Stress and hormonal factors can cause your OCD symptoms to become more severe.
With the right treatment, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can become more manageable over time. But certain factors can also cause OCD to get worse.
For example, your OCD symptoms might become worse if you’ve recently experienced a traumatic or stressful event. Sleeplessness, pregnancy, and menstruation might also make your symptoms more severe.
But even if your OCD symptoms “flare up” from time to time, it’s possible for your condition to gradually improve. Therapy, self-care strategies, and social support can help you manage your OCD.
If your OCD has suddenly gotten worse or if you’ve noticed your symptoms gradually becoming more severe, a few issues might be at play.
- abuse or bullying
- the death of a loved one
- a divorce or breakup
- family or relationship problems
- immigration to a new country
- job loss
- a natural disaster
- school difficulties
- serious physical illness in yourself or a loved one
- a vehicle accident
- violent crime
According to a
Pregnancy and childbirth
Some people develop OCD as a result of pregnancy and childbirth. When that happens, the condition is called perinatal OCD or postpartum OCD.
It’s not totally clear why pregnancy and childbirth can trigger OCD, but there are many
But perinatal OCD doesn’t just affect people who get pregnant and give birth. Co-parents might also experience the condition, according to a 2021 review of fathers’ experiences of perinatal OCD.
If you think you’re experiencing perinatal OCD, consider speaking with a healthcare professional such as your OB-GYN or primary care doctor.
Your OCD symptoms might vary intensity along with your menstrual cycle.
The authors of a 2021 review concluded that anxiety-related OCD symptoms can fluctuate along with the menstrual cycle but that this doesn’t happen in everyone who menstruates. They also noted that more research is needed.
There’s no consensus on how to treat OCD that gets worse because of your menstrual cycle.
If you’re not sleeping well, it may worsen your OCD.
OCD and sleeplessness can reinforce one another. If you’re having trouble falling asleep, try to practice good sleep hygiene habits. You can also talk with a healthcare professional about treatment options for sleeplessness.
There’s currently no evidence that OCD gets worse with age for everyone.
The authors of a
This means that even if your OCD gets worse for a while, it’s possible your symptoms will improve and you’ll feel better in the long run.
A 2010 study suggests that as many as
The most common OCD comorbidities are anxiety disorders.
Common OCD comorbidities include:
- attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- borderline personality disorder
- eating disorders
- illness anxiety disorder
- major depressive disorder
- obsessive-compulsive personality disorder
- panic disorder
- separation anxiety disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- Tourette syndrome
It’s not clear whether OCD gets worse when you develop another mental health condition.
According to a 2021 review, the more severe someone’s OCD is, the less likely they are to have panic disorder, tic disorders, OCPD, or anorexia nervosa. There’s no consensus on why this is.
But having a comorbid condition can certainly be challenging since you’re dealing with the symptoms of OCD and the symptoms of another condition.
Other mental health conditions can cause difficulties and stress in your day-to-day life, and that stress can possibly trigger or worsen your OCD symptoms.
While you can’t avoid all the possible triggers for OCD, you may be able to reduce the chances that your OCD will get worse. Here’s how:
- Get treatment as early as possible: Early, consistent OCD treatment improves your chances of managing your symptoms well in the long term. Treatment may include talk therapy and, if necessary, medication.
- Maintain a healthy sleep schedule: As mentioned, a lack of sleep may worsen your symptoms. Getting enough good-quality sleep can help you feel better.
- Exercise regularly: A large 2023 review found that exercising can significantly reduce OCD symptoms.
Because stress can worsen OCD symptoms, it’s important to learn to manage stress in a healthy way. Depending on your needs, you might want to try to reduce stress through one or more of these methods:
- doing breathing exercises
- connecting with loved ones
- engaging in hobbies you enjoy
- journaling to express and process feelings
- practicing meditation and mindfulness
- setting boundaries to avoid putting too much on your plate
While these techniques and hacks can be helpful, they can become compulsive rituals, much like any other behavior. If you’ve found yourself becoming too strict or compulsive about your self-care activities, it’s important to reach out for help. A therapist can help you address this issue.
Many factors can worsen the symptoms of OCD. Your OCD might get worse when you’re dealing with a stressful situation.
Your symptoms may ebb and flow over the years, and you might have some periods when they feel more severe and other periods when they improve.
Even if you feel like your OCD is getting worse, it’s possible to manage your symptoms and feel better again. Therapy, medication, and lifestyle strategies can effectively treat OCD.