly, C. (2020). COVID-19 Challenges to OCD and ED Recovery. Psych Central. Retrieved on May 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/covid-19-challenges-to-ocd-and-ed-recovery/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 21 Apr 2020 (Originally: 22 Apr 2020)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 21 Apr 2020
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.