Fear, anxiety and compulsive hand-washing in the pandemic age

By April 25, 2020Notes from Alexis

In times of stress, our underlying susceptibilities start to reappear. If you are like many of my clients, and you have a history of anxiety about health, a phobia of germs or a fear of disease, this pandemic might be triggering your anxiety to new heights. If so, you are not alone. Anxiety about disease and germs is a path I have walked many times with my clients, and homeopathy can have a profound impact on unwanted thoughts and behaviors arising from anxiety.

Beth has been my client for many years. She had been doing very well for a long time with her anxiety about health, and it was something that did not bother her much anymore. She called me in mid-March with worries that were cropping up around the coronavirus pandemic. She lives in California, where a shelter in place order was implemented on March 17. She was in the first area in the country to have such an order, and to the people of California, it seemed like a serious and extreme measure.

Beth called me the next day very upset. She had heard on the news that schools might close for the rest of the year. It gave her a strong sense of the seriousness of the virus and started a cascade of worry about her elderly parents who live out of state, her children and her husband. She told me she was worried she would contract the virus and not survive.

She told me she was worried all the time about germs getting on her hands, and she was starting to be overwhelmed with the task of keeping clean. She had started washing her hands compulsively many many times a day, even in her own home with no one going out. Her hands were dry and cracking. She was urgently disinfecting her counters, doorknobs and cabinet handles multiple times a day. She tossed and turned at night with dreams of having the virus.

 

Worst of all for her was the uncertainty. She explained to me: No one knows what’s going on. No one knows how long we will be shut down. No one knows how long school is out. No one knows how to treat it. I could even be sick and not know it.

Beth was reading the news a lot and looking online at one resource after another. She was reading emails from doctors and alternative practitioners and finding their advice and thoughts threatening and worrisome, rather than giving her a sense of knowledge and control. There were two times I read through those emails with her and asked her to simply delete them and forget about the content. Beth was unable to stop herself from reading, hoping to find something that would give her a sense of relief, but was instead overwhelming herself with information and bad news. She was trying to make sense of it, but her reading ended up exacerbating her feeling of insecurity, fear of the disease and lack of control.

When Beth went to bed, each night she was sure that she was sick. She would think to herself,  “How does my throat feel, how does my nose feel, am I having trouble breathing?” Each night, she was sure “this was it”.

I gave Beth a remedy and when we followed up a few days later she told me she was so much better, that she had stopped washing her hands excessively and had even forgotten to clean. She was feeling much more relaxed and easy going. What a relief to both of us!

To be clear, I didn’t want Beth to stop washing her hands! I wanted her to have a proportional sense of cleanliness and responsibility about remaining safe and COVID free. I wanted her to have most of her brain and energy free to think of other things, and not to be overly burdened by worry and anxiety about COVID.  I wanted her to have a sense of acceptance and calm while living within the uncertainty of this pandemic. I wanted her to be ok with controlling what she could and be ok with not controlling what she couldn’t. This is what the remedy accomplished. A month later, Beth continues to take responsible action to keep her family safe, while also being free to enjoy this unexpected family time. She is not overwhelmed with worry, anxiety or fear.

In another case, I got a call from a mother whose daughter had a history of hand washing and other compulsive behaviors. These behaviors had been very mild in recent years with the help of behavior therapies. However, with so much talk at school about hand washing and not getting near others, her anxiety shot through the roof and the handwashing started up again with renewed force. Anxiety for family members also escalated dramatically for this little girl, and the mother was hoping for some relief of these symptoms.

Both of these clients received Arsenicum Album, a wonderful remedy when a person is feeling overwhelming anxiety and fear. If we catalog some of the fears found in Arsenicum, we see many possible triggers in a viral pandemic that can be brought on by the disease itself, losing a job, and concern for the safety of loved ones. “Clinging, anxious and desperate. Extremely nervous and anxious. Deep insecurities and fears. Fear to be alone. Fear of death. Fear of germs and disease. Fear of catching an infection. Fear of starvation. Fear of financial loss and poverty. Fears something may have happened to relatives. Tormenting thoughts”(Murphy).

If we look at the Arsenicum Album response to the fear and anxiety, we see another clear reaction that I have seen multiple times during the pandemic: “Obsessive compulsive disorder. Fastidious, upset about disorder, dirt, germs. Obsessed with order and tidiness. Sensitive to disorder and confusion”(Murphy). More than one of my clients is using the shelter in place order as an opportunity to purge, clean and reorganize their homes. Many are using order and cleanliness to cope with their feelings of insecurity. Some are returning to old hand-washing habits to feel a sense of security.

There are many remedies indicated for compulsive hand-washing, fear of germs and anxiety about health. Arsenicum is one I have used frequently in this pandemic, but as with all homeopathic cases, the remedy is chosen for each unique situation. If you or someone you know are struggling with anxiety about health, fear of germs, excessive handwashing or another form of anxiety related to this pandemic, a remedy selected by a homeopath just for you can bring you relief from your symptoms.

I feel grateful to be able to continue to practice homeopathy and support my community. Homeopathy has an excellent track record during viral pandemics, supporting a return to health with individualized treatment.

As always, sending wishes for wellness and health to you all. Please reach out if you need help. I am here for you.

With love,

Alexis

 

Reminders:

Office hours: I have office hours daily to answer questions or discuss your concerns from 8:30-9:00 AM California time. There is no charge for your calls during office hours. If you would like to talk outside of office hours, please email me to set up a regular acute call. Call during office hours: 415-457-3225.

Email to set up acute appointments: alexis@florafaunahomeopathy.com

 

Sliding scale: For the time being, I wish to extend care on a sliding scale basis to any of you who find yourself under extra financial hardship. Please contact me to schedule time to meet remotely and we can work something out. If there is need, I’d like to be of service and get remedies to you as soon as possible.

 

Sources: Murphy, Robin. Nature’s Materia Medica. Reference Works.