Having a fear of germs or dirt in general can be problematic if it becomes all consuming. The Mysophobia definition states that someone with this condition has a “dread of dirt or defilement”. When used as a medical term to define mysophobia it means, “an abnormal fear of dirt or contamination”. (Dictionary.com) This condition is more commonly known as germaphobia. So who is the Germaphobe?
A germaphobe is someone who is obsesses with cleanliness. Individuals who exhibit this behavior may have deeper-rooted problems than repeated hand washings or a desire to keep their home exceptionally clean. We all worry about germs and there are times that we should be especially aware of washing our hands as it is your first, best defense to prevent contracting an illness such a flu, colds, meningitis, infectious diarrhea, and hepatitis A.
Taking the precaution of washing your hands is just common sense, but germaphobes can take this reasonable precaution to a new level that is not healthy psychologically.
The CDC recommends that you wash your hands in the following situations for your safety.
- After you sneeze or cough
- After using the restroom
- Before preparing food
- Before eating
- After handling animals or their waste
- When your hands are dirty
- More frequently if someone around you is sick
Washing ones hands for the above-mentioned reasons is normal behavior. When someone becomes obsessive about their hand washing, the problem can be the manifestation of a deeper issue.
This can also be said of people who are commonly called neat freaks. Their obsession with complete order of their environment is the same obsession as the overly frequent hand washer. The problem is it is often difficult to determine whether someone is being very clean, very neat or if there is an underlying cause to the behavior.
The behavior of someone who is truly germaphobic is not based on facts, but on a perception that germs are everywhere waiting to make them sick. This perception of the presence of germs or of coming into contact with germs causes anxiety in germaphobes and an immediate fear response to germs can bring on panic attacks, in some instances. One sign that this is a phobia, as opposed to someone who is exceedingly neat, is that the obsession with germs takes over the individuals life, which can be exhibited in behaviors not deemed normal. Staying up all night to clean bathrooms that were cleaned eight hours before is not reasonable behavior unless there is a bought of virus in your home already.
Although the person that is afflicted with this phobia is aware of their fear toward germs, they will continue to clean in spite of this knowledge, driven by their compulsion. Germaphobes will go out of their way to avoid germs and will disinfect their house on a daily basis in fear that they may be exposed to something that will make them ill. They also tend to shy away from visiting friends, relatives or public places, due to their fear of coming into contact with germs, interfering with their enjoyment of life.
Germaphobia is thought to be an element of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD); however, researchers attribute the OCD compulsion to frequently wash their hands has more to do with the act of hand washing, or ritual cleaning than with the fear of germs. Mysophobia and OCD are treated along with other anxiety disorders. Using therapy and/or antidepressants but prefer therapy as a form of intervention before adding medications to the treatment.
If you have mysophobia or are OCD, you are in the company of some very famous people. People have become aware of howie mandel mysophobia because of his show “Deal or No Deal”, and his reticence to shake hands with his quests. He is a strong proponent and mental health awareness and is very vocal about dealing with his phobia. In his book, “Here’s the Deal: Don’t Touch Me”, Howie relates the events in his life that lead to his phobia.
The Monk TV series portrays Adrian Monk as a San Francisco private detective who is a germaphobe extraordinaire. A character with true OCD, he glides through each episode, overcoming obstacles and his own phobias to nab the bad guy.
Another famous germaphobe was Howard Hughes, who’s OCD and chronic pain led him to become eccentric in his behaviors and reclusive later in life.
Several methods of treatment are used on patients with mysophobia, and OCD. Anti-depressants, that are known as SSRIs are used for treatment, but cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT is often the first tack taken when treating this disorder. Using a three-tier approach, some therapists are successfully using relaxation training, exposure therapy and cognitive restructuring methods as treatments for their mysophobia and OCD patients.
Protecting yourself from germs by washing your hands when necessary, just makes sense, is a good practice to keep yourself, and loved ones protected from common, everyday transference of germs. However, if you or a loved one has an issue that goes beyond normal cleanliness, then you need to seek help for the condition so that you can live a more fulfilling, anxiety free life. Dealing with a phobia can be hard on both the one who has it, as well as those who live with them. Working together to help each other can lead to lives that are more normal for everyone.