Seasonal OCD characteristics.

Anxious woman

Seasonal OCD?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

The seasons affect humans in a lot of different ways.

As the seasons change, their effects on humans change also. Most people are familiar with seasonal affective disorder, also known as the winter blues. While not all experts agree on the causes or significance of winter blues, if you’re one of those people who experience them, you’re probably convinced.

Changing weather also affects people in very predictable physical ways. You may suffer from seasonal allergies, and your mood may vary depending on whether you’re stuck inside, developing cabin fever, or spending more time outdoors in the sunshine.

What’s less known and less studied is the phenomenon of seasonal anxiety and seasonal increases in OCD symptoms.

People with OCD are especially sensitive to the seasons.

An article in Psychiatry Research titled. Seasonal mood changes in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder looked at this connection.

Both depression and OCD appear to be connected to the levels of serotonin in the brain. The same treatments that are used for depression have also been used to treat OCD with varying results.

OCD is more likely to be prevalent in the fall.

People with OCD are more likely to experience symptoms during the cold winter months. The severity of the OCD compulsions is worse on the shorter days, and where there is less daylight. Seasonal changes in mood often co-occur with seasonal variations in OCD symptoms and intensity.

Changes in behavior as a result of seasonal changes are significant.

Both people with seasonal depression and an increase in seasonal OCD may see their symptoms get worse during the winter months. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the treatment for both should be the same.

For people with seasonal affective disorder or seasonal depressive symptoms, some of the behavioral changes that maintain their depressive symptoms can be treated by being more active. Walking or an increase in physical activity improves mood. Making a deliberate effort to stay connected to your support system can also help manage the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

Treatment for OCD is different from that for depression.

The behaviors that maintain OCD are the giving into the compulsions in performing the ritual. While some people have reported that medication is helpful, the overwhelming body of evidence tells us that the treatment of choice for OCD is Exposure and Response Prevention Therapy. Every time the person with OCD gives in to the urges to perform the ritual, they reinforce not only their symptoms but the disease.

The importance of relapse prevention.

An important part of treatment for substance use disorders is relapse prevention, and an important part of that relapse prevention is learning that cravings, no matter how severe they are, can be temporary. Giving in to those cravings even occasionally reinforces the addiction. People in recovery from addictions, both chemical and behavioral addictions, learn that if they can surf the urges, not giving in when the urges are high, eventually those urges dissipate.

Exposure and response prevention for OCD works similarly. Whenever you are exposed to an anxiety-provoking situation, and you can avoid doing your ritual, the symptoms of OCD will decline. In the early stages resisting those urges can be extremely difficult. Regardless of what time of year you experience OCD, know that the more you can resist those urges, and the more you learn to dismiss those unhelpful thoughts, the less your disorder can control you.

I’d love to hear from you.

If you suffer from seasonal disorders, whether it’s a seasonal increase in OCD symptoms, seasonal anxiety, or seasonal affective disorder, I’d appreciate hearing from you. Let me know how these seasonal disorders have affected you and what you have found that works. I’d also like to know what doesn’t work for treating your condition. You can either leave a comment below or use the contact me form. Getting through the winter season this year is likely to be even more difficult than past years, and sharing your experiences may help you and others.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now!

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