0410 429 686

7 Lakeside Boulevard Rowville

May 2021
Sunday, 02 May 2021 23:40

Germ Phobia

Germ Phobia Treatments: Helping You Overcome Your Fear

Phobias tend to be unreasonable or excessive compared to standard fears. This obsession may be from either a traumatic childhood event or a chemical imbalance. Germ phobia may be mild to severe, from just a general paranoia of germs to looking for them and fearing them constantly in every place, eventually not wanting to leave the house. 

Germ phobia, in part stems from the excessive need to be 100% certain about our safety. However, the person needs to accept that uncertainty is part of life. A person needs to review how this fear of germs interferes with the things that the individual wants to accomplish in life, relationships, and arrive to a reasonable deal.

Where does germaphobia stem from? 
Germs exist everywhere and for the most part they even help our immune system. Germaphobia is an exaggerated fear of contamination by germs, usually it is associated with OCD. As such, fear of contamination is characterized by intrusive thoughts of contamination and catastrophic consequences such as illness or death. These anxiety provoking thoughts about germ contamination lead to excessive measures to get rid of this anxiety by compulsive washing, disinfecting or avoidance. 

Some germaphobia examples are entering medical offices or coming in contact, even if remote, with bodily secretions such as saliva, sweat, faeces, sperm or urine. Someone that has germaphobia may avoid social situations such as use of public bathrooms, medical procedures, being intimate with a spouse, eating in restaurants, staying in hotels and traveling by airplanes. 

Germaphobia tends to be a subtype of OCD and like other OCD subtypes (checkers, repeaters, pure obsessionals, etc) it is thought to be a neurobehavioral disorder caused by multiple factors. One cause appears to be neurochemical. The imbalance in the brain of neurochemical substances such as serotonin might be involved; another cause might be a communication problem between different brain areas (e.g. frontal cortex and deeper structures of the brain and the amygdala). 

Finally, another important cause is a behavioural and learning component, lying most importantly in the relationship between the distress caused by thoughts of danger relating to germs and the decrease of anxiety by excessive washing or use of disinfectants such as alcohol and soaps. The repetitive habit of getting rid of the anxiety by avoidance or washing becomes inherently associated with relief and never allows the person to realize that life would go on without the ritual of avoidance or washing.

The emotional and psychological symptoms of germaphobia include: 

  • intense terror or fear of germs
  • anxiety, worries, or nervousness related to exposure to germs 
  • thoughts of germ exposure resulting in an illnesses or other negative consequence
  • thoughts of being overcome with fear in situations when germs are present 
  • trying to distract yourself from thoughts about germs or situations that involve germs
  • feeling powerless to control a fear of germs that you recognize as unreasonable or extreme

The behavioural symptoms of germaphobia include: 

  • avoiding or leaving situations perceived to result in germ exposure
  • spending an excessive amount of time thinking about, preparing for, or putting off situations that might involve germs
  • difficulty functioning at home, work, or school because of fear of germs (for example, the need to excessively wash your hands may limit your productivity in places where you perceive there to be many germs)
  • People with this fear might go to great lengths to avoid actions that could result in contamination, such as eating out at a restaurant or having sex.
  • Sometimes, this anxiety leads to compulsive behaviours. E.g. Frequent washing their hands, showering, or wiping surfaces clean. 

While these repeated actions might reduce the risk of contamination, they can be all-consuming, making it difficult to focus on anything else. 

The physical symptoms of germaphobia are similar to those of other anxiety disorders and can occur during both thoughts of germs and situations that involve germs.They include: 

  • rapid heartbeat
  • sweating or chills
  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness or pain
  • light-headedness
  • tingling
  • shaking or tremors 
  • muscle tension
  • restlessness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • headache
  • difficulty relaxing 

Children who have a fear of germs can also experience the symptoms listed above. Depending on their age, they may experience additional symptoms, such as: 

  • tantrums, crying, or screaming
  • clinging to or refusing to leave parents
  • difficulty sleeping
  • nervous movements 
  • self-esteem issues

It makes sense to take precautions to avoid common illnesses, such as colds and the flu. 

In fact, it’s a good idea to take certain steps to lower your risk of contracting a contagious illness and potentially passing it on to others: E.g. Getting a seasonal flu shot and washing your hands on a regular basis.

Concern for germs becomes unhealthy when the amount of distress it causes outweighs the distress it prevents. There is only so much you can do to avoid germs. 

Signs that your fear of germs is harmful to you and that you may need help.  

  • If your worries about germs put significant limitations on what you do, where you go, and who you see.
  • If you’re aware that your fear of germs is irrational but feel powerless to stop it.
  • If the routines and rituals you feel compelled to carry out to avoid contamination leave you feeling ashamed or mentally unwell.

In all cases seek help from a doctor or therapist. Luckily, like any phobia, there are treatments.

  1. Be mindful of the language/ words you use and adjust your perception of germs based on your language choices.
  1. Energy and alternate exercise/therapyare very good to couple with more traditional therapies. Yoga, acupuncture, Tai chi, and even traditional exercise can release endorphins and relax muscles which helps to ease your mind.
  1. A hypnotherapist can ease a fear of germs by implanting positive messages. These include NLP and CBT.
  1. Medically prescribed OCD medicationcan alleviate some symptoms of germ phobia immediately. Medications known as SSRI’s (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) which interact with serotonin (a brain chemical), are the primary antidepressant medications shown to be effective in the treatment of OCD. SSRI medications include: Fluoxetine (Prozac), Paroxetine (Paxil), Sertraline (Zoloft), Clomipramine (Anafranil). Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) affect two important brain chemicals — serotonin and norepinephrine may be an effective form of treatment for people who’ve had unsuccessful treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). SSRIs only work on one chemical messenger, serotonin. SNRIs may also be a good choice for people with anxiety.

Serotonin, a brain neurotransmitter, is responsible for mood, anxiety and depression. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s) are medications that block the re-absorption of serotonin. When the reuptake of serotonin is inhibited, there is a reduction in anxiety, depression and an overall improvement in mood. SSRI’s do take several weeks before they are completely effective or before results are noticed by the person taking the medication.

Published in Blog

About Spectrum Health & Wellbeing

Spectrum Health & Wellbeing Myotherapy, Reflexology and Reiki is located in Rowville, near Knox, Boronia, Bayswater, Ferntree Gully and Scoresby. We provide specialised integrative solutions for children, teens and adults using Myotherapy, Reflexology and Reiki.

CEO and Principal Therapist Derek Miglietti, has been working in Health and Fitness since 1988 as a therapist, instructor, lecturer (16 years) and consultant. As a specialist Integrative Therapist Derek has worked in nursing homes, with children, the AFL, elite athletes, state-sporting teams and in the corporate sector.