OCD and Exhaustion

by graur codrin freedigitalphotos.net

When my son Dan’s OCD was severe, he was always exhausted. At first I attributed his lack of energy to the fact that he rarely slept well. But it soon became obvious, even when sleeping was not an issue, that he always felt tired.


I think there are many reasons why those with obsessive-compulsive disorder are often exhausted. Living with nonstop anxiety can be draining. Many people with OCD are also depressed, and depression and lack of energy often go hand in hand. Additionally, some medications used to treat OCD are known to cause fatigue.

And the very nature of OCD (left untreated) is exhausting just to think about, let alone live with. Relentless obsessions and compulsions – an endless cycle that takes up every ounce of your energy. And the pretending! So many people with OCD do whatever they can to hide their disorder – to keep up that facade of “normalcy.” I think it would be surprising not to be tired!

So what’s the best thing to do when you feel this overwhelming exhaustion related to obsessive-compulsive disorder? Sleep until you feel better? Wait for it to pass? After all, the way you feel now, you have no energy or motivation to do anything, especially exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy which is exhausting in its own right.

As with so many things related to OCD, you should do the opposite of what you feel like doing.

I know it’s not easy. In fact it’s incredibly difficult. Mental and physical exhaustion take their toll in many ways, from physical ailments to depression to doubt in your ability to improve or change your life. Ah, that old word – doubt. Those with OCD often doubt their strength and ability to get through difficult times, but in fact they are just as capable, if not more so, than those without OCD.

Studies have shown that attitude plays a big part in overcoming adversity. If you’re so tired that you feel there’s no way you can fight your OCD, then you won’t fight it. However, if you acknowledge your exhaustion but still vow to move forward, even in small ways, then you will be one step closer to fighting your OCD. A good therapist who specializes in treating OCD can be helpful with setting goals.

So many of us wait to take action until we feel motivated, but sometimes we just need to do the opposite. We need to take action and eventually the motivation will follow.

If you are feeling exhausted, lethargic, and completely drained from your OCD, please don’t wait for it to pass. It won’t – OCD will just keep getting stronger. Take some steps to plow through the exhaustion and move forward to fight your OCD. The more you fight, the weaker your OCD will become, and slowly but surely, you will beat OCD and your exhaustion will give way to a renewed joy in life.




This entry was posted in Mental Health, OCD and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to OCD and Exhaustion

  1. Geoffrey Hudson says:

    Sorry but once OCD gets a grip on you that’s it for life OK it might appear to have gone when going through ERP and CBT and taking certain medication but it still takes over and believe me it does come back each time stronger than last time I am just passed 70 years old OCD has taken my life believe me nobody really understands unless you are a sufferer

    • Hi Geoffrey, I agree that “nobody really understands unless you are a sufferer.” But there are many people with OCD who have successfully undergone treatment and have learned to keep OCD “in the background.” And if and when it does flare up, they have the tools to deal with it. They, not OCD, are in charge of their lives, and to me, that’s what is important. Thanks for sharing!

    • Geoffrey, I have had OCD for nearly 30 years, and the first 20 were untreated. After ERP in 2008, my entire life is different. I am sorry to hear if that is your experience with ERP, but for me and for many others, ERP took the power away from OCD and, for me, OCD grows weaker and weaker in my life each year.

      I’m sorry if ERP has not been a solution for you, but please be careful not to warn away others whose lives might deeply benefit from it.

      I wish you well!

  2. Hi Janet. What a great post. I think a lot of times people might think about waiting until they have the energy – and then that time never comes. It’s true for so many things, too (not just OCD, but other mental illnesses and even new things we are waiting to do in life). Blake’s therapist recently told him that he must take action in order to feel different – and that it will take a while of taking action before how he feels will begin to follow along.

  3. Luanne says:

    I don’t have serious OCD, but I do have a lot of anxiety in recent years, and I think you are right that it is the anxiety making me feel exhausted.

  4. Michelle says:

    Great post, Janet!

    Are you familiar with histamine intolerances and how it can affect mental health in some cases? I am fortunate to be able to spend lots of time with my 18 year old son who has OCD. Since I have this time, I can watch him, take notes of his symptoms and read as much as I can on the subject. I have discovered that when he eats certain things, his OCD gets worse. It turns out he is histamine intolerant. He can’t eat things like potatoes, tomatoes, aged cheese and salami…there’s a big list of foods that are high in histamine. But there is something else going on as well. PANDAS and PANS are a few things I am considering since I first noticed a change in him when he was around five or six. He had just gotten over a pretty bad flu. He also seems to have a lot of the same symptoms of Candida over growth so we decided to cycle natural antibiotics such as Oregano oil, black seed oil and a few others. For the first few days he said he felt so much better. It was a joy to see him with energy, laughing and back to his old self again. I guess his body and mind were relieved that whatever was creeping around in there was lessening. But on about the fourth day he felt awful. I went to the Candida forums and read how many people were experiencing the same thing. Apparently it’s caused by die off also known as healing crisis, detox symptoms or herxheimer reaction. This happens when large numbers of yeast and fungal cells are rapidly killed. When these cells die, they release all the noxious substances that they contain. Most people get flu like symptoms. Some people get rashes. Unfortunately my son’s OCD gets worse. I Googled it and found others with OCD and other anxiety disorders that experience the same thing my son was going through. The first few days were a relief until the toxins built up. Today I started giving him liver-supportive supplements to help the liver process and expel the toxins. Hopefully he starts feeling better.

    • Hi Michelle, I’m familiar with what you’re writing about, but certainly no expert. I assume your son is also doing ERP therapy to deal with his OCD? Wishing you both all the best!

