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Anxiety, OCD and Covid guilt!

The huge impact of the pandemic on the nation’s mental health is widely accepted, but it has undoubtedly had a few surprises. Anxiety levels have soared with the daily images of people on ventilators, accompanied by messages telling us to be afraid from every sensory input in the media available to us, understandably so, but never have we been told in so many ways to be afraid and the result is that some people have terrible fears of the outside world and OCD is raging.

As a hypnotherapist treating someone with compulsive hand washing, hands red raw, cracking and bleeding from the constant washing and antibacterial gels, it is a far more challenging story than it was just a year ago and I have clients now openly admitting they dread being told they can go out again, this does not only affect the quality of life of the individual, but puts a huge strain on relationships too. I am already working on the programme of reintegration to the world with some clients for whom this is expected to be a long and hard road.

These are all things I had expected and predicted as the pandemic evolved and the infection rate soared, but one new common theme now coming my way is COVID guilt. I work in Kent, reputedly the place of origin of the new strain of the virus and there is no doubt that very suddenly in the matter of one week the numbers in my locality rose dramatically and I began to know so many people who were infected and the new story unfolded. One person described it to me as an “absolute terror” having to tell people they might have infected them, they felt guilt and shame that family, colleagues and friends could become ill because of them, they were lying in their bed ill, scared and torturing themselves with this new kind of guilt. I worked for many years in the area of HIV/AIDS which was accompanied with stigma, guilt and shame, the feelings people are describing to me now seem very similar though of course the stigma is clearly less.

I think part of the problem here is those small risks that are taken that do not feel like risks at the time, we can see a stranger as dangerous, potentially infectious and we dodge and weave down the street, but our psychology sees a friend as safe and people are taking what seem like small scale risks each day, which can become a catastrophe when the confession comes that though they felt just fine when you went for that walk or chatted in the shop, you have just had a positive COVID 19 test result. Only the other day this came home to me so clearly when looking out of my window, I saw two people bump into each other who had not seen each other for a while, they exclaimed their surprise, promptly pulled down their masks to talk to each other which they would never have done with a stranger and then moved in for a spontaneous hug. This is happening up and down the land and is of course understandable with the strain of isolation and lack of emotional support. So now I find myself working with people to help them process their guilt which seems to linger long after recovery, along with a post infection fear of what might have happened, combined with survivor’s guilt too. There is a lot to do for all of us working in mental health and complementary therapy as this once in a century experience unfolds, not only helping our clients face their fears, but facing down our own too! If you need help with COVID related anxiety hypnotherapy can be a powerful tool to help.

Zetta Thomelin

Chair-British Association Therapeutic Hypnotists.

Vice Chair – UK Confederation of Hypnotherapy Organisations.


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