What Is Mysophobia? Learn the Difference between Reasonable and Unreasonable Fear of Contamination/ Germs

Mysophobia is a type of phobia that is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). We can define mysophobia as an extreme pathological fear of contamination by germs. In our daily lives, there are numerous times when we come across germs and it is normal to take care of your hygiene. Contamination and germs can cause many health issues and that’s why the fear of germs is natural and reasonable but when the fear turns into phobia and starts affecting your daily life then it can be considered as mysophobia. A normal person who is very concerned about his hygiene and washes his hands many times in a day cannot be considered as mysophobic but if that excessive hand washing is affecting his daily life and stress is also related to it then we can relate it with mysophobia.

Many mental health professionals say that awareness regarding germs and contamination has also increased the number of sufferers of mysophobia. A lot more increase in the use of anti-bacterial and antimicrobial medications have also been seen with the increase of mysophobia. As we have seen if there is the increased use of antibiotics then bacteria tend to become antibiotic-resistant and that further causes more danger to society.

Mysophobia is a Greek word that is made by the combination of two words; musos means uncleanness and Phobos means fear. Mysophobia is also called germophobia, bacteriophobia, germaphobia, bacillophobia, and verminophobia. The term mysophobia was first described by William A. Hammond. He described mysophobia as an obsessive-compulsive disorder in which one person repeatedly washes his hands.

Triggers of Mysophobia

There are always some triggering factors for specific phobias that aggravate the symptoms. Here are some of the triggering factors of mysophobia

  • Unhygienic places like hospitals
  • Unhygienic practices
  • Uncleanness
  • Unwashed clothes
  • Public places that are so much occupied
  • Human body fluids like saliva, mucus, and semen

Signs and Symptoms of Mysophobia

The symptoms of mysophobia resemble the symptoms of other specific phobias but in the case of mysophobia, the stimulus is obviously different and which is germs and contamination. Germs are a broad term used for bacteria, viruses, parasites, and fungi in general. Sometimes the stress and distress related to mysophobia cause more danger than the actual germs. The signs and symptoms of mysophobia are divided into three sections that we are going to discuss below.

Emotional and Psychological Symptoms

  • Intense and irrational fear of germs
  • Thoughts of getting serious illnesses because of germs
  • Feeling powerless when exposed to germs because they are not able to control their emotions
  • They experience feelings of nervousness and anxiousness when exposed to germs
  • Trying to distract themselves from the thoughts of germs but not able to do it
  • Recognizing that the fear of germs is unreasonable but still not able to control the fear

Behavioral Symptoms

  • Avoiding those places which they think have high exposure to germs
  • Spending a lot of time thinking about how to avoid exposure to germs
  • Feeling the need to wash your hands excessively because of the fear of germs
  • Facing difficulties in your school and work-life because you are constantly trying to maintain your hygiene such as frequently sanitizing your hands
  • They avoid going to hospitals no matter how critical the situation is because they think hospitals have a high risk of being exposed to germs
  • They don’t share their personal item with others
  • Spending a lot of time cleaning

Physical Symptoms

The physical symptoms are experienced by the sufferer when they are exposed to germs or they are even thinking about germs. The physical symptoms resemble the symptoms of most anxiety disorders. These include:

  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
  • Increased heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Palpitations
  • Pain in the chest
  • Feeling of tightness in the chest
  • Feeling of restlessness
  • Headache and light-headedness
  • Increased muscle tension
  • Feeling the sensation of tingling or numbness
  • Being cold or numb
  • Tremors of hands and shaking of hands
  • Sweating and chills
  • GIT symptoms like nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty in relaxing
What Symptoms to Look in Children Who Are Suffering From Mysophobia?

It is way more difficult to analyze whether your child is suffering from mysophobia because the children cannot express themselves and we always fail to understand them. Here are a few symptoms to look in a child suffering from mysophobia:

  • The child will feel difficulty in sleeping
  • Throwing tantrums and crying when exposed to such situations
  • Refusing to leave the parents and always need their presence

Causes of Mysophobia

These are some of the causes of mysophobia

Hereditary

There is a high risk of developing a psychological disease if any one of the close family members is suffering from psychotic illness. It can be any phobia or anxiety disorder.

Traumatic Experience

Facing traumatic experiences in childhood or young adulthood can lead to many psychotic illnesses. In the case of mysophobia, the sufferer may have encountered some situations that might have aggravated their fear of germs

Increased Awareness Regarding Maintaining Proper Hygiene

Every day new research studies are being conducted and we get tons and tons of knowledge and this knowledge creates awareness in people regarding germs and contamination. Awareness brings fear along and in some people this fear changes into a phobia that results in hindrance in our daily lives.

Changes in Brain

Our emotions (fear, sadness, and happiness) are controlled by neurotransmitters that are working in our brain. They maintain a sustained emotional condition. The disturbance in the levels of neurotransmitters or any abnormality in the functionality of the neurotransmitter can lead to many types of psychological disorders such as anxieties and phobias.

