How to stop being germaphobe? 6 Tips to get over your irrational fear

Heather Campbell
 min read

How to stop being germaphobe starts with recognizing that you are actually a victim of this condition.

How to stop being germaphobe? 6 Tips to get over your irrational fearHygiene is important for our health. Most people have a set morning and evening ritual for this besides washing their hands regularly during the day.

As a whole, people are more aware of the importance of good hygiene because of the pandemic that swept the globe. It also exacerbated a fear of contamination, turning people into germaphobes. By rationalizing our fears, we can live without an irrational fear of germs and start to enjoy life again.  

We also clean our house on a regular basis so that bacteria and dirt cannot harm our health. However, for some it is no longer just practicing good hygiene, because it has turned into an obsession.

If you’re recognizing this, because of yourself or a loved one, then know that this can be controlled and even stopped.

Read on to learn more about how to recognize the signs of germaphobia and what to do about it.

How to stop being germaphobe: Introduction

However, when personal hygiene and cleaning become an obsession and begin to define your life, then comes in a fear of contamination or mysophobia.

This can manifest as follows:

  • If you think something is not clean, you don’t want to touch it and go into a panic.
  • You clean your house several times a day down to the smallest details, following a set ritual.
  • You avoid holding objects because you are afraid of coronavirus or the flu.
  • If you have been in contact with others, you feel extremely dirty.
  • You wash your hands excessively often and take showers several times a day.

Are you indeed too hygienic or do you fear getting infected if you hold something? Are you working all day to keep everything as clean as possible? Recognizing these are the first steps on how to stop being germaphobe.

Does the fear of dirt or viruses define your entire life?

This article will give you insight into the issues of fear of contamination and germs or mysophobia, the symptoms and causes.

Of course, this background information is interesting, but if you suffer from germaphobia, you obviously want to address this problem.

What is fear of contamination and germs (mysophobia)?

Germaphobia is also known as mysophobia. It is a fear of contamination due to dirt, bacteria, viruses and other substances or objects.

The fear of contamination and germs is much more than a phobia. It is a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder.

What is a phobia?

If you have a phobia, you are overly afraid of something. These can be objects, animals or situations.

For example, people with arachnophobia are extremely afraid of spiders. If they see a spider, they are so scared that they may even have a panic attack.

Fortunately, this does not happen every day and most people can live quite well with such a phobia. It gets worse when a phobia starts to define your life. For example, agoraphobia (agoraphobia) can cause you to be afraid to go anywhere.

However, with a phobia, there is no compulsion to act. In an obsessive-compulsive disorder such as germaphobia, the need to do something (such as cleaning) takes over your life.

Related postHow to get over claustrophobia: 4 Helpful tips, causes & symptoms

What is obsessive-compulsive disorder?

Obsessive means that thoughts begin to control your life, like a phobia. If you fear contamination and germs, you are convinced that everything is dirty and filthy.

But it doesn’t stop there. Your fear of dirt and bacteria is so great that you constantly want to avoid getting infected.

To do this, you perform compulsive actions such as washing your hands extremely often or cleaning excessively. These actions are called compulsions.

The symptoms of germaphobia

We all have fears but phobias are generally considered unreasonable or excessive compared to standard fears. Some of the symptoms of germaphobia are as follows:

Panic attacks

Sometimes the fear of dirt and contamination can be so great that you become completely confused when you have to touch an object.

Especially true of the outdoors where you have absolutely no control over the hygiene of certain objects, this can lead to panic attacks.

Avoiding the grasping of used objects

If you fear contamination, you’ll try to avoid holding anything that has already been touched by others.

For example, shopping carts, benches in a sauna or door handles are often a nightmare.

If germaphobes really can’t get away with it, they sometimes only use part of the hands or the elbows to grasp something.

People with germaphobia also often carry cleaning wipes and keeping everything in plastic bags is standard behavior.

Excessive personal hygiene

A person with a fear of dirt or mysophobia is so fearful of dirt that they wash their hands extremely often or take a shower several times a day.

Germaphobes also often immediately put on different clothes when they have been out of the house.

Regular handwashing does indeed reduce the risk of infections, but washing your hands every so often until they become extremely dry can be a symptom of myopia.

Compulsive actions

If you have germaphobia or mysophobia, then a quick clean is not enough for you at all.

Everything has to be done according to a certain routine. For example, you often clean the same objects repeatedly.

It can even go so far that if you can’t follow this routine, you start all over again from scratch until you are sure everything is perfectly clean.

Fear of dirt and contamination

The first symptom of germaphobia is an extreme fear of dirt, germs, and contamination.

Everyone has an aversion to filth, but you feel more than just a normal aversion when you have germaphobia.

Dirt, contamination, and bacteria instill fear in you. This fear is so great that you want to constantly clean yourself and everything around you.

The coronavirus pandemic (and the worldwide press coverage) may exacerbate contamination anxiety.

Possible causes of germaphobia

There is usually no obvious reason for fear of contamination and germs, also known as germaphobia or mysophobia.

However, scientific research has shown that both heredity and environmental factors play a role. Such studies are essential in understanding how to stop being germaphobe.

The International OCD Foundation, a U.S. nonprofit organization that specializes in obsessive-compulsive disorder, identifies 4 possible causes of germaphobia:

Deficiency of certain substances in the brain

In particular, a lack of serotonin (also called the happiness hormone) can cause obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Whatever the cause, germaphobia is difficult to live with. If you suffer from germaphobia, it affects your own life and those around you.

Perfectionism

If you are a perfectionist, you are more likely to develop germaphobia.

After all, if you suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, you want to be in complete control of things, and let that be one of the very characteristics of perfectionism.

