What Causes OCD to Get Worse? — Talkspace

What Causes OCD to Get Worse? — Talkspace


How to Prevent OCD From Getting Worse

With treatment and coping skills, you can manage your OCD. With a comprehensive understanding of the condition and what causes OCD to get worse, you can prevent it from taking over any more of your life. 

Therapy or medication

OCD can improve, or at least not get any worse, through management and treatment. OCD therapy and medication, or a combination of the two, are often successful. It’s important to recognize that you don’t need to wait for symptoms of your OCD to worsen before you reach out for help. Even if you just have a mild form of OCD, seeking therapy and/or OCD medication can help you reduce symptoms so they become more manageable.

“You may notice OCD symptoms getting worse if you go through a difficult transition such as the death of a loved one or making a big change like moving or starting a new school.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Kelly, LICSW

Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy has been found to be extremely effective in helping mild to severe cases of OCD. By targeting symptoms and gradually exposing you to the root of your obsession, ERP helps you work toward resisting the compulsive reactions that you may once have had difficulty controlling.

Managing triggers

Knowing what makes OCD flare up can help you avoid, or at least be aware of, things before you encounter them. 

“OCD symptoms can intensify during times of stress or when you feel like life is getting out of control.”

Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Kelly, LICSW

People with OCD regularly experience extreme, yet unnecessary, worry. Obsessive and uncontrollable thoughts can interfere with life to the point of serious disruption. You may find you’re consumed with thoughts like: 

  • Did I turn off the stove? 
  • Will my family be OK? 
  • Am I gay because I think that female/male looks good? 
  • Are my hands clean?

Even if you are certain you turned off the stove (and you checked multiple times), you’re confident your family is safe, you know you’re straight, and you just washed your hands — you still may not be able to control obsessive thoughts like these. It can add to your normal, daily stresses in life to the point that you’re really unable to manage any longer. 

Luckily, there are coping strategies and techniques you can learn that can help. 

  • Work with a therapist to develop effective coping skills — The more you practice and develop your coping skills, the better you’ll become at managing known triggers that tend to make OCD worse.
  • Focus on managing your level of stress — Try journaling, doing yoga, eating healthy, working out, or meditating as ways to manage your stress. There’s a definite link between high levels of stress and increased episodes of OCD. The better you can manage your stress, the better your OCD symptoms will tend to be.
  • Don’t try to prevent your thoughts — Spending time trying to prevent your thoughts will often just lead to you having more obsessive thoughts. Try to find other ways to channel your energy.
  • Try not to seek reassurance — It may seem natural to ask for reassurance from others or try to reassure yourself. However, the reality is, reassuring yourself or doing what’s known as reassurance-seeking, is just another compulsion that’s associated with OCD. Try reminding yourself that either the worst is going to happen, is happening right now, or has already happened. You can also ask yourself questions like: Who told you this and How do you know this is true? when you’re having an obsessive thought and feeling the need for reassurance. Questions like this can help you remember that your thoughts are not your reality.
  • It’s OK to sometimes accept help, but remember that your work is your work alone — It can be tempting to involve others in your life. It’s natural to want support in your commitment to healing. However, unless a therapist suggests that you ask friends, family members, or a partner to help you, it’s best for you to try and motivate yourself. The key here is that someone else won’t always be there for you. Learning to self-rely can be extremely helpful, and more beneficial, in the long run.
  • Focus on letting go of perfectionism — Everybody wants to do their best in life, but when you have OCD, perfectionism can be another symptom of your disorder. If you’re obsessing about getting something done perfectly the first time, you run the risk of your perfectionism turning into a compulsion. Remember that no one is perfect, and practice makes progress, not perfection.



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