Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder where a person has uncontrollable, repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and performs behaviors (compulsions) that they feel the urge to do repeatedly, mostly to decrease the anxiety caused by the obsession. Mental illness can debilitate a person and make everyday living difficult. Therefore, understanding what triggers OCD episodes and symptoms can aid a person trying to recover from this condition to develop a healthier daily routine. If you or someone you care about has OCD, below is more about signs, symptoms, and common OCD triggers to look out for.
Signs and Symptoms of OCD
People with OCD experience a pattern of unwanted thoughts and fears (obsessions) that lead them to perform repetitive behaviors (compulsions). These obsessions and compulsions tend to be severe enough to disrupt the individual’s ability to carry out daily activities and can cause significant distress. People with this disorder often try to ignore or stop their obsessions, but that usually only increases their distress and anxiety. Typically, the more the individual tries to ignore their obsessions, the worse they get. This leads to more ritualistic behavior, thus defining the cycle of OCD.
OCD often centers around various themes, as well. For instance, an excessive fear of getting contaminated by germs is a well-known type of OCD, which is otherwise known as contamination OCD. To ease the fears of contamination, a person with OCD might compulsively wash their hands until they are sore or chapped. While the various kinds of OCD present varying symptoms, the major symptoms of this disorder are similar.
As we previously mentioned, OCD obsessions are intrusive, repeated, persistent, and unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that can cause distress or anxiety. In response, the individual might try to ignore their obsessions or get rid of them by performing compulsive or ritualistic behavior. OCD obsessions usually present themselves when you are trying to think or do other things and often follow themes like:
- Aggressive or horrific thoughts about losing control and harming yourself or others
- Doubting and having difficulty tolerating uncertainty
- Fear of contamination or dirt
- Needing things orderly and symmetrical
- Unwanted thoughts, including aggression, sexual, or religious subjects
Some examples of obsessions include:
- Fear of being contaminated from touching objects other people have touched, such as doorknobs in public places
- Doubts that you have locked the door or turned off the stove
- Intense stress when things are not in order
- Images of driving your car into a crowd of people
- Unpleasant sexual thoughts and images
OCD compulsions refer to repetitive behaviors that a person with OCD feels driven to perform. These behaviors or mental acts are meant to reduce the anxiety caused by their obsessions or prevent something bad from happening. However, engaging in these compulsions brings no pleasure and usually only offers temporary relief from the anxiety caused by their obsessions.
People with OCD will make up rules or rituals to follow to help them control their anxiety when they are having obsessive thoughts. These compulsions are excessive and often are not realistically related to the problem they are trying to fix.
Like obsessions, compulsions may also have themes, such as:
- Demanding reassurance
- Following a strict routine
- Washing and cleaning
Common examples of OCD behavior and compulsions include:
- Arranging canned foods to face the same way
- Checking doors repeatedly to make sure they are locked
- Checking the stove repeatedly to make sure it is off
- Handwashing until the skin is raw and chapped
- Silently repeating a prayer, phrase, or word
The onset of OCD usually begins in someone’s teen or young adult years, but it can also begin in childhood. Symptoms are usually gradual in the beginning and may intensify throughout life. The types of obsessions and compulsions a person with OCD experiences may also change over time. If your obsessions or compulsions are affecting your quality of life, reach out to a facility for mental health care, such as our Pompano Beach treatment center, to learn how to properly cope with symptoms and regain control of your life.
Common Triggers for OCD
A trigger is something in our environment or mind that causes us to experience a certain thought, feeling, or act a certain way. As with many other mental health disorders, OCD can be triggered. While the direct cause of OCD is impossible to pinpoint, certain people, places, things, and situations can contribute to obsessions and compulsions.
Additionally, just as OCD is different for each person, so are triggers. There are an infinite number of things that can be triggering to one person but not another, including thoughts, objects, and sensations. Triggers can also be compounded by stress, trauma, and life changes, meaning they can change and intensify over time.
Below are some common examples of OCD triggers to look out for.
Stress is the most common OCD trigger on the list, and it is also the toughest one to cope with, considering that everyone experiences stress at one point or another. Whether caused by work, school, or family, research has shown that Americans are among the most stressed people in the world.1 While experiencing stress is normal and sometimes healthy and helpful, long-term stress can easily trigger OCD symptoms.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), trauma is defined as “an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident … or natural disaster.” Research has discovered a high rate of OCD among individuals who have been exposed to or have experienced trauma.2,3 Often, when people either witness or experience a traumatic event, it leads to physical and psychological distress. This is often to the point where the individual is unable to recover from the event and develops post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
It is common for trauma and OCD to coincide. In fact, studies show an increased likelihood of OCD within a year of a PTSD diagnosis, otherwise referred to as trauma-related OCD.3
Major Life Changes
Change is a natural part of life, but unfortunately, this is also a major point of stress for someone with OCD. Major life changes like going away to college, starting a new job, and even the loss of a loved one are all common triggers of OCD in adults. However, while symptoms may increase in cases of change, it does not mean you have to avoid change or blame yourself for having gone through it. This is normal in life, and we often cannot get to where we would like to be without some change. However, the biggest trigger is increased uncertainty.
Other types of OCD triggers to consider can include:
- Breakup or divorce
- Death of a loved one
- Family problems
- Job change or unemployment
- Loss of a personally valuable object
- Problems at school
- Serious physical illness or hospitalization of oneself or a loved one
OCD Treatment in South Florida
Our Pompano Beach drug rehab offers Broward County mental health services for all kinds of disorders, including depression, anxiety, and OCD. Our facility administers mental health treatment in a partial hospitalization level of care, which is a type of outpatient program designed to help clients apply to their daily routines the coping methods they learn at our facility.
For more information about our Broward County substance abuse programs or mental health services, call Banyan Treatment Centers today at 888-280-4763 or send us your contact information so we can reach out to you.
- The New York Times - Americans Are Among the Most Stressed People in the World, Poll Finds
- APA - Trauma
- NIH - Trauma-related obsessive-compulsive disorder: a review