We all know that it’s important to stay clean and healthy, but a little dirt never hurt anyone really. In fact, exposing yourself to germs can help build up a strong and resilient immune system. If the idea of actively exposing yourself to germs fills you with disgust, and fear, you may very well have Mysophobia.
Derived from the Greek word Myso, meaning germs, Mysophobia is the extreme fear of germs and illness. Sufferers dread the thought of getting ill, and will go to great lengths to ensure they live a germ-free existence. This includes obsessive cleaning habits and avoiding crowded areas where germs are known to be.
Since germs were only discovered in the 1860s, this is one of the most recent phobias developed, and is slightly different to others. Regardless, extreme cases can have a huge effect on the sufferer’s life, impacting both social and work life, and potentially leading to more serious problems.
CAUSES OF MYSOPHOBIA
Mysophobia seems to go hand in hand with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), with 9 out of 10 cases stemming from it. Many cases of OCD fixate on cleanliness and hygiene, which over time can lead to the development of Mysophobia.
Like other phobias, one can also learn to fear something from those around them, or even the media. A child who has an obsessive-compulsive parent may well follow in their footsteps. The child may not develop OCD in this case, but could very well fear being unclean, as well as germs.
Similarly, the child whose parents never allowed them to get dirty, and was constantly warning them of germs, is likely to develop an aversion to germs as they grow up. In the media, movies and news reports about horrific, contagious illnesses can quickly cause someone to fear germs.
Another cause could be a traumatic experience, often in childhood. A prolonged illness or near-death experience as a result of being sick, can lead to someone fearing they be in that situation again. As such, they will do all they can to avoid getting sick.
SYMPTOMS OF MYSOPHOBIA
Typical symptoms of Mysophobia include frequent washing of hands after touching pretty much anything and regularly scrubbing the house clean until it resembles a sterile environment. Food can normally only ever be handled by the sufferer, and must be thoroughly washed.
Avoidance of public places is another common symptom, with many cases avoiding public transport, hospitals and many other places, all together. In extreme cases, the sufferer may fear leaving their home at all, leading to isolation and the development of other phobias and mental issues, such as agoraphobia and depression.
Being exposed to germs can set of a severe anxiety attack in a lot of cases. For example, you may feel your heartbeat racing, a sense of dizziness and nausea, hot or cold flushes and profuse sweating, if somebody sneezes or coughs near you. An overwhelming desire to escape the dirty environment is also common.
Exposure therapy encourages the patient to first learn a number of relaxation techniques, to help keep anxiety attacks at bay. They will then gradually be exposed to germs in a controlled environment under the guidance of a therapist. Eventually, the patient is able to touch a dirty surface without feeling an overwhelming desire to wash their hands.
Other techniques include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Hypnotherapy and Neuro-Linguistic Programming. A trained specialist will encourage you to change the way you think about germs, replacing negative connotations with positive suggestions.
There are numerous self-help exercises that can be completed at home, including meditation, hypnosis recordings, NLP exercises and positive affirmations. This is a great starting point for phobics whose fear is so overwhelming they are unable to leave the house.
In today’s digital world, there are even apps or audio therapy sessions such as subliminals you can download to help rid you of your phobia.
BENEFITS OF OVERCOMING FEAR OF GERMS
Simply put, germs are everywhere. No matter how clean you think your house is, there are still thousands of germs around. As such, the thing that triggers your fear is everywhere. By overcoming Mysophobia, you can begin to enjoy life once again, without stressing out that things aren’t clean enough.
The time spent cleaning could be used for far more enjoyable, positive pursuits. Aside from additional time, your life will no longer be lived in a state of tension, and fear. By treating your fear of germs, you can once again enjoy the world around you, see new places and do new things. You can meet new people, without worrying about shaking hands. You may even find someone to love.
Finally, by being exposed to germs, you will actually reduce the chance of getting sick, as your immune systems builds up. Other more serious disorders, such as depression can also be avoided, as you discover a new lease of life.