An Overview of What Triggers Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

This article will provide information on OCD, what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder, and treatment options.

What Is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

To understand what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder, we must first have a basic understanding of what the condition entails. Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) is a mental health disorder that is comprised of unwanted, intrusive thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive behaviors or rituals (compulsions).1

Obsessions are intrusive, unwanted, and unpleasant thoughts, images, or urges that repeatedly enter the mind. They may cause feelings of disgust, anxiety, or unease. Compulsions are repetitive behaviors or rituals that help temporarily ease the discomfort caused by the obsessions.2

what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder

Types of OCD

What triggers obsessive compulsive disorder may be related to the type of OCD one may experience. Researchers have suggested that there are five common subtypes of OCD, which include the following:3

  • Contamination: This type of OCD focuses on feeling dirty or contaminated. Those who experience this type often engage in repeated washing or cleaning behaviors.
  • Harm: Harm obsessions are intense thoughts about possible harm to oneself or others. People with this type of OCD engage in checking rituals to reduce their anxiety about something harmful occurring.4
  • Symmetry: Symmetry OCD is the need for alignment and order to “feel right.” Ordering or counting compulsions may follow these thoughts.
  •  Hoarding: Receiving a hoarding diagnosis differs from hoarding OCD in that those with OCD do not want the items but get items in response to an obsessive thought.
  • Rumination: Rumination OCD is experiencing unwanted thoughts, often around taboo or religious topics. This type of OCD usually involves fear or guilt for even having such thoughts.5

What Triggers Obsessive Compulsive Disorder?

The exact cause of OCD is not known. Researchers have proposed possible risk factors for developing OCD, including the following:6
  • Genetics
  • Trauma
  • Childhood Abuse
  • Brain chemistry and structure
  • Bacterial or viral infection

What Is a Trigger?

A trigger is a reminder or stimulus that causes painful memories or symptoms to surface. This can be a:7
  • Sight
  • Sound
  • Smell
  • Physical sensation
  • Time of day or year

Common OCD Triggers

The answer to what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder could be almost anything. But there are some common triggers for OCD. Common triggers for OCD include the following:7

  • Chronic Stress: Stress is a normal part of everyday life. But chronic stress can lead to increased levels of anxiety. Studies suggest that this long-term stress and anxiety can trigger OCD symptoms.8
  • Trauma: The emotional response caused by a traumatic event can lead to the development of obsessive compulsive disorder and trigger a worsening of existing symptoms.9
  • Major Life Changes: Not every experience that triggers OCD is negative. Even positive or exciting events can result in worsening symptoms. Major changes or significant life events can increase stress and anxiety.
  • Sleep Issues: Sleep is important for physical and mental health. An answer to what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder is often disturbances in sleep. People with OCD may suffer from sleep difficulties like insomnia.10
  • Obsession Reminders: Reminders of their obsessions often trigger people. For example, someone with contamination obsessions might be triggered by seeing a dirty room or being at a hospital.

Tips to Manage OCD Triggers

There are some at-home steps you can take to manage triggers and symptoms of OCD. These are:
  • Identify Your Triggers: Identifying what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder can help you learn how to manage your symptoms. Knowing what might trigger you will help so you do not get caught off guard and can prepare.
  • Manage Stress and Anxiety: Managing stress and anxiety is another way to manage your OCD symptoms. Practicing relaxation techniques like meditation and mindfulness can help reduce stress and anxiety. 
  • Build a Support Network: Talk to family or friends about your OCD. Join peer support groups to connect with others with similar experiences. Being able to rely on your support network when you figure out what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder symptoms can reduce anxiety and discomfort.
  • Try to do Physical Activity: Physical activity can help improve mood and ease stress and anxiety. Try engaging in activities like yoga, walking, or swimming.
  • Get Enough Sleep: Work on improving sleep or getting enough sleep. This can give you the energy and mental space to manage OCD symptoms. Working on practicing good sleep hygiene can help.


Treatment Options for OCD

If what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder becomes too unmanageable on your own, it is important to seek help. Treatment options for OCD are:

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

The most common form of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) used for treating OCD is called exposure and response prevention (ERP). Guided by a therapist, you become exposed to your triggers. 

Using relaxation techniques, you are asked to sit with the discomfort caused by the trigger and not engage in compulsive behavior. Over time you learn that nothing bad will happen if you do not perform your compulsion.11


A form of medication that has been shown to be effective for treating OCD is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These are often used to treat depression but, at higher doses, they have been effective in treating symptoms of OCD.


There are some techniques and procedures that involve making changes to the electrical activity in the brain. Transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and deep brain stimulation have been shown to be effective in treating OCD.

TMS is less invasive than deep brain stimulation and involves using magnetic fields to stimulate nerve cells. While deep brain stimulation is a surgical procedure that involves implanting electrodes in certain areas of the brain to provide an electrical signal to disrupt abnormal signals.12
what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder

Finding OCD Treatment in North Carolina

If you or a loved one are having a difficult time managing what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder and are looking for treatment in the Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill (including Wake Forest, Apex, Clayton, etc.) areas, Advaita Integrated Medicine can help.
Our providers and experts in the field are willing to work with you using individualized treatment. Our synergistic evidence-based treatment assists with helping our patients reach their full potential.

Incorporating a Whole-Person Approach to Healing

Advaita Integrated Medicine specializes in providing medication management, therapy, and primary care to individuals with mental health and substance use disorders. Our services include psychotherapy, medication management, wellness coaching, and many more.

Our focus is on the Triangle area. This includes Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill, Wake Forest, Apex, and Clayton areas.

Reach Out Today

To find out more about what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder and treatment options, contact Advaita Integrated Medicine today at 919.893.4465 and take advantage of what triggers obsessive compulsive disorder in your life. 

Reach out today. We can’t wait to meet you!

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