Seasonal OCD?

by digitalart

by digitalart

My son Dan’s OCD was at its very worst from around January-March of 2008. Exactly one year later we were almost, though not quite, back to square one. At this time, I sat in the psychiatrist’s office with Dan as the doctor talked about OCD often going in cycles. I was terrified. Was Dan slipping back to not being able to eat again?

As it turns out, we discovered that most of Dan’s problems at this point were related to the various medications he was taking. He was wrongly medicated and he was over-medicated. So while I don’t believe that’s what was going on with Dan at the time, the idea of OCD being cyclical stayed in my mind. It made sense to me – as much as anything to do with OCD ever makes sense. After all, Seasonal Affective Disorder is real. If depression can be seasonal, why can’t OCD, and other brain disorders, be seasonal as well?

I’ve read many first-person blogs about OCD over the years, and a good number of these bloggers attest to their OCD flaring up at certain times of the year, typically the colder, winter months. So when I came across this recent article, Woman’s Rare Case of ‘Seasonal OCD’ Cured, my first thought, before even reading the article, was “What’s so rare about that?”

It’s a short article if you want to take a look at it. Basically the woman, who seemed to suffer from OCD every October-May, was successfully treated with a combination of fluoxetine, what sounds like exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, and bright light exposure for two hours a day. According to the article, she still takes fluoxetine (which originally did not help much when used alone) and her OCD did not reappear the following October. I’m wondering if ERP therapy alone would have helped her? Or if the light therapy actually played a part in her recovery? Or if she still really needs the fluoxetine?

As is often the case with OCD we are left with more questions than answers. Why would OCD be worse in the winter? Is it because more people get sick in the winter and this fact might be a trigger for those with OCD? Is it because we produce less serotonin during the darker, colder months? Is it possibly related to PANDAS, which is believed to be caused by streptococcal infections, which are also more prevalent in the winter?

While answers to these questions might lead to a better understanding of OCD, the good news is obsessive-compulsive disorder can still be treated – even without the answers. So whether you have seasonal OCD, or it’s with you year-round, you can work on getting your life back by embracing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy as soon as possible.





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8 Responses to Seasonal OCD?

  1. grannyK says:

    I did not know this! I think we have been lucky as I have not noticed any seasonal changes in myself or my son. I do get more depressed in the winter if it is a very cloudy and rainy one, but that is all. Thank you for all of the information you post. I do find the human mind intriguing, even if it can be frustrating!

  2. MOMG says:

    My mom was the first one to notice that my daughter’s OCD seemed to be worse in the autumn and winter. At first I chalked it up to transition times (start of school, holidays etc.) but I fully believe it can be seasonal. She is also less active in those months, so it’s important to force her to go play outside or join an extra-curricular activity. Whether it’s transition times or not, I still think it can be triggered seasonally. Thanks for your post!

  3. C says:

    Hi Janet,
    The things that struck me while reading this (I’ve actually never heard of this before), is that I agree with you on the PANDAS line of thought, as well as a more obvious one, in that the fall leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas are so, so busy and stressful for many people (exams, holidays, family gatherings, gifts, financially, expectations), and we know for a fact that stress can trigger ocd symptoms. My coach and I aren’t really big believers on medication for OCD, so I wonder what things would be like without that variable there. When things got really bad for me at 18 (the first time), it was a stressful time in life starting my freshman year of college, paired with a bunch of other stressful things leading up to the holidays. It makes sense. I’m skeptical about the name of the article (since ocd can’t be “cured”, and her case doesn’t seem rare at all). I’m not a psychologist, but I know a lot about ocd…so those are my thoughts.
    P.s. Are you finished with your book tour? If not, will you be coming to the southeast USA? I’d love to meet you in person.

    • Hi C,, Thanks for sharing and I agree that the stress of the season could certainly be a factor in triggering OCD. My son’s OCD, like yours, really spiraled out of control during his freshman year of college, when he was far from home. Definitely a stressful situation! I appreciate your insight.
      I’m actually in Florida now, and doing a book event this evening. I would love to come to “where you are at” 🙂 if you know of a venue that would be willing to host me. Feel free to email me at if you’d like to pursue. Hope all is going well!

  4. Catherine says:

    I have pretty severe ocd all year, but it definitely gets worse in the fall and winter. Ever since I learned about the connection between serotonin and ocd, I assumed the “cycle” was the lack of sunshine and serotonin. I take a high dose of sertraline, which I really do need, but I also make sure to get plenty of sun because I notice the big difference it makes in my obsessive thought processes and my need to perform compulsions. Do you think one of those seasonal affective disorder lamps would help people who have more trouble with ocd in the dark winter months? Also thank you so much for this article! It’s a very interesting topic, and one that doesn’t get a lot of attention. Even my therapists thought it was odd that my symptoms get worse in winter. Thanks again! 🙂

    • You’re welcome, Catherine, and thank YOU for sharing! I’m no expert so I don’t know if one of those lamps would help, but I think it’s worth a try. Please let me know if you try it and if you find it helpful. Hope you get lots of sunshine this summer :)!

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