Getting Through the Holidays with OCD

For many people, holiday stress is compounded by dealing with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD.)  OCD is a form of mental illness that is sometimes trivialized by the way it has been portrayed in popular culture.  Neil Simon’s play The Odd Couple, which was also a long-running sitcom, featured the character Felix, who was obsessive about cleanliness and was implied to have OCD.

“Doubting Disease”: How OCD Relates to Fear and Uncertainty

Unfortunately, people who have OCD do not find it funny. OCD creates a spiral of obsession and compulsion that that brings about undesired thoughts, images and urges. Feelings of fear, disgust, and self-doubt are created without rational justification.  OCD can be particularly distressing before and during the holidays when stressors such as travel and family meals trigger irrational concerns like adhering to a special diet or finding a clean restroom.  Left untreated OCD can interfere with important activities and lead to intense anxiety.  During the stressful holiday season, OCD can have a detrimental effect on other family members as well as the person with the disorder.


The holidays can be especially disconcerting for OCD sufferers because the season taps into its root problem: uncertainty.  Occasionally referred to as the “doubting disease,” OCD feasts on the fear of what might happen and potential catastrophe.  While a normal person might become concerned for a moment that they left their curling iron plugged in, someone with OCD could become obsessed with the thought to the point where they have difficulty thinking about anything else.

How Can You Manage Your OCD this Holiday Season?

Treatment options for OCD focus on addressing its central problem: fear of the unknown.  Some therapeutic measures like ERP (exposure, response, and prevention therapy) and CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy)—focus on getting patients to confront and accept their fears directly.

When it comes to holiday-related anxiety, there are several concrete steps that can alleviate OCD-related anxiety.  When confronting OCD, it can be very helpful to put on your analytical hat and weigh the facts—pro and con—of the issues creating concern.  Understanding that life brings uncertainty and being able to compartmentalize and assess fear with the appropriate amount of concern—rather than anticipating a catastrophe—is essential to fostering a calm holiday experience.  As is the case with many forms of mental illness, self-care in the form of avoiding alcohol, which in turn affects sleep, maintaining good nutrition, and exercise, are all beneficial in limiting the negative effects of OCD.

Since the holidays bring OCD sufferers into close contact with family members, they too can be affected.  Someone with OCD who is afraid to eat in a guest’s home, especially if they are a relative, can be perceived as rude and demanding.  It is hard for a relative (especially if they are not a close relative,) to understand is the internal nature of OCD.  Helping other family members understand that OCD is driven by fear can ease the path to making everyone more comfortable during the holiday season.

Talk to a Professional about the Best Treatment Options for You

If you would like to discuss OCD or any other mental health challenges, please call me at (917) 609-4990 or email me at for general questions.

Be Well,

Dr. Amanda Itzkoff

Dr. Amanda Itzkoff

My name is Amanda Itzkoff, MD. I am a New York City based Psychiatrist and Assistant Professor at Mount Sinai Medical Center.

For additional information, please feel free to email our office at

To schedule an appointment, call our offices at 917-609-4990.

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