    • Michelle, I’m 22 and have OCD caused by PANS/PANDAS. I know a lot of people whose symptoms are exacerbated by histamine intolerance, though my personal triggers seem to just be infections. I also have Lyme disease, and the die-off reactions from the antibiotics make my OCD worse, too. Your son definitely isn’t the only one who herxes that way! Have you been able to find someone to treat your son? Pandasnetwork.org has a great list of providers and resources.

  5. Abigail says:

    Thanks for your post. Anxiety, OCD, and depression are very tiring. Although I agree that action should be taken, I know for myself that I must also be kind to myself and take time to rest. Also, the action often can and perhaps even should be taken a bite at a time. Trying to fix everything at once is too overwhelming. I’m trying to learn to let myself relax without guilt.

    • Hi Abigail, Nice to hear from you! You make some great points and I do think it is important for each person to figure out what works best for him/herself. I agree that slow and steady action is likely to be more successful than jumping into something when you are not feeling great. Thanks for sharing!

  6. Your post is timely…. My OCD has been flaring big time lately, and it’s been making me physically and mentally exhausted. I suppose it’s reassuring that I’m not the only one. You are right, though–doing the opposite of what you want/feel like doing is the way to make things better. Thanks for sharing!

  7. I appreciate this post. OCD IS totally exhausting as you battle it each day, and a lot of people don’t realize that. After doing ERP, you sometimes have to take a long nap to recover from the excessive physiological arousal you encountered resisting the compulsion. Its worth it, of course, cause it gets better as you keep at it. I think its important for people to know to practice self-care in addition to working hard on recovery. Its good to have balance.

  8. HyperchildChillmom says:

    my daughter is 12 and sometimes can not get out of bed, i’m beginning to suspect ocd and depression. Can you check out my blog and let me know what you think? we have listed many of her symtpoms and related problems! thanks

    • I’m not a therapist but the symptoms do sound as if they might be OCD. When you request a referral to a therapist it is of the utmost importance to meet with someone who is trained in exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy and has successfully treated people with OCD. A lot of therapists claim to know how to treat OCD, but if they don’t specifically use ERP, they will not be helpful. The best advice I can give you is to do your homework. Good luck!

      • HyperchildChillmom says:

        I will be looking around, Thank you so much. I will have to make some notes to take to her Doctor when we go so that I know what I am asking for!!!I’m glad we started this blog, now I can go back and get my notes from it!

    • Abigail says:

      Hi HyperchildChillmom, I just read your latest blog entry. I have had obsessions about diabetes – somehow, I was suddenly going to have diabetes and faint while driving. Regarding Janet’s reply recommending a therapist who uses Exposure Response Prevention, I found my therapist through the International OCD Foundation’s website (as well as several helpful articles). It is true that the generic therapist seems to think they can handle OCD, but I appreciate having a specialized therapist. She also recognizes OCD thoughts more quickly since she has spent so much time with people with OCD.
      I hope your doctor has helpful responses. I couldn’t say just from reading one blog post how likely it is that your daughter has OCD. And I’m not a therapist, either, so I really couldn’t say. As for doctors, sometimes second opinions by specialists can be helpful, in case you don’t feel like the first doctor really hears or understands you.

      • HyperchildChillmom says:

        Thanks Abigail. I appreciate your thoughtful comment. We will definitely be looking around at therapist. Her first time going to a therapist (she had separation anxiety) they separated me and her as soon as we walked through the door…I know seeking out a therapist is something very personal.
        I know no one can say for sure over the internet, but it great to have so many responses.
        Have a great day!

  9. solarpowerprincess says:

    Hello. This is a very well written, to-the-point article and I’m glad I bumped on!
    I’m Cleo, I’m 40 and have been suffering from OCD since my early twenties (probably longer but hadn’t really realised). I am on meds, (have tried different meds and combinations) and recently I started CBT therapy. I was very reluctant as ERP made me more scared than anything but it was the one last thing I had not tried yet. So we shall see.
    Two years ago I was confronted with extreme exhaustion and pains so after many tests, doctor visits etc. I was diagnosed with fibromyalgia. But recently, as I have changed my diet and have been taking supplements from a holistic doctor, I don’t feel the pain other fibro-patients describe so I surfed the net for Chronic fatigue syndrome and it’s relation to OCD.
    This is how I came to this article. And realised that although I never gave up on trying (my OCD is severe, with exhausting washing compulsions) I also fell in the trap of “trying to do everything” and feeling bad if I didn’t. Right now I am so tired I have stopped working for almost a year (and feel a burden to my parents – wrong cognitive thinking!) and have been feeling COMPLETELY DRAINED AND LETHARGIC. And then I read the following:
    “If you are feeling exhausted, lethargic, and completely drained from your OCD, please don’t wait for it to pass. It won’t – OCD will just keep getting stronger. Take some steps to plow through the exhaustion and move forward to fight your OCD. The more you fight, the weaker your OCD will become, and slowly but surely, you will beat OCD and your exhaustion will give way to a renewed joy in life.”
    It’s not like something that I had never heard before… But this time I made the connection with fibromyalgia and CFS and thought that I’ve been treating myself badly…and I read the beautiful post from Abigail, saying that one should take a step at a time, find our own pace… you know it’s really different when it’s advice coming from doctors or therapists VS listening to co-sufferers… it’s like you hear the same thing but by someone who actually FEELS the discomfort…
    So… apologies for the “thesis” lol I wrote and thank you for reading – If you made it. You people all made me feel better… ❤

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s