Overcoming OCD
Information for College Students

Why Is This Happening to Me Now?

Stress doesn’t cause OCD but college stress can trigger OCD in students who are predisposed to it.

Medical problems can happen any time—that’s why most colleges and universities have a health center on campus.  Some disorders, including OCD, tend to surface at an age when many young people are in college, and some experience their first symptoms while they’re away at school.

Others may have had mild to moderate symptoms that didn’t interfere with life in high school.  When you’re living at home, family members can learn to work around OCD symptoms (this is called “accommodation”).  This could include cleaning or checking things in a certain way, avoiding certain places or people, not requiring you to do certain things or go certain places, and even incorporating OCD compulsive actions into the family routine.  For example, parents may frequently reassure a family member who has OCD that everything was OK, or all doors and windows were locked at night.  Maybe your parents knew how late you stayed up at night revising homework over and over, and may have even excused it by saying you are a “hard worker” or a “perfectionist.”  Then they took responsibility for getting you up in the morning and making sure you got to class.

That changes when you get to college and start living on your own (or with one or more roommates).  Stress doesn’t cause OCD, but it can trigger it in someone who is predisposed to OCD and can increase symptoms in someone who has had mild symptoms in the past.  College brings a whole new set of stresses—independence, responsibilities, academic pressures, living with (and attending class with) people you don’t know, new ideas and new temptations. It’s a lot of stress—to suddenly be immersed in so many new things and to be responsible for so much—without your normal support system (home and family).

Another complicating factor can be how you take care of yourself—or don’t.  A lot of college students don’t eat balanced meals and don’t get enough sleep.  Maybe you’re not exercising, either, or drink a lot of caffeinated beverages or alcohol.  Neglecting your health can make any disorder worse, including OCD. 

Some students try to make themselves feel better or try to control OCD symptoms with alcohol or by using recreational drugs. The research on this has already been done for you—so you don’t have to repeat it yourself.  Alcohol and drugs you may find on campus are not effective in reducing OCD symptoms—and this kind of self-medicating will not solve your OCD problem. 

What kind of OCD treatment IS effective?

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