The Interaction of OCD and the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Emma Newsham

Presentation author(s)

Emma Newsham ’21, Evanston, Illinois

Major: Psychology
Minors: Cognitive Science; Health and Society


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is a type of anxiety disorder in which a person experiences obsessions, or recurrent unwanted thoughts and sensations, that drive them to engage in compulsions, or repetitive actions and behaviors (APA, 2017). A common type of OCD, obsession over fear of contamination, can result in cleaning compulsions aimed to relieve this stress and fear of contamination. These obsessions and compulsions can significantly interfere with a person’s daily activities and social interactions, and are often extremely debilitating (APA, 2017).

The virus that causes COVID-19 most often spreads through exposure to respiratory droplets (CDC, 2020); however, while it is less common for COVID-19 to spread through contact with contaminated surfaces (CDC, 2020), many people continue to wipe down groceries and packages, and have begun to constantly deep clean and sanitize their home and belongings. This cleaning practice, or sanitation theater, can reduce contamination related stress and anxiety, even if it does little to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (Judkis, 2020).

This study examines the relationship between OCD and COVID-19 related habits and anxiety in a sample of American adults. Through an online survey as well as a few follow-up interviews, I compared participants’ common obsessions and compulsions from before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic (before March 2020) to the current date (after March 2020). I expected there to be an increase specifically in checking and contamination obsessions/compulsions. Researching this information allows us to better target relief methods and gives greater insight into which specific groups may need additional support during COVID-19 times.


Gregory Buchanan

This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Read our Web Privacy Policy for more information.

Got it! ×