Obsessive compulsive disorder - OCD treatment and therapy from NOCD

Why OCD Can Cause Burnout—And What You Can Do About It

By Stacy Quick, LPC

Dec 06, 20237 minute read

Feeling burned out? You’re not the only one. While burnout may not be a clinically diagnosed condition, it’s definitely captured our collective attention and become a frequent topic of conversation. The number of people experiencing occupational stress and burnout has exploded over the past several years, as stress and heavy workloads have led more and more people to struggle with symptoms of mental health issues. Consequently, more people are seeing a relationship between burnout and the development or increase in the severity of mental health conditions, like obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

Burnout can be defined as a state of chronic exhaustion, experienced both mentally and physically. While it’s often associated with the workplace, it can also be a result of chronic stress and overload. Considering how exhausting it can be to manage OCD symptoms without proper treatment, it makes sense that people struggling with OCD may also struggle with burnout as a result. Learn more about why and how this can happen, and what you can do to regain balance if you’re noticing symptoms of burnout.

Why can OCD lead to feelings of burnout?

Although OCD and burnout are distinct experiences, they share several commonalities. Both involve feelings of being overwhelmed, of being unable to effectively cope with stress, and of having lost control. Individuals who suffer from OCD often also experience high levels of anxiety and perfectionism, which may predispose them to feelings of burnout. For anyone wondering whether burnout leads to increased OCD symptoms or vice versa, the answer is likely a combination of the two.

1. Anxiety can make you feel out of control.

When people feel as though they’re under near-constant stress or overwhelm—like they would in a state of burnout—it’s logical to expect that they may try and figure out ways to manage their uncomfortable emotions. Anxiety can make people feel out of control, driving them to perform behaviors that aim to regain a sense of control and certainty. These behaviors can resemble compulsions, even among people who don’t have OCD.

2. The OCD cycle can lead to burnout.

Additionally, the chronic stress associated with burnout often exacerbates existing OCD symptoms. Demands of work or life in general can make it difficult to resist compulsions, even if we know that engaging in compulsions only serves to increase OCD symptoms and stress in the long run. And as OCD symptoms increase, so can symptoms of burnout.

3. People with OCD may struggle with maladaptive coping skills.

Another factor that may increase feelings of burnout in those suffering from OCD is the presence of maladaptive coping skills. In addition to compulsive behaviors, people with OCD can struggle with obsessions, which often feel incredibly real. When someone with OCD is experiencing an obsession, their brain is sending a false alarm, screaming that they are in danger when what their brain perceives to be a threat isn’t a threat at all, in actuality. Without proper treatment, this aspect of OCD can create a cycle of stress and anxiety with the potential for long-lasting mental and physical implications.

4. An inflated sense of responsibility can cause exhaustion.

A person who suffers from a sense of hyper-responsibility, as people with OCD often do, may feel responsible for preventing disasters or for managing the emotions of those around them. For some people with OCD, this can be accompanied by magical thinking, or the belief that they will be responsible for something awful happening if they do not perform specific actions. The guilt and anxiety at the root of both hyper-responsibility and magical thinking can flood people’s minds with every possible negative outcome, making it incredibly difficult to function.

Sound familiar? Learn how you can overcome OCD-related burnout

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How do I know if I might be experiencing burnout?

While burnout is not classified as a medical condition by the World Health Organization, it still demands attention, especially when you have OCD. It’s important to recognize that burnout isn’t always work-related. It can be the result of many factors, of which a busy culture, high expectations, and a lack of social connection are just a few.

You can think of burnout’s symptoms as red flags—signs that there may be something going on that needs to be addressed. Burnout is often a gradual process, making it vital to look for warning signs in order to prevent symptoms from worsening. To determine if you may be experiencing burnout from OCD and other life stressors, it can be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do you feel tired or drained most of the time? The exhaustion of burnout can be experienced both mentally and physically. It may feel like too much to do even simple tasks, like showering or brushing your teeth.
  • Do you feel irritable or on edge? Becoming more agitated than normal or behaving in another way that’s out of character can be a sign that there’s something more going on.
  • Do you feel restless or have trouble settling after a long day? This can be difficult when you have OCD, let alone if you’re also struggling with burnout. Finding it challenging to “turn off” your brain and relax, to unwind, or to get lost in activity that you would usually enjoy are all potential indicators of burnout.
  • Have your sleep patterns changed? Frequently waking at night or having trouble falling asleep can both be signs of increased anxiety and stress. 
  • Do you feel detached or find it difficult to enjoy things that usually bring you pleasure? The sense of overwhelm that OCD’s constant overload of information can cause may lead people to feel numb or withdraw from the world around them, a common sign of burnout.

What can I do to prevent and address burnout?

The struggle of managing OCD symptoms can make it feel like you’re living on autopilot, having to just power through each day without truly enjoying life. Whether you find yourself in this position right now or are looking to avoid it in the future, you may be comforted to know that the first step to preventing and addressing burnout is as simple as developing an awareness of it. The more aware you are of what burnout can look like, the more capable you’ll be of developing a plan to address it.

After recognizing the signs of burnout, it’s crucial to seek support to help you navigate it. Treating the OCD will be especially important in helping to reduce your feelings of burnout. The best way to do this is with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the gold-standard treatment for OCD. It’s important to see a therapist who is specialty-trained to treat OCD with ERP therapy. They will understand intrusive thoughts, how they can lead to physical or mental compulsions, and the exhaustion that this cycle can cause. A qualified OCD specialist will help you break the OCD cycle and give you the tools and knowledge you need to manage OCD symptoms, as well as the feelings associated with burnout.

In addition to seeking treatment from an OCD specialist, you may find it helpful to connect with others through an OCD support group or peer community. At NOCD, we provide connection at every step of your treatment journey to ensure you’re supported between therapy sessions, when it matters most. As a NOCD Therapy member, you’ll gain access to peer communities where you can connect with others at a similar life stage or find motivation from people experiencing similar OCD themes. We also offer dozens of support groups for our members at no extra charge, with meetings nearly every day of the week, and a Member Advocate with a profound understanding of OCD to support you throughout your treatment journey.

If you’re ready to find relief from burnout and conquer OCD, we’re here to help. To learn more about working with a NOCD Therapist and accessing between-session support, schedule a free call with our team.

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