Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a common mental health condition that affects approximately 1-2% of adults. The core symptoms of OCD include obsessions, which are unwanted intrusive thoughts, and compulsions, which are repetitive behaviors or mental acts that a person feels driven to perform.
Many people with OCD describe feeling exhausted or drained by their symptoms. In this article, we’ll explore the connection between OCD and fatigue and discuss some of the reasons why OCD can make people feel tired.
The mental exhaustion of OCD
One of the main reasons that OCD causes fatigue is due to the mental strain of constantly battling obsessions and compulsions. Here are some of the ways that OCD symptoms can be mentally draining:
- Obsessions create anxiety and unease which is mentally taxing.
- Trying to suppress or resist obsessions takes a lot of mental effort.
- Performing compulsions feels tiring after a while.
- The cycle of obsessions and compulsions is repetitive and feels endless.
- OCD makes it hard to focus or concentrate on other things.
- The disorder creates persistent background “noise” in the mind.
Essentially, the mind feels overloaded and exhausted by OCD. Even daily activities and responsibilities become much more fatiguing when you’re simultaneously trying to manage OCD.
Another major reason that OCD causes exhaustion is due to its ability to significantly disrupt sleep patterns:
- Obsessions and anxiety make it hard to fall asleep.
- Compulsions during the night interrupt sleep.
- OCD may cause frequent wakings or very restless sleep.
- The content of obsessions may be frightening or upsetting.
- Trying to control thoughts and rituals at bedtime is stimulating.
- Medications for OCD sometimes impair sleep.
Chronic insomnia or continuously impaired sleep takes a major toll on energy levels and contributes to daytime fatigue. Lack of quality sleep exacerbates the mental strain of OCD as well.
Avoidance and isolation
In an effort to reduce anxiety and control their compulsions, many people with OCD start avoiding triggers or situations that exacerbate their symptoms. This avoidance and isolation can increase fatigue in several ways:
- Social isolation leads to lack of social support and loneliness.
- Avoiding activities leads to loss of mental stimulation.
- Physical activity decreases when avoiding certain places or situations.
- Confinement to home increases depression and fatigue.
- Engaging in fewer activities leads to loss of motivation and interest.
In essence, OCD starts to sap people’s energy not just mentally but physically and socially as well. Avoidance and isolation reinforce the fatigue.
Depression is common
It’s estimated that around 30-50% of people with OCD also suffer from clinical depression. Depression has a number of symptoms that directly contribute to fatigue, including:
- Loss of energy and chronic tiredness.
- Lack of motivation.
- Moving or thinking slower.
- Impaired concentration and memory.
- Sleep disturbances.
- Loss of interest in activities.
As you can see, nearly all the hallmark symptoms of depression involve fatigue in some way. When coupled with OCD, the combined effect can be particularly draining.
Medication side effects
Some of the medications commonly used to treat OCD can themselves cause tiredness as a side effect. For example:
- SSRIs like Prozac, Zoloft, Lexapro, etc. may cause fatigue.
- Older antidepressants like clomipramine can cause sedation.
- Benzodiazepines prescribed for anxiety may induce fatigue.
- Other psychiatric meds for conditions like depression may play a role.
Medication side effects are not usually severe, but should be discussed with your doctor if fatigue becomes problematic. There are often ways to manage them.
OCD symptoms may disrupt daily routines and lead to unhealthy lifestyle habits which can worsen fatigue:
- Compulsive behaviors may interfere with meals.
- Difficulty leaving home can reduce physical activity.
- Isolation and depression may decrease social interactions.
- Sleep routines become irregular.
- OCD may disrupt work and school schedules.
- Anxiety may lead to consumption of more caffeine or sugar.
Addressing these lifestyle factors by improving diet, exercise, sleep habits, etc. can often provide an energy boost. Making lifestyle changes may be challenging at first but can support treatment progress.
Coping strategies for fatigue
Living with OCD can certainly be a vicious cycle where fatigue makes symptoms worse and vice versa. Here are some tips that may be helpful in coping with OCD-related fatigue:
- Get treatment for OCD through counseling and medication.
- Practice stress and anxiety management techniques.
- Optimize sleep quality and consistency as much as possible.
- Exercise regularly as able, even just short walks.
- Maintain social connections and support systems.
- Eat a balanced nutritious diet.
- Get out in nature and expose yourself to sunlight.
- Have medical conditions that cause fatigue assessed.
- Consider supplements like iron, vitamin D, omega-3s.
- Don’t overdo caffeine as a pick-me-up.
- Schedule meaningful activities and structure each day.
When to see a doctor
If you feel that fatigue related to OCD is interfering significantly with your daily functioning and quality of life, discuss it with a doctor. They can assess for other potential medical conditions and review medications. A psychiatrist can also provide support around optimizing OCD treatment and managing fatigue symptoms.
Some examples of when to seek further help include:
- Fatigue is severe and persistent daily.
- You struggle to get through normal daily tasks.
- It’s hard to concentrate at work/school due to exhaustion.
- You’ve withdrawn a lot socially due to low energy.
- Improving sleep, diet and exercise isn’t helping energy.
- You often feel like taking daytime naps.
- Caffeine provides little benefit.
- Low motivation makes it hard to function.
- You drink excess caffeine or sugar trying to boost energy.
OCD is challenging enough to manage on its own without debilitating fatigue compounding the difficulty. Seeking medical advice can be extremely helpful if fatigue symptoms become an additional roadblock to daily functioning and OCD recovery.
The bottom line
In summary, it’s very common for OCD to cause frequent exhaustion due to factors like:
- The mental strain of obsessive thoughts and compulsive rituals.
- Disrupted sleep patterns.
- Avoidance behaviors and isolation.
- Co-occuring depression.
- Medication side effects.
- Lifestyle impacts on diet, activity, etc.
Coping strategies like getting optimal OCD treatment, exercising, socializing, improving sleep, and eating healthy can help manage fatigue.
But severe tiredness can make functioning difficult. Speaking to a doctor is wise if exhaustion remains disabling despite lifestyle remedies. Extra support can help evaluate additional ways to alleviate fatigue and improve OCD treatment outcomes.
|How it contributes to fatigue
|Mental strain of OCD symptoms
|Obsessions and compulsions are mentally exhausting
|Insomnia and poor sleep quality due to OCD
|Avoidance and isolation
|Withdrawal from activity and socializing increases fatigue
|Depression directly causes fatigue symptoms
|Medication side effects
|Some OCD and mental health medications can cause fatigue
|OCD disrupts routines affecting diet, exercise, schedules
- OCD commonly causes mental exhaustion from constant obsessions and compulsions.
- Insomnia, poor sleep quality, and sleep disruption frequently occur.
- Avoiding triggers leads to greater inactivity and isolation.
- Depression affecting approximately 50% of those with OCD also worsens fatigue.
- Medications used for OCD treatment can potentially cause tiredness as a side effect.
- OCD can interfere with daily lifestyle routines including meals, exercise and sleep.
Managing OCD fatigue requires a multifaceted approach:
- Get optimal OCD treatment through counseling like CBT and medication.
- Improve sleep quality and consistency through sleep hygiene.
- Increase activity levels and social engagement as able.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet.
- Address co-occuring health issues or medication side effects.
- Consider supplements that support energy if appropriate.
Severe persistent fatigue may warrant evaluation by a doctor or psychiatrist, especially when it impairs daily functioning. Extra support can help manage OCD fatigue and enhance treatment progress.