OCD Attacks: What They Look Like And How to Cope With Them

Last Update on January 8, 2024 : Published on January 8, 2024

Ups and downs in life are expected, and for many of us, these challenges often come in the shape of OCD attacks. I can’t claim to have OCD, but I have people in my life who constantly struggle with the anxiety that comes with having OCD, so I somewhat understand the overwhelming moments and intrusive thoughts. 

These moments of anxiety and negative thoughts can become troublesome, especially when you’re already living with a disorder as intrusive as obsessive-compulsive disorder. 

In today’s article, we’re taking a look at OCD attacks, what triggers an OCD attack, the effects of OCD episodes on your well-being, how you can cope with them, and how you can help your loved ones cope with OCD attacks. 

What Is an OCD Attack?

Obsessive-compulsive disorder, also known as OCD, is a mental health disorder where you are plagued by intrusive thoughts, repetitive behaviors, and constant anxiety. An OCD attack, commonly referred to as OCD episodes or flare-ups, occurs when your OCD symptoms become intense, causing you to feel greater distress and high anxiety. 

OCD attacks can be triggered by different factors, so it’s important to notice your triggers and know how to address them. It’s also crucial to keep in mind that OCD attack symptoms can look different for others. What you experience, others might not, and vice versa. 

Some common symptoms of OCD attacks can include;

  • Unwanted and intrusive thoughts  
  • Wanting to engage in compulsions 
  • Overwhelming feelings of fear and unease 
  • Increased sweating, trembling, and muscle tension
  • Increased heart rate 
  • Trouble focusing on tasks 
  • Constantly overthinking about a scenario 
  • Heightened sensitivity to your surroundings 
  • Avoiding places, people, or situations that trigger distressing thoughts 
  • Constantly doing a mental check to ensure nothing unwanted is happening 

What Triggers An OCD Attack?

OCD attack triggers can differ from person to person, but more often than not, these triggers have a pattern. If you’re diagnosed with OCD, then your OCD triggers might revolve around your obsessions. These obsessions could be related to different things – from fear of contamination to perfectionism. 

Studies have shown that stress can be a cause and effect of OCD triggers. Factors such as stressful events such as work pressure, environment changes, lack of sleep, brain chemistry imbalance, and even past trauma can all trigger OCD symptoms, prompting an OCD attack. 

If these OCD triggers and attacks are left unaddressed, then they can affect your relationships, work life, and even your overall well-being. The loop of unending obsessions and compulsions can also lead you to become isolated, lower your productivity, and cause emotional exhaustion

How to Cope With OCD Attacks?

Now that you know what an OCD attack looks like and how it can be triggered, here are some ways to help you cope with OCD attacks; 

1. Practice Self-Soothing Techniques 

You can try some self-soothing techniques to ground yourself in the present moment. You can do this by trying mindfulness, calming your body and mind, and other relaxation techniques for OCD.

Furthermore, you can also try deep breathing to calm your anxious response, engage in meditation to focus on your breathing, engage in PMR to relax tensed muscles, or try the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique to focus on your present and not on your intrusive thoughts. 

2. Find Healthy Distractions 

To take your mind away from OCD anxiety and worry, you need to find healthy distractions you can engage in. Distractions can help you avoid engaging in compulsions, and these healthy distractions can also help you cope with OCD episodes. You can try going for a run, cooking your favorite meal, playing with your pet, or engaging in a hobby.  

3. Seek Professional Help 

Professional therapy techniques such as exposure and response prevention (ERP) are said to be the most effective therapy for treating OCD. This therapy, done under the guidance of a professional, can help you face your fear (obsessions) without engaging in the compulsions.

This can help you understand that obsessions don’t always need to be followed by compulsion. Another effective therapy technique for OCD is CBT or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. 

4. Create a Support Network 

We all need support in our lives to feel understood and heard. This can also help with OCD attacks. When you’re experiencing an OCD attack, you can share your thoughts with your friends and family – your support network. They can offer understanding and empathy to help you cope.

5. Self-Education is Important Too 

To successfully cope with OCD attacks, you need to understand your symptoms, triggers, and ways you can manage them. You might feel powerless at times, especially when you’re fighting your compulsions. Knowing how your OCD is affecting you can help you fight it better. You can say to yourself, “I see what OCD is trying to do, and I’m not interested” or, “No matter what pops into my mind, these are just anxious thoughts, and not real.”

What Not to Do?

While you’re coping with OCD attacks, it’s important to know what NOT to do when OCD attacks occur; 

  • Do not avoid situations that might trigger your anxiety. This will only increase your fear. 
  • Do not try to suppress your thoughts or forcefully push your intrusive thoughts away. Doing this will only make this worse. 
  • Do not isolate yourself or withdraw from social situations, as it will only worsen the feelings of loneliness. 
  • Do not try to seek reassurances excessively. This behavior will increase your anxiety, not make it go away. 
  • Do not self-medicate. Taking substances, especially non-prescribed ones, might offer temporary relief, but it will also make the problem worse. 
  • Do not engage in body scanning. OCD attacks can heighten your body sensations. Doing this during OCD attacks will increase your sensitivity, making physical sensations worse.

What to do When Someone is Having an OCD Attack?

If your loved one is struggling with OCD or is having an OCD attack, then you can help them by doing the following; 

1. Be non-judgmental.

If your loved one is struggling, then offer them support and your understanding without any judgment or criticism. Know that their obsessions and compulsions are not in their control. 

2. Know what to say.

You should be aware of OCD symptoms, triggers, and their impact on your loved one so that you don’t (even accidentally) make things worse for them. Understanding OCD can help you offer empathy to your loved one for their experiences. 

3. Ask them to seek help.

You can also try to suggest your loved one to seek professional support and counseling. Let them understand how therapy can be good for them and help them cope better with their OCD attacks. 

4. Listen to them.

If your loved one is experiencing an OCD attack, then lend a compassionate ear to them, and listen to their worries. Don’t offer to “fix” their problems. Just listen to them. 

5. Remain patient with them.

OCD attacks and their subsequent recovery takes time, so if your loved one is in therapy or coping with OCD, offer them support. Don’t make them feel ashamed or guilty for going through what they are experiencing. Be patient with them. 

Wrapping Up…

Life is full of ups and downs, and having a complicated mental health disorder can only make things worse. Or so others think. When we talk about OCD attacks, they can be managed by understanding the triggers of OCD attacks and engaging in healthy and effective coping techniques. 

When you acknowledge the symptoms of OCD, the triggers of OCD attacks, and how to cope with them, you can regain control of your life. Just ensure you have a strong support network. If you need help, then don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help. 

Help is within your reach; all you need is to take the hand and pull yourself up. I hope this article helped you understand what is an OCD attack, what triggers an OCD attack, and how to cope with it. 

You can share your thoughts in the comments below. And if you liked the article, then don’t forget to give us a thumbs up! 

Take Care!

About The Author

Swarnakshi Sharma
Swarnakshi Sharma

Swarnakshi is a content writer at Calm sage, who believes in a healthier lifestyle for mind and body. A fighter and survivor of depression, she strives to reach and help spread awareness on ending the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A spiritual person at heart, she believes in destiny and the power of Self. She is an avid reader and writer and likes to spend her free time baking and learning about world cultures.

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