Coronavirus: It’s like we have developed a serious case of the “cooties” overnight.

  • Wash your  hands often.
  • Use hand sanitizer liberally.
  • Disinfect touched surfaces frequently.
  • Avoid contact with others, especially large groups.
  • If concerned, stay home. Self-quarantine.

As a psychologist who provides cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure and response prevention (ERP) for individuals with anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), respectively, the last few days and weeks have been a field day.

Upon pressing the button for the elevator going up to my office this morning, a man standing next to me demonstrated, as he instructed, “You have to touch it like this—with the back of your finger—not the tip.” Fascinating how seemingly overnight it appears the general public has developed significant symptoms of anxiety and OCD. Or even better—become epidemiologists and infectious disease specialists (to their credit, the CDC is in Atlanta).

Interestingly, more than just one of my patients with anxiety and OCD have joked that it has been refreshing for others to finally understand what it is like for them to live their daily lives with these struggles. They have also noted that they felt they have been preparing for this moment their whole lives and shared they have felt better equipped from using their “exposure therapy” skills.

In CBT and ERP, patients are encouraged to “expose” themselves to things they fear every day, and refrain from engaging in behaviors that decrease their anxiety, or that otherwise “undo” the exposure. In other words, they commit to remaining “contaminated” by tangible or intangible contaminants, even unwanted, intrusive thoughts and feelings, in the service of living values-based rather than fear-driven lives.

On the elevator ride up, the man added, “This virus . . .  it scares me . . . it’s like death . . . you don’t know when it’s gonna come.” Despite not being a therapy patient, I responded much as I might in a session, “That’s right . . .  it’s just like that—like life—and perhaps it’s the best time to practice!” He chuckled, wished me a good day, and I laughed thinking to myself: We CBT therapists really are the weird “cootie” kids . . . lathering ourselves up with the cooties of discomfort and fear of the unknown so that we can be sufficiently “contaminated” to go on living fully with the uncertainty of life, and to help others do the same.