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Help! I Have an Irrational Fear of Germs and Sickness

Help! I Have an Irrational Fear of Germs and Sickness

Germaphobia, mysophobia, verminophobia, bacillophobia — these are all names for a very common condition in which a pathological fear of germs and contamination can overshadow your life.

At the Institute for Advanced Psychiatry, Dr. Diana Ghelber and our team recognize the difference between a fear and a phobia, and we want to explain this distinction here. More importantly, we want you to know that there are solutions that free you from germaphobia, allowing you to live life to its fullest.

Phobias by the numbers

Approximately 10% of people in the United States have a phobia, which is classified as an anxiety disorder. Women outpace men by two to one when it comes to phobias, which typically begin to present themselves in childhood (the average age of onset of a phobia is seven).

Fear versus phobia

In its typical form, fear is an incredibly valuable tool that protects you from danger. When you’re faced with something unknown or potentially dangerous, fear ignites your fight-or-flight response, enabling you to take action.

A phobia such as germaphobia is fear on a different level — a level in which your perception of the fear is greatly exaggerated, leaving you in a constant state of anxiety that can greatly impact your behaviors, as well as your overall health and wellness.

A closer look at germaphobia

At the heart of germaphobia is an excessive and irrational fear of germs, which includes any contaminant, such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites. 

While we still don’t understand the exact cause of germaphobia, we have found links to negative experiences in childhood, genetics, brain chemistry, and environmental factors. 

However the germaphobia developed, it causes high levels of distress and anxiety and can lead to behavioral changes that cast a wide net over your life. For example, someone with germaphobia may develop a hand-washing habit that qualifies as an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

As well, living in a state of anxiety can affect your physical health as your body is stuck in a fight-or-flight mode, which raises your heart rate and tenses your muscles.

People with germaphobia can also become imprisoned by their fear of contamination and will do everything in their power to avoid situations that they deem unsafe. Since germs are everywhere, this can limit your world quite considerably.

While the outward signs — excessive cleaning, hand-washing, and avoidance — are problematic, it’s what goes on inside your head that can be most troublesome. People with germaphobia live in a near-constant state of fear and in a cycle of negative and doomsday thinking (I’m going to get sick and die). Over time, these negative thinking patterns carve well-worn neural pathways, which is why depression is often also present among people with phobias.

Treating germaphobia

If your life has been affected by your germaphobia, the good news is that there are solutions. We can approach germaphobia from many different angles, including:

In addition to these effective therapies, we provide you with coping tools that you can use on your own to help you function better.

If you’re ready to break free from your germaphobia, contact our office in Fort Worth, Texas, to set up consultation.

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