OCD or obsessive compulsive disorder is a mental health condition that causes people to experience recurring unwanted thoughts, ideas, sensations or obsessions that can make them feel driven to do something repetitively. These repetitive behaviors, often including activities like hand washing, checking things or cleaning, can interfere negatively with a person’s daily life and social interactions.

Though people without OCD may experience distressing thoughts or repetitive behaviors, they do not generally disrupt daily life to such an extent. For those suffering from OCD, these thoughts are persistent and unwavering, and behaviors are set in stone making them difficult to break out of. Not performing the aforementioned behaviors can cause the patient severe distress, as they may feel as though something bad or dangerous will occur as a result of their failure to complete the task.

What triggers OCD?

Though science has progressed dramatically in understanding obsessive compulsive disorder, medical researchers still aren’t totally sure what causes the condition to take hold. There are several different theories surrounding what causes OCD, with biological and genetic causes gaining the widest acceptance.

OCD can be ‘triggered’ – triggers are easily explained as external events or influences that often produce very uncomfortable emotional or psychological symptoms, including anxiety, panic, low self esteem, despair, and much more. Encountering these triggers during daily life is common, as there are many different circumstances that can trigger obsessive and compulsive thoughts.

Ongoing Stress

Leading a particularly stressful life can trigger OCD symptoms and cause them to worsen. The body and mind is not designed to cope with prolonged stress, and this can affect not only your mental state but your physical health too. Ongoing stress can be caused by the lifestyle that you lead, such as committing to a busy work schedule, failing to relax and perform self care, overwhelming family responsibilities and more. There’s a seemingly endless list of things in life that can cause stress, even spilling your breakfast on your clean shirt or missing the last bus – though these occurrences may be mild and manageable for some people, those experiencing OCD can become triggered and react badly.

Important Life Changes

Experiencing important life changes can also lead to considerable stress and anxiety, which in turn may trigger your OCD. Unfortunately, even positive changes may encourage feelings of discomfort which makes them difficult to cope with. Important life changes include moving to a new house, getting a different job, changing schools or starting a new study topic, and even going on a vacation – anything that forces you out of your usual comfort zone or routine can trigger a worsening of OCD symptoms.


Falling victim to a traumatic event can be a serious trigger for a person who suffers with OCD, and can even be a trigger for OCD to take root. A trauma is a deeply distressing event that surpasses further than the perimeter of your ability to cope. This could be the death of a loved one, the end of an important relationship, job loss, or a diagnosis of serious illness. It may be domestic abuse or rape, falling victim to serious violence or simply witnessing such. There are lots of traumatic experiences that can trigger your OCD symptoms.

Pregnancy & Giving Birth

Throughout pregnancy and even up to 12 months after giving birth, a woman can be extremely vulnerable to obsessive compulsive symptoms, known as perinatal OCD. Most obsessions and compulsions during this period focuses around fears of contaminating their child, or showing aggression or lack of connection with the child. Changing hormone levels can influence a difference in chemical activity inside the brain, particularly a rise in the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is known to play an essential role in bonding the mother and child, and some scientists think that this can encourage an over protective response in those with OCD. The increased responsibility of being a new parent can cause anxiety and stress levels to rise dramatically, which in itself is a trigger.


Some people who have OCD experience contamination obsessions, which are based around fears for yourself or your loved ones becoming ‘contaminated’. This could inspire a fear or loathing of dirt, germs, ‘unclean’ places, bodily fluids, and much more. Experiencing a contamination obsession might cause you to find physical interaction triggering, including things like handshakes, giving cuddles, and kissing. Some people may find large crowds trigger their OCD, as this is seen as the perfect place to pass on germs – schools, some workplaces, and many social situations included. Others can struggle with approaching a healthcare environment as they will be surrounded by those who are ‘unwell’, so oftentimes hospitals will be avoided due to their trigger capacity.


Relationship obsessions center around worries about you and your partner’s compatibility, emotional difficulties such as unavailability and distraction, and much more. Known as relationship OCD (ROCD), such obsessions can take place within an otherwise normal and healthy  relationship. If you encounter relationship obsessions, simply being in the presence of your partner might be enough to trigger your OCD symptoms. Sexual intimacy, being out in public together, and even seeing other attractive people may trigger relationship obsessions and compulsions.

Losing control

Some people struggle with obsessions that focus on losing control. Losing control might mean saying or doing something that they will regret or be embarrassed about in the future. You can also expect to fear the actions of others, because they simply cannot be controlled.


If you feel as though you experience OCD triggers and would like to seek advice or treatment, it’s vital that you can arrange an appointment with a Calgary psychologist to approach your unique situation in the most effective manner. We understand that your needs are 100% individual to you, so we can tailor make a plan of action to help you move forward.