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Misunderstanding Microbes -- Mysophobia

Micah Abraham, BSc
Misunderstanding Microbes -- Mysophobia

Mysophobia, perhaps better known as germophobia, is the fear of germs - microorganisms that can cause illness. Mysophobics, or germophobes, are often in significant distress because of their disorder. It compels them to clean frequently and excessively because they feel the world is full of germs that are invisible to the naked eye (and therefore could be anywhere and everywhere). They find themselves spending large amounts of time cleaning, buying numerous cleaning products frequently, and exposing themselves to the harmful chemicals most cleaning products contain.

This article will tell you whether you are mysophobic or just a tidy person, how mysophobia is caused, and what you can do to treat it.

Tidy vs. Mysophobic – How to Recognize the Phobia

Mysophobia is different from being extremely tidy. Though orderliness often results from the need to monitor surfaces for possible germs, the real concern of mysophobics is sterilization. This is problematic not only because of the time, effort, and money that they spend cleaning but also because highly sterile environments can keep a person from developing immunological resistance to bacteria, making them MORE susceptible to illness.

The more often a mysophobic person gets sick, the more they believe they have to clean, and so the cycle perpetuates itself.

Furthermore, mysophobic people experience the following symptoms in response to perceived germs. Perceived germs often take the form of dirt or grime, as well as potential germ contamination stemming from handshakes, coughing or sneezing.

It has been suggested that mysophobia is simply an element of obsessive-compulsive disorder, or "OCD." However, researchers have noted that the common OCD urge to avoid contamination by way of washing their hands has more to do with being compelled to wash their hands than it has to do with the fear of germs.

Why You Fear Bacteria

The fear of germs like bacteria, as is the case with most specific phobias, is commonly thought to develop during childhood, usually between the ages of 10 and 13, have to do with one of 3 main factors - personal fear experience, a witnessed fear experience, or an impersonal or learned experience. The last of these is the most common in cases of mysophobia.

Other Theories

While the above theories are related to the point of view that holds that nurture has more to do with phobia than nature, evolutionary psychologists have suggested that predisposition towards disorders like mysophobia and OCD may be at least partially the result of genetics. Their theory holds that humans who were highly aware of cleanliness and possible health hazards within their living area might have been more likely to survive than others who weren’t, leading to a genetic trait that is more prominent in some than in others. Remember that not long ago in our history, there was no such thing as soap, and so exposure to countless germs could mean early death in a way that is no longer true.

Treating Mysophobia

Treatment of mysophobia, OCD, and other anxiety disorders often involves a combination of therapy and antidepressant medications known as SSRIs, though therapy is usually the first course of action. The type of therapy most commonly used to treat phobias is called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

CBT is a type of therapy that utilizes three main treatments, namely exposure therapy, cognitive restructuring and relaxation training, sometimes in combination and sometimes individually depending upon the needs and desires of the client. Each of these types of treatment can be performed with the assistance and supervision of a therapist and reproduced in the comfort of your home.

It is also wise to remember that not all germs are bad germs. Some germs are good, and help us to maintain our health. To stay healthy and avoid killing off the germs you need, try the above methods to learn how to live in harmony with the underappreciated microbes of the world.

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