Environmental Factors

Increased population and increased pollution have caused an unhealthy environment that has increased the practices of hygiene. Some people take care of their hygiene in a very reasonable way while others associated stress and fear with maintaining hygiene and that may cause mysophobia

Impacts of Mysophobia on Daily Life

People who are suffering from mysophobia face many difficulties while doing the daily chores of the day. The fear of germs causes more problems than actual germs. People who suffer from mysophobia feel it difficult to eat outside in restaurants and they avoid going to any crowded places. They tend to avoid touching the doorknobs and shaking hands with people. Public transportation and public bathrooms are a complete NO for them. While doing all of these hygienic activities, they might avoid contamination but because of their phobia they are causing so much hindrance to their daily activities

Reasonable vs. Unreasonable Fear of Germs

It is necessary to take care of your health and maintain your hygiene. In the flu season, it is very important to sanitize your hands and mask up so that you cannot catch the flu virus. There is plenty of information about maintaining your hygiene but while caring about hygiene, some people develop an irrational of fear germs. Now the question is how we know if our fear is reasonable or it’s unhealthy for our mental health. When the fear of contamination itself causes so much stress and distress than the actual danger of germs then it is better to question yourself if my fear is unreasonable?

Analyze these few things to know the difference between healthy and unhealthy fear of germs

  • If your fear of germs is limiting you from going to crowded places or meeting some people or doing any chore that has few risks of germs then you need to be concerned about it
  • Your fear of germs stopping you from going to your workplace or school and the fear is forcing you to stay home so that you can avoid the contamination and germs then you need to rethink your fear
  • If you recognize that your fear of germs is unreasonable but still you are not able to control your emotions then you might need help
  • If you feel mentally unwell and sick when you see any uncleanness and if you feel any symptoms of a panic attack then you should seek help

Mysophobia and COVID-19

COVID-19 besides causing chaos in society is also responsible for so many other damages. It has left a set of side effects that we cannot ignore. During the early days of COVID -19, everyone was educated about maintaining hygiene and washing hands properly. The constant fear and stress of getting the viral infection has to lead to poor mental health and is also responsible for the irrational fear of germs and contamination (mysophobia).

How Mysophobia Is Diagnosed?

Mysophobia is categorized under the category of specific phobias. It is diagnosed with the help of a detailed history that is taken by the health professional. In history taking, questions related to family history of psychological illness are asked to understand the cause of mysophobia and to know if there is any connection with heredity or childhood trauma. The timing of the development of disease is also important because it will give the idea about its cause whether the cause is environmental or it is related to upbringing.

 Tips to Self Help

These are some tips by which you can help yourself to get out of the fear of germs.

Keep Yourself Healthy

You need to focus on your diet and sleep if you want to live a healthy diet. Daily 6 to 8 hours sleep is a must for staying active throughout the day and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. If you want to maintain a healthy diet routine stop eating processed food and lessen the uptake of sugars and fats in your food.

Meditate and Try Relaxing Techniques

Try relaxing techniques like breathing exercises and yoga. These relaxing techniques will help in maintaining concentration and will help you to focus on the main thing rather than worrying about germs and contamination.

Recognizing That Your Fear Is Unreasonable

Educate yourself about the balance between maintaining hygiene and the irrational fear of germs. Don’t fear the exposure of germs. Read and learn more about germs and human body fluids.

Join a Support Group

There are a lot of people who suffer from different psychological disorders. It gives us strength when we talk to a person who is suffering from the same problem. So joining a support group can prove beneficial for one who is suffering from mysophobia. If you cannot join a support group you can also share your problems with your friends and family. It feels a lot more relaxed when you share problems with the trusted ones.

Seek Help from a Health Professional

If you cannot control your fears and cannot manage your emotions then it is better to seek help from a healthcare professional. A health care specialist knows how to diagnose and treat your condition with a proper treatment plan.

Treatment Options

Mysophobia is treated with therapy, medications, and self-realization.

Therapy

To treat mysophobia, we use two types of psychotherapies that are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is used for psychological disorders like phobias, anxiety disorders, and depressive disorders. It involves counseling of the individual. It provides problem-solving ideas. CBT changes the behavioral patterns of individuals that help them live a better life

Exposure Therapy

In this therapy, the healthcare specialist gives practical advice to the sufferer so that he/ she can slowly gradually expose himself/ herself to the triggering factors. With the help of this therapy, with time the patient regains control over his fears.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy along with exposure therapy provides coping skills to individuals suffering from mysophobia.

Healing

Robert Ovington a spiritual healer at voutopia.com helps the patients of mysophobia deal with their fear of germs by different healing techniques such as crystal healing, chakra healing, and psychic healing. He has helped so many individuals deal with their phobias and anxiety. He has helped patients with many psychological diseases to live healthy lives. His clients are very satisfied by his healing. Through the healing techniques, he replaces the negative energies with positive energies in the heads of patients.

Medications

Cognitive-behavioral therapy and exposure therapy are enough to treat the patients with mysophobia but whenever there is an emergency condition such as panic attacks, medicines are used to calm the patient at that movement. Basically, medicines are used to relieve the symptoms. These are some of the medicines that are used to treat the symptoms of mysophobia

  • Beta-blockers
  • Serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI’s)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s)
  • Sedatives like benzodiazepines and barbiturates
  • Antihistamines (for mild symptoms)

Psychologist

High Ranker is a self-taught psychologist and a freelance writer. He graduated in botany and likes to describe himself as a nature lover. He spends most of his time exploring different subjects and navigating existing academic research. He has a profound interest in health sciences and issues related to scientific research. When he's not writing something, you can find him talking to random people, reading a book, or gardening at home.

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