How the pandemic influenced the development of hypochondria and OCD

While the term “mental illness” can be misunderstood, the point is that psychological disorders do not occur in isolation within the brain; they do not appear simply because of a mismatch of hormones, neurons or metabolic processes in the human body, but have both biological, behavioral and social causes. Our environment and the way we interact with it influences the mental health of people, and more than it seems.

This is why psychotherapy professionals did not surprise us to see to what extent the coronavirus pandemic had an impact on the emergence of psychopathologies; In times of crisis it is normal for this to happen, and in the case of these months marked by COVID-19, there have been several at the same time: a health crisis, a social and political crisis, and an economic crisis. .

Therefore, in this article we will focus on the analysis how the pandemic has more exposed us to two specific disorders: hypochondria and OCD. Let’s start by looking at the features separately.

    What are OCD and hypochondria?

    OCD, acronym for “Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder”, is a psychopathology characterized by two main elements that are reflected in its name: obsessions, which are mental images or intrusive thoughts that appear over and over again generating a high level of discomfort for the person. ; and compulsions, which are sequences of very precise actions that the person sees in the need to accomplish each time in an attempt to attenuate (in the short term) the harmful influence of the obsessions and allow their attention to be focused on others thing. .

    which means while the first element generates instant discomfort and “invades” the person’s consciousness preventing him from thinking of anything else, the second provides him with a momentary remedy., although in the long run this only worsens the problem as it makes the obsessions even more important and the person does not feel protected until the compulsion is exercised each time.

    For its part, hypochondria (sometimes more commonly referred to as ‘somatic symptom disorder’, although the latter term is broader and relates to other similar disorders as well) is a psychopathological disorder in which the person develops severe anxiety about of the unfounded belief that she suffers from at least one disease.

    In such cases the degree of discomfort is so great that not even a visit to the doctor who undergoes a medical examination and is assured that all is well serves to reassure the person in the medium and long term, as it quickly reinterprets certain experiences as a sign that he has developed a pathology, usually severe. Like that, hypochondria comes down to the person very prone to falling again and again on self-diagnosis, interpreting in the most pessimistic way possible all kinds of sensations or changes in the body which he is not fully aware of the causes, and which really should not indicate that he is suffering from an illness.

      What do these two psychological disorders have in common?

      From what we have seen so far, OCD and hypochondria appear to be two clearly differentiable disorders; and for the most part they are. However, as is often the case with mental disorders, they overlap in many of their characteristics, and the main one is the ease with which they cause the patient to experience obsessive thoughts.

      That is, both in hypochondria and obsessive-compulsive disorder, we are more likely to develop a vicious cycle of anxiety and intrusive thoughts that overwhelms us emotionally. In the case of OCD, these can consist of all kinds of disturbing memories or imaginary situations that we assume as predictions of what might happen, and in many cases memory and imagination are mixed, leading us to exaggerate the events that have happened from the truth. In the case of hypochondria, intrusive thoughts often have more to do with the earthly world of sensations, changes in skin color, joint discomfort …

      In any case, in these two psychological disorders the person “learns”, without realizing it, to attract towards his consciousness a series of mental contents which make him feel very badly, and it is common to have recourse to a very particular type of momentary relief: in OCD compulsions that must be repeated systematically without departing from the instructions set for the previous occasions (for example, scratching the right ear four times and ten times nose, in that order), and in hypochondriac self-checking behaviors and researching the internet or medical books to try to self-diagnose and better understand the alleged disease you are suffering from, as well as the adoption all kinds of extreme precautions to keep the problem from getting worse.

        How did the pandemic influence the onset of these psychological disorders?

        The coronavirus pandemic has created a context that is the ideal culture medium for psychopathologies like OCD and hypochondria.

        On the one hand, a media bombardment of sensationalist or biased news that focused on the most tragic aspects or worry about the COVID-19 crisis to capture the attention of viewers; on the other hand, periods of confinement which left people vulnerable to emotional disorders with fewer social support resources to cope with this complicated situation, having to remain in relative social isolation; moreover, the fear of becoming infected and of being infected, based on a source of microscopic danger which, being invisible to the naked eye, leaves much room for ambiguity and the anxiety of anticipation; and finally, an economic crisis which has pushed many families to the end, forcing many citizens in precarious situations to have to remain vigilant and to try to perform to the maximum without interruption, in order to minimize the risks of possible complications due to dismissal, to the bankruptcy of the family business, etc.

        And to all this we must add the confusion that has reigned for months, since successive versions of the coronavirus are new pathogens about which little was known, there have been frequent contradictions in health measures, in policy statements, etc. This feeling that no one is clear about how to put themselves at risk from COVID-19 has shifted the full responsibility of protecting themselves and their families to individuals, which has put a lot of pressure on a wide range of sectors of the population.

        So people can develop hypochondria in response to the need to watch out for the early symptoms of the disease, and others can develop OCD for avoid the risk of infection as much as possible and even to purge the guilt of possibly infecting other people in the past.

        All of these experiences are linked to the fear of contracting COVID-19 and / or trusting loved ones, and at the same time, they predispose people to desperately seek expectations and certainties about how the virus works and emotional imbalances. for fear of the pandemic. . And unfortunately, disorders like hypochondria and OCD, although generating great unease, they provide a series of references to “locate” in the face of the COVID-19 crisis and the consequences: knowing roughly the risk of suffering a tragedy if nothing is done to prevent it (very high), generating benchmarks to regulate an immediate discomfort, feeling relatively “prepared”, etc.

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          Coloma Rei Cardona

          Psychologist

          Verified professional

          Valence

          Online therapy

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          I am a general health psychologist and in my consultation we care for people of all ages with problems with generalized anxiety, OCD, low self-esteem, depression, hypochondria or grief over loss. loved ones. Sessions can be performed both in person and through the online therapy mode.

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