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.” This condition is more commonly known as germaphobia. So who is the Germaphobe?
A germaphobe is someone obsessed with cleanliness. Individuals who exhibit this behavior may have deeper-rooted problems than repeated handwashing or desire to keep their homes exceptionally clean. Nevertheless, we all worry about germs.
Therefore, we should be especially aware of washing our hands. Our first, best defense is to prevent contracting an illness such as the flu, colds, meningitis, infectious diarrhea, and hepatitis A.
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Taking the precaution of washing your hands is 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 one’s hands for the reasons mentioned above is normal behavior. However, when someone becomes obsessive about their handwashing, the problem can manifest a deeper issue.
Who can also say this of people who are commonly called neat freaks? Their obsession with the complete order of their environment is the same as the overly frequent hand-washer. As a result, it is often difficult to determine whether someone is very clean, elegant or if there is an underlying cause to the behavior.
The behavior of someone who is genuinely 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 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 individual’s life, exhibiting behaviors not deemed normal. For example, staying up all night to clean bathrooms that You cleaned eight hours before is not reasonable unless there is already a virus in your home.
Although the person with this phobia is aware of their fear of germs, they will continue to clean despite this knowledge, driven by their compulsion.
Germaphobes will go out of their way to avoid germs and disinfect their house daily 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 handwashing or ritual cleaning than with the fear of germs.
Mysophobia and OCD are treated along with other anxiety disorders. Using therapy and 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’s mysophobia because of his show “Deal or No Deal” and his reluctance 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 aversion.
The Monk TV series portrays Adrian Monk as a San Francisco, private detective who is a germaphobe extraordinaire. A character with genuine OCD, he glides through each episode, overcoming obstacles and his phobias to capture the bad guy.
Another famous germaphobe was Howard Hughes, whose 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. Antidepressants known as SSRIs are used for treatment, but cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT is often the first tack when treating this disorder.
Using a three-tier approach, some therapists successfully use relaxation training, exposure therapy, and cognitive restructuring methods to treat their mysophobia and OCD patients.
Protecting yourself from germs by washing your hands when necessary makes sense. It is an excellent practice to keep yourself and your loved ones protected from the ordinary, everyday transference of germs.
However, if you or a loved one has an issue that goes beyond average cleanliness, you need to seek help for the condition to live a more fulfilling, anxiety-free life.
Dealing with a phobia can be hard on both the one who has it and those who live with them. However, working together to help each other can lead to lives that are more normal for everyone.
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