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:
The behavioural symptoms of germaphobia include:
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:
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:
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.
In all cases seek help from a doctor or therapist. Luckily, like any phobia, there are treatments.
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.