Understand The OCD Cycle How You Can Manage It

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is marked by a vicious cycle of having an obsession (an unpleasant thought or emotion) and then feeling compelled to take specific actions to rectify it. Understanding how the OCD cycle works is an essential first step in overcoming the problems associated with the condition.

In this article, we'll look at OCD, its symptoms, types, and patterns, and discuss treatment options.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What is OCD?

OCD is often misunderstood. Someone who likes to keep things neat or stay clean doesn't necessarily have OCD. So let's take a closer look at what OCD is, how it may manifest, and how it's diagnosed and treated.

What are the symptoms of OCD?

Obsessions and compulsions play a significant role in OCD, but these alone don't warrant an OCD diagnosis. A third important marker of OCD is anxiety caused by these obsessions and compulsions. In detail, the three major symptoms of OCD are:

  • Obsessions: An obsession is something that preoccupies you. Obsessions related to OCD typically fall into four categories, which we'll discuss later. 

  • Compulsions: For someone with OCD, obsessions result in a strong urge to act or respond. These actions are compulsions.

  • Anxiety: Obsessions and compulsions cause problems when they trigger distress. The anxiety that results from obsessions and compulsions is a distinguishing factor in OCD. 

So, is OCD a form of anxiety?

Yes. At its core, OCD is an anxiety disorder. Many situations can trigger anxiety. In people with OCD, anxiety is triggered by an inability to stop thinking about obsessions and a persistent need to act on them. 

What are the four types of OCD?

Researchers have found that, although OCD can manifest in many different ways, a person’s symptoms typically fall into one of four categories or dimensions. The dimensions represent specific types of obsessions and related compulsions. The four dimensions of OCD are:

Contamination and cleaning

The obsession here centers around germs, illnesses, or diseases. The compulsion is to clean oneself more often than necessary or to go out of one’s way to avoid germs. In extreme cases, people with contamination and cleaning OCD may avoid people or areas they perceive as unclean.

Doubt and checking

Fear of accidental harm forms the basis of this obsession. For example, someone may worry about leaving the oven on or forgetting to lock the door.  A person with doubt and checking OCD may feel compelled to constantly check that they did something or that danger isn't present.

Symmetry and ordering

This obsession stems from a desire for everything to be arranged perfectly. When things aren't absolutely perfect, someone with this type of OCD will feel an irresistible urge to rearrange.

Unacceptable thoughts and mental rituals

Thoughts of a religious, violent, or sexual nature that become obsessions may be OCD. Because of the nature of the obsession, a person with this type of OCD may develop a mental ritual to help them deal with or eliminate unacceptable thoughts.

What is the OCD cycle?

OCD is a condition characterized by a repeating loop of four distinct stages. The stages that make up the OCD cycle are: 


The cycle starts when a person is exposed to a trigger, which becomes an obsession. Identifying your unique triggers can help you break the OCD cycle.


The obsession leads to anxiety, and compelling feelings start to develop. Anxiety sets in when you feel the urge to act on a compulsion, and it can become difficult to focus on anything else, which often causes significant distress.


Eventually, the need to act on the compulsion becomes overwhelming and impossible to resist.

Temporary relief

Acting on the compulsion brings temporary relief. However, obsessive thoughts or feelings will return, and the cycle will start again.

When it repeats throughout the day, the OCD cycle can drastically affect your ability to function normally and reduce your quality of life. What’s more frustrating is that you know what you’re doing is interfering, but you simply can’t help it. 

How do I break the OCD cycle?

A person with OCD is generally unable to resist their compulsions without professional help. Fortunately, treatment can help you overcome the OCD cycle. The most effective treatments for OCD are therapy and medication. 

Cognitive behavior therapy

Doctors use a specific cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) called exposure and response prevention (ERP) to treat OCD. A licensed and qualified professional carries out ERP in an outpatient setting. 

In ERP, your mental healthcare provider will have you confront the thoughts, objects, or situations that trigger the obsession stage of the OCD cycle. Then, they’ll guide you in consciously choosing not to act on your compulsions, with the long-term goal of retraining your brain so it’s no longer triggered.


The most commonly-prescribed class of medications for treating OCD is serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs). In addition, for some people, antipsychotic drugs may help alleviate some symptoms. 

Either therapy or medication can be used alone, or they can be combined. Your doctor will develop a treatment plan that suits your specific needs.

The lowdown

OCD is marked by an anxiety-driven, irresistible inclination to act on compulsions that originate from obsessive thoughts. Acting on a compulsion provides temporary relief from anxiety caused by the obsession. However, the obsession and resulting anxiety soon return, creating a vicious cycle that can be hard to break.

If you think you may have OCD, speak with your doctor. They'll be able to provide you with resources to help you take back control of your life.

Have you considered clinical trials for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

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