Do you have fear of dirt?
Isn’t it funny how we fear things that we cannot see? Like germs and viruses?
These organisms are so tiny they can’t be seen with our naked eyes. They don’t have a nucleus nor organelles and membranes. Yet, just by hearing their names, we all cringe (some even puke).
Other than causing sore throat, germs and bacteria can cause respiratory illnesses, flu, and worse – infection.
Think about viral hemorrhagic fever (VHF).
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Don’t they give you chills?
Surely, they do. And it’s just reasonable that we all fear these microorganisms.
And if these illnesses and diseases are not enough to make you cringe, here are some more terrifying facts:
- Germs are everywhere. Telephones have over 25,000 germs per square inch while computer keyboards have over 3,000. How about toilet seats? Surprisingly, there are just about 49 germs per square inch.
- Around 70% of common illnesses are spread through hand contact. Yes, we transfer more germs from hand-shaking than kissing.
- Food-born germs cause 6.5 million cases of gastroenteritis and 9,000 deaths each year.
Every normal person will certainly feel terrified when they hear about these things.
But what does it really mean to have fear of germs?
What is Germophobia?
Germophobia is a term used by psychologists to refer to a pathological fear of germs, bacteria, viruses, and all relevant things. The dire the possibility of contamination and infection. It is closely related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) because many studies suggest that those who have OCD tend to have fears of contamination, with symptoms like compulsive handwashing, cleaning, and extreme avoidance of potential contaminants. Some would choose to crap on their pants than to use a public toilet. Others won’t even share a glass with their spouse.
Like any other phobias, there doesn’t seem to be an exact cause of germophobia. However, experts agree that there are contributing factors to one’s risk of developing the fear of germs:
- For some people, phobias run in their families. Genetic predisposition to anxiety and depression has been linked to an increased risk of germophobia.
- Traumatic event. Most germophobes can recall one traumatic experience in their childhood that seems to cause them to develop such phobia.
- Environmental factors. One’s beliefs and practices about hygiene and cleanliness can influence his or her likelihood to develop germophobia. Studies show that the increase in the use of hygiene products like sanitizers, antibacterial soaps, and toilet seat covers have contributed to the rise in germophobia cases in the United States.
- Learned responses. Some habits, as well as fears over certain things, are picked up early in life. For example, a person whose parents were always worried and anxious when he or she is growing up is more likely to develop a phobia.
What are the germophobia symptoms?
People with germophobia have the same manifestations. Symptoms include:
- Intense terror or fear of germs
- Anxiety, worries, and nervousness related to exposure to germs
- Feeling powerless to control germs
- Persistent need to excessively wash their hands after touching surfaces and shaking hands with other people
- Refusing to share personal items
Whenever they are confronted with situations that trigger their phobia, germaphobes will exhibit symptoms similar to anxiety disorder, such as:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Chest tightness or pain
- Muscle tension
- Shortness of breath
For ordinary people, they may think that germaphobes are simply overreacting. However, they are not. Like any other kind of phobia, their fear of germs is real and persistent enough to impact their day-to-day life.
The Differences Between Germophobia, Mysophobia, and Verminophobia
The terms “germophobia”, “mysophobia”, and “verminophobia” are used interchangeably. Generally, they all mean fear of dirt and contamination.
Germophobia literally means “fear of germs”. It was coined by William A. Hammond when describing a case of OCD in which a person is repeatedly washing his hands.
The term mysophobia comes from the Greek word musos which means "uncleanness". People with mysophobia are fearful of places that are unorganized, filthy, and full of clutter such as public restrooms, thinking that these places might be contaminated with germs and infection-causing bacteria.
Germanophobia is another term for the fear of germs.
How to Cure Germophobia
Germophobia treatment is similar to that of other phobias. The goal is to help the person become more comfortable with germs, thereby improving his or her quality of life.
Germophobia is treated either through therapy, medication, or a combination of both.
The most popular and considered more effective germophobia treatment is psychotherapy or counseling. Talking with a mental health professional lets a person manage his or her phobia by knowing where the irrational fear is coming from and learning healthy coping mechanisms.
There are two types of psychotherapy that work best for phobias.
- The first one is Exposure Therapy. The goal of this therapy is to shift your response to the object or situation that you fear through gradual and repeated exposure. For example, your therapy may progress from first thinking about germs and filthy places to looking at photos of these objects, going near them, to stepping your foot into a seemingly dirty area. Constant exposure to your source of phobia helps you manage your thoughts and emotional responses, get used to the feelings and sensations related to it and manage your anxiety.
- A more comprehensive approach to treating germophobia is Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This form of psychotherapy combines exposure therapy and other techniques to help you manage your fears and overcome the symptoms. The goal of this treatment is to help you become more in control of your thoughts and emotions rather than being overwhelmed by them.
Medications may be prescribed to a germophobe but only for short-term use. Such medications are similar to those that are given to people suffering from depression and anxiety. They include beta-blockers that block the stimulating effects of adrenaline, such as increased heartbeat, shaking voice and limbs, and elevated blood pressure, as well as sedatives that help reduce anxiety by relaxing or calming the body.
Note that medications for germophobia are not recommended for long use because they have side effects and do not really address the root cause of the phobia. These drugs should only be taken upon the advice of a health professional.
In order to have mental calmness, germaphobes may use high-level disinfectants for example to clean some surfaces in the kitchen or to just disinfect different items like kitchen utensils, manicure kit, and many more.
Mental health practitioners also recommend a few lifestyle changes in helping people deal with phobias. If you have fear of germs, you can incorporate the following strategies into your daily life to manage your anxiety better:
- Meditation, yoga, and other mindfulness strategies are scientifically proven to help ease anxiety and other symptoms associated with a phobia. These practices help you train your mind and body to tolerate anxiety and avoidance behavior.
- Physical activity. Working out regularly (at least 30 minutes a day) boosts the production of the “feel good” hormones in the brain, resulting in lower anxiety.
- Relaxation techniques. Breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, visualization, and other relaxation techniques have similar effects with exercising and are proven to calm anxiety and stress that aggravate germophobia.
Germophobia or the fear of germs, like any other phobia, can take a toll in a person’s life. Thankfully, there are ways to manage it and hopefully, overcome the condition.