Photo courtesy CDC.gov
Photo courtesy CDC.gov

There is no doubt the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and the virus’ subsequent emergence in some western countries will be a big trigger for some people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.

On online forums people are already posting about their fears of the Ebola virus.

“I’m worried about Ebola I don’t want to leave the house,” wrote one person on an OCD forum Tuesday.

“I just get more anxious as the outbreak continues,” wrote another person.

At risk for triggers from news of Ebola are those people with contamination obsessions, particularly those who have had problems in the past with obsessions about infection. Although the Ebola situation is new in that the world has never seen an outbreak as large as the current outbreak, having obsessions about being infected is a well known and fairly common OCD theme.

Exacerbating the situation for OCD sufferers is that news about Ebola is everywhere. One can hardly watch the news, read a newspaper or check news online and not see multiple references to the Ebola outbreak. This can trigger and actually overstimulate OCD sufferers with infection obsessions.

How should OCD sufferers having a hard time with Ebola deal with the situation? Here’s a few tips:

  • Stop searching for Ebola news. Googling and constantly watching the news can easily become compulsions. It’s a type of reassurance seeking and does no good, especially considering there is little good news about Ebola these days. Reassurance seeking only reinforces in the mind that there is something to be concerned about, making the situation worse. New obsessions are reinforced and stronger, raising anxiety. To break the cycle, work to resist and stop reassurance seeking. Stay away from the news.
  • CBT principles say that sufferers should work to resist and stop all compulsions related to an obsession. The obsession in this case is clear — that the sufferer will be infected with Ebola. Compulsions may vary but surely one of the big ones is going to be ruminating. Ruminating is the endless thinking about a subject without any resolution or answer forthcoming. It’s often called over thinking and, like reassurance seeking, does no good. It only serves to keep the obsession top of mind. Resist ruminating about Ebola.
  • Take care of yourself. Take time out to practice relaxation/mindfulness. Eat a well balanced diet. Get plenty of exercise. And do your best to a good night’s sleep.
  • Do something. When it comes to OCD, an idle person is more likely to slip into ruminating and performing other compulsions. Keep busy. Work outside, go for walks, watch a good movie, read a good book, clean out the cupboards. This is a form of distraction from the obsession and it works.