What Causes OCD to Flare Up?

People living with OCD experience a wide range of symptoms related to their illness. These symptoms don’t always happen constantly. Sometimes, there are specific triggers that cause them to come out. This waxing and waning course are common for chronic cases, with most flare-ups occurring during periods of heightened stress or trauma.

Keep reading for a list of common triggers or stressors that can cause OCD to flare up.

What Does an OCD Flare-Up Look Like?

Unsurprisingly, the most common symptoms of OCD flare-ups can be either obsessions or compulsions. Here are a few examples of both. 

Commonly experienced obsessions include:

  •             Heightened concern about hygiene or disease
  •             Excessive and recurring doubt
  •             Intrusive thoughts that usually include scary, disturbing, or obscene images
  •             Intense fear of losing things

Compulsions are the sometimes undesirable or harmful behavioral patterns we come up with to address our obsessions. These may include:

  •             Excessive hand-washing
  •             Counting
  •             Rewording messages more times than is necessary
  •             Rigid rituals that take a long time to complete
  •             Arranging items in a specifically ordered or organized way

Causes of OCD Flare-Ups

After your obsessive-compulsive disorder has been dormant for a long time, it can be extremely destabilizing and frustrating to experience a flare-up. Here is a rundown of what causes OCD to flare up for many people living with this condition.


Most people experience a certain stress level in their day-to-day lives, usually in short-term or manageable amounts. Living with too much stress for a long period can have serious consequences on your physical and mental health and can also be a factor in causing dormant OCD to flare up.

Traumatic Experiences

The negative impacts that living through harrowing events can have on our lives are well-documented. The emotional response to these events is officially defined as “trauma.” It can cause numerous conditions under the umbrella of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

OCD diagnoses often go hand-in-hand with diagnoses of PTSD. Suppose you’ve recently lived through a traumatic event. In that case, your chances of developing OCD are much higher, as are the chances of having a flare-up if you already had OCD before the traumatic experience.

Major Life Changes

Sometimes flare-ups can be triggered by situations or events that would otherwise be joyful, even cause for celebration. An OCD person might experience a flare-up due to an upcoming marriage, birth of a child, college graduation, or promotion at work. 

Most of the time, the quality of these major life changes most specifically responsible for sparking the flare-up is the pressure associated with diving into the unknown. Uncertainty is destabilizing to many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, even when the cause of the uncertainty is ultimately a happy circumstance.

Get the Help You Deserve

Dealing with flare-ups related to obsessive-compulsive disorder can feel isolating and lonely. Getting help any time you feel lost or destabilized is crucial while learning to live with your illness. If you want to learn more about what causes OCD to flare up, consider talking to a licensed professional specializing in obsessive-compulsive disorder.



Cognitive behavioural therapy is an effective treatment for OCD disorders. This type of therapy teaches you how to modify the negative thoughts and beliefs that contribute to your condition. It also helps you develop healthy coping mechanisms.

Access CBT offer CBT treatment for all types of OCD, depressive and anxiety disorder issues with in-person OCD CBT Counselling in Liverpool or Online Support

The NHS UK also offers a number of support groups and advice for those suffering from OCD disorders.

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