What Causes OCD to Get Worse?

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What Causes OCD to Get Worse?

Those who experience Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and their loved ones are likely familiar with the symptoms of the condition. While the severity of OCD symptoms can vary, there are certain factors that can worsen symptoms. Here, we’ll share what triggers can cause OCD episodes, what factors can lead to the condition worsening, and strategies for managing and alleviating symptoms. 

What is OCD and what triggers an OCD episode?

OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by episodes of recurrent, intrusive, and distressing thoughts (obsessions) and/or repetitive, ritualistic behaviors or mental acts (compulsions) that are aimed at reducing anxiety or preventing harm. 

Obsessions can take many forms, but common themes include fear of contamination, harm to oneself or others, and unwanted thoughts or images. Compulsions, on the other hand, may involve excessive cleaning, checking, counting, or organizing, among others.

One of the main challenges of living with OCD is dealing with triggers — these are anything that provoke an OCD episode. People with OCD experience extreme, yet unnecessary, worry due to triggers that can range from external stress to internal thoughts and perceptions.

What triggers an OCD episode may be different for everyone. However, some common triggers include: 

  • Stress 
  • Changes in routine
  • Negative emotions 
  • Specific situations or objects (such as certain types of germs)  
  • Lack of sleep

What causes OCD to get worse?

Like triggers, what causes OCD to get worse will vary from person to person. However, there are some common factors that can worsen OCD symptoms:

  • Substance use: Alcohol or drug use can exacerbate OCD symptoms and interfere with treatment.
  • Hormonal changes: Women with OCD may experience worsening symptoms during hormonal changes, such as during menstruation, pregnancy, or menopause.
  • Illness: Physical illnesses or other mental health conditions, such as depression or other anxiety disorders, have been shown to worsen symptoms.
  • Medications: Certain medications, such as some antidepressants, can cause or worsen OCD symptoms in some people.

How can I cope with worsening OCD symptoms?

Each case of OCD is different, and it’s important to understand what triggers your specific symptoms and episodes so you can learn how to manage them effectively. Here are some quick tips for dealing with worsening OCD symptoms:

  • Identify your triggers: Keeping a journal to take note of what triggers your OCD symptoms can help identify patterns.
  • Challenge your thoughts: When obsessive thoughts arise, try to challenge them with rational thinking. For example, if you're afraid of germs, remind yourself that most germs are harmless.
  • Practice relaxation techniques: Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or meditation can help you manage anxiety and stress.
  • Seek professional help: If you're struggling to manage your OCD symptoms, seek help from a mental health professional who specializes in OCD treatment.
  • Stick to your treatment plan: If you're receiving treatment for OCD, stick to your treatment plan and attend all scheduled appointments with your mental health provider.
  • Avoid substances that can worsen symptoms: Substance use, including alcohol and drugs, can make OCD symptoms worse.

When to get help

It might be time to seek professional help if your symptoms are interfering with daily activities or your ability to function. OCD can be effectively treated with cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), exposure and response prevention (ERP), and medication, among other interventions.  If you’re interested in seeking professional support for OCD, SonderMind can connect you with a licensed  therapist who specializes in OCD in as little as 48 hours to help you get on the right track towards feeling better.

Last Updated:
First Published:
April 25, 2023

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