Description, Causes and Risk Factors:
Morbid fear of dirt or defilement from touching familiar objects.
Mysophobia, or the fear of germs, refers to an unhealthy fear of contamination. It is normal and prudent to be concerned about issues such as cross-contamination of foods, exposure to the bodily fluids of others and maintaining good hygiene. However, if you suffer from mysophobia, these normal concerns become overblown.
Mysophobia may develop after an individual experiences a traumatic event that links germs or dirt with a negative emotional response. This event can be a first-hand experience or a second-hand experience; mysophobia can also be triggered by a seemingly benign situation such as a scene from a film or television show. The person contracting this disorder may have a pre-existing tendency to worry, and it is likely that anxiety and depression run in the family.
Mysophobia can be triggered by an event or sometimes for no apparent reason. Some people can get by their phobias easily, but for those who fear germs, their phobia can be life altering. When dealing with mysophobia, the opinion of a professional is vital since many times mysophobia can be construed as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. The difference is that people who fear germs avoid them or get rid of them while people with OCD have a routine set in stone (if they always clean, they will never just avoid the germs).
Mysophobia is common in the United States. Some experts link the growing incidence of this disorder to Americans' general perception of the world as being a dangerous, uncontrollable place. Media coverage of the AIDS epidemic may also be a contributing factor. The increase in hygiene products such as hand sanitizers, portable subway straps and disposable toilet seat covers, is also believed to be a contributor to the rise of mysophobia.
When exposed to germs or dirt, the individual may experience breathlessness, nausea, heart palpitations, or a fear of loss of control. The individual can also feel ill and start shaking if she fears that she is being contaminated. Mysophobic will tend to avoid situations in which they may be exposed to germs.
Mysophobia results in repeated, unreasonable behavior and actions. These can include:
Excessive washing, for example, repeated hand washing (an action which paradoxically makes the individual more prone to infection).
- Avoiding activities that are deemed unclean by the individual, such as using public bathrooms.
- Declaring the desire not to share any personal items, including utensils and toothbrushes as well as food.
- Avoiding social situations which include a close group of people or animals.
The fear of contamination can become increasingly restrictive for the individual. She may refuse to shake hands, avoid touching doorknobs directly, or use an excessive amount of soap or hand sanitizer.
Mysophobia can have severe social repercussions. Because the individual is terrified of contamination, she will avoid many social situations for fear of coming into contact with germs or dirt. Also, other individuals may not understand the mysophobe's condition, and think of her as paranoid or hostile, leading to alienation and isolation.
The vast majority of cases of mysophobia are self-diagnosed. The person realizes that their fear is irrational and has severely compromised their daily functioning. The mysophobic person may then schedule an appointment with their doctor to discuss their phobia. Typically, the doctor will never make a diagnosis of mysophobia based on that first appointment. More routinely, the doctor, after ruling out any physical reason for the phobia, will refer the individual to a mental health professional for further assessment and evaluation.
Luckily, methods to conquer the fear of germs are out there. Treating mysophobia can be approached from several different angles such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), more commonly known as exposure therapy. Some medications can also help treat the worst of the phobia symptoms or aid in coping with exposure therapy. Using the exposure therapy method slowly exposes a germaphobe to germs in controlled situations and then in real life situations. Over short to long periods of time, depending on the severity of the case, therapy can help people who fear germs get their lives back in order.
People with mysophobia can learn to help themselves, too. First is knowing what it is one is truly scared of. Second, controlling negative thoughts is also helpful as a negative train of thought can blow the actual effects of germs out of proportion. Lastly, practicing relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga and muscle relaxation can help people avoid a mysophobia attack.
Germs are a common part of everyday life, both the good ones and the bad ones. Mysophobia treatment professionals are out there. Getting informed is the first step, next it is important to find a professional who knows how to lead you down the path of recovery. Continuing to live with a phobia will most likely disrupt a person's social life and mental health, eventually requiring intervention from a medical professional in order to fully heal. If the problem is ignored, more serious issues like depression may arise and result in a whole new series of complications. Treating a phobia takes time but there are several methods that have proven successful in treating those struggling with mysophobia.
NOTE: The above information is for processing purpose. The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition.
DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.
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