Stress

Stress can lead to obsessive-compulsive behavior.

It is, so to speak, a defensive response of the brain when you feel you cannot routinely do things.

Focusing on compulsions will make you feel like you have better control of things anyway.

Heredity

Genes are believed to play a role in the development of germaphobia.

So, if germaphobia runs in the family, you may certainly be more susceptible to this.

The effects of germaphobia

Because you’re so afraid of infections, germaphobia can lead to social isolation.

You make every effort to avoid situations that could lead to infection, such as eating out at a restaurant, visiting the spa or sauna, or having sex with your partner.

First, you dread social contact. For example, you are afraid that people will touch something in your home and it will infect you.

When the visitors have gone home, you clean the house again from top to bottom.

If you fear germs, you also avoid situations where you could become infected. As a result, you often only get outside when there is no other way. For many people with germaphobia, grocery shopping is a real nightmare.

Anxiety is not only an annoying condition for yourself because your environment can also suffer. Family members or friends often find it quite irritating that you want to keep everything extremely clean and often get the feeling of not being welcome at all.

If the social isolation becomes too great, you may even end up in depression because of your germaphobia.

If you have germaphobia, you realize that this is not normal behavior. Yet it is often difficult to overcome these compulsive thoughts and actions.

Do you think it’s high time to go through life a little easier and less stressed again?

If so, the tips below can help:

Tips for treating germaphobia

Germaphobia can be treated in several ways. People with a fear of contamination and germs are often referred to a psychologist.

Are you not ready for this or don’t want to go that far yet? Then there are plenty of other ways to overcome your germaphobia:

Make notes of what you feel

Write down your feelings in a journal. This can help you overcome the fear of contamination and germs.

Start by naming your fears. What are you afraid of? And how do you address this fear?

Then pause to consider whether this fear is well-founded and keep track of your daily routine in the journal.

Are there days when you have not been able to do this routine? And has this had any negative effects or are you still in great shape?

If, after a while, you read your downtrodden words and thoughts again, you can evaluate them a little more critically.

Then try to replace these anxious thoughts with more positive ones. Above all, keep track of what changes over time in terms of behavior and mindset.

Related post: Feeling uncomfortable in your own skin? Causes, signs & 10 tips to feel better

Step-by-step less compulsive cleaning

Although it won’t be easy, you should try skipping a cleaning task during your cleaning routine.

Then check with yourself to see if anything happened as a result. For example, did you get infected with something or not?

If you simply turn out to be healthy, the first step toward healing has already been taken. That way, you can take a less thorough approach to cleaning step by step.

The important thing here is to learn, step by step, to understand that our immune system can tolerate a little and that a too clean environment is not necessary.

Above all, realize that normal hygiene is important but that you should not be compulsive about it.

Dare to talk about your germaphobia

If you have germaphobia, you usually can’t count on much understanding from those around you.

Still, it’s important to have the courage to talk about this. As with any phobia, talking about it is a basic step in how to stop being germaphobe.

A good conversation with someone always lifts your spirits. After all, this names your problem and makes it easier to see things from a distance.

Feedback and tips from a few confidants can also help you overcome your fears.

Implement other infills and activities into your schedule

You may consider the routine you follow while cleaning to be a certain structure in your life.

Structure is indeed important but try to replace this cleaning structure with other structures. This allows you to break the cycle of compulsive thoughts and actions.

Try to find a different interpretation for your day, plan your day in advance with more enjoyable things and stick to them.

Life has so much more to offer when you’re not worried about dirt and contamination all the time.

Analyze how friends and family interact with hygiene

Everyone thinks personal hygiene is important and everyone wants to keep their house or apartment tidy. Consciously pause to consider how others deal with this.

Most likely, your friends or family members are not as extreme about this.

But more importantly: Are these people staying healthy? Does something bad happen to them when they are less concerned with this? Do they get sick from touching objects? Analyze this thoroughly, as understanding this is important on how to stop being germaphobe.

Most likely, the answer to these questions is that your friends and family are in core health with good and healthy immunity. So why would you need to clean so compulsively?

Exposure Response Prevention Therapy (ERP Therapy)

If you’ve read this article carefully, you’ve probably learned quite a bit about germaphobia. So informing yourself about this is already a first step in the right direction.

ERP Therapy is when you voluntarily expose yourself repeatedly to the source of your fear, without exerting any coercion to neutralize or stop the fear.

By repeatedly facing something you fear, you force your brain to recognize how irrational it is.

Some examples of ERP therapy

Your ERP therapist may ask you to make a list of things you are afraid of, such as:

  • touching door handles,
  • using a toilet in a bar or restaurant,
  • taking a shower in communal shower stalls,
  • lying or sitting on sauna benches in a spa,
  • touching handles of equipment in a gym,
  • not washing your hands,
  • touching a shopping cart, etc.

Your ERP therapist may then ask you to rank the things on the list according to how anxious they make you (ranked from low anxiety to high anxiety). This is a vital step in how to stop being germaphobe.

Next, start the exposure exercises, beginning with the relatively low anxiety tasks. Then, the tasks become more challenging the further down the list you go.

Eventually, you might do things like hand a homeless person cash or touch the faucet in a public bathroom.

How to stop being germaphobe: Conclusion

It’s always hard to go beyond an obsession that is ruling our very existence.

However, with careful and rational steps, one can learn how to stop being a germaphobe and practice good hygiene without obsessing about it.

About Heather Campbell

As a nutritionist, my field of specialization is science-based nutritional advice but more importantly, it is my goal to share capturing and inspiring stories, examples and solutions which can help plus-size individuals overcome their specific difficulties. Read More