Obsessive-compulsive disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by recurring thoughts, obsessive behavior, and ritualistic compulsions.
A person with OCD constantly needs to act on their urges. Otherwise, it results in anxiety, distress, and discomfort. However, the OCD cycle has a few notable triggers that can lead to the onset of compulsion or urge. So let us learn about the most common OCD triggers and how you can healthily deal with them to make symptoms more manageable.
What Are OCD Triggers?
To understand triggers, let us look into an example of a stimulus. When there’s a stimulus in our surroundings, the body responds to it. Thus, a response is a reaction to a stimulus. Similarly, when there is a trigger, an OCD episode is a response to it. A trigger causes the person to have a specific thought, urge, or feeling. This intrusive thought makes the person act on it, resulting in a compulsion. Triggers can cause severe emotional responses, including heightened anxiety, stress, and trauma. This emotional reaction is also called an OCD spike. Thus, an OCD spike is something that instantly grabs the attention of a person with OCD and causes them to have an uncontrollable series of thoughts. Once the obsession and compulsion are triggered, the cycle of OCD starts. Certain difficult life events also act as triggers. Thus, most triggers are not exactly specific and measurable. Instead, a tough situation simply results in an emotional response, worsening OCD.
Types of OCD Triggers:
There are various types of OCDs with different subtypes. Similarly, triggers are also different for each person. There are infinite things that can act as a trigger for a person. These triggers include thoughts, sensations, or objects. However, stress, trauma, or life experiences also act as triggers. These triggers can worsen OCD as they become more intense. Some external factors, such as trauma and stress, are highly impactful triggers. Let us look at the following factors and how they affect a person with OCD.
Every individual experiences stress. Whether this stress is from work, school, or personal problems, it can affect everyone equally. Long-term stress is detrimental to a person’s physical and mental health. Such stress can be a strong trigger for someone with OCD.
According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is an emotional response to a terrible life incident. For example, experiencing a natural disaster or a tragic traffic accident can cause trauma. Studies have found that OCD is more common in people who have experienced trauma. When people experience trauma, it brings stress to their bodies and minds. This also induces post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Stress and PTSD associated with trauma increase the likelihood of OCD diagnosis.
3. Pregnancy and Childbirth
Pregnancy and giving birth is a psychologically trying process. During this period, a person can develop OCD symptoms. This is called perinatal OCD. Perinatal OCD results from the fear of contamination of the child. Some types of perinatal OCD also consist of aggression towards the child. Such a disorder results from hormonal fluctuations. During pregnancy, there is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Oxytocin is a hormone that plays a significant role in mother and child bonding. According to scientists, oxytocin levels can create an over-protective response in a person with OCD. The increased responsibility of giving birth and looking after a child can cause anxiety and stress. Therefore, such changes act as a trigger causing OCD.
4. Life Changes
Sometimes, increased symptoms of OCD are also a result of life changes. For example, if a person experiences a major life event that results in negative feelings, they may hold themselves responsible for it. Such an event makes the person guilty, which ultimately triggers OCD. Besides this, hormonal changes during puberty, pregnancy, or post-partum menopause can also increase stress. These factors act as triggers for OCD.
How to Deal With OCD Triggers?
Now that we have looked into the most common OCD triggers, let us understand how to deal with them. Once a person with OCD experiences a trigger, they will have a ritualistic need to act on their thoughts, resulting in compulsions. This will help them overcome their distress. However, there are other healthy ways to cope with triggers to avoid reinforcing obsessive and compulsive behavior. Here are some healthy ways to deal with OCD triggers.
Practice Self Care
Practicing self-care is essential for your mental and physical health. When you have OCD, self-care may not be on your list of priorities. But you must keep up with self-care and prioritize your mental and physical health. Self-care refers to all the activities that help you proactively look after yourself. This includes following a regular sleep schedule, eating well, working out, looking after your skin, and taking steps to work on your mental health.
Be Self Aware
Being self-aware is the key to a happier mind. But first, you must learn to identify your OCD triggers and how you act in response. Once you identify your triggers, practicing self-awareness will help you avoid acting on intrusive thoughts. This way, you won’t reinforce your compulsions.
Face Your Triggers
Once you identify the triggers, the next step is to face them. This may sound challenging at first, but it will ultimately help you overcome your fears. You can also seek treatment and talk to a professional mental healthcare provider to learn how to face your triggers. If you avoid your fears, it will worsen your OCD. This is because avoidance itself becomes a compulsion. Therefore, facing your fears in a carefully planned manner can help you overcome them and battle your OCD.
Seek Professional Treatment
When you identify your triggers, it is best to consult a therapist. First, remember that you’re not alone. There are various strategies to treat OCD. The primary treatment involves exposure and response prevention, a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy. This type of professional therapy can help individuals face their triggers and learn how to deal with them without acting on their thoughts and avoiding compulsion.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder is chronic and debilitating. But fortunately, it is manageable. OCD triggers may be extremely overwhelming, but you can seek professional help to overcome your triggers. If you have identified your triggers, it is best to take a free OCD test to identify your obsessions and compulsions. In addition, various therapies, medications, and other treatments are available for treating OCD. Therefore, you must not shy away from seeking professional help to lead a healthy life. Next up, you may want to read about the best ways to avoid burnout.
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