The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a major sanitary crisis worldwide, placing almost half the world in quarantine. The virus obviously is a threat to our physical well-being but it’s often forgotten that it’s a threat to our mental health as well. The fear of the unknown is real and even though it’s been a little over a year into the pandemic, there are still many uncertainties and speculations. The virus is an even bigger issue for individuals suffering from OCD disorders, one being Germaphobia — a condition that is very well not talked about enough.
Also known as Mysophobia, Germaphobia is a pathological fear of contamination and germs. However, it’s not about being sanitary at all. Germaphobia is a psychological condition that goes under OCD, or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. People with anxiety disorders, such as OCD, face persistent fear and actively avoid whatever is causing their anxiety. In this case, as mentioned before, Germaphobia is the fear of germs and microorganisms, accompanied by extreme cleanliness and tidiness. However, it’s important to know that there is no concrete definition of a Germaphobe. Germaphobia is a spectrum and everyone can experience it differently.
Some symptoms of Germaphobia include but are not limited to:
- Frequent hand washing and showers
- Excessive use of disinfectants and antibacterial soap
- Extreme fear of being sick
- Heart palpitations/crying/sweating when in contact with dirt or bacteria
- Actively avoiding social situations or isolation
As you may already assume, pandemics only heighten the anxiety experienced by those who have Germaphobia. If you are not familiar with the pandemic, the coronavirus disease (officially labeled COVID-19 by the World Health Organization on February 11th, 2020) is a respiratory illness that first broke out in Wuhan, China. It was declared a pandemic on March 11th, 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The virus is transmitted through respiratory droplets, close personal contact, and contaminated surfaces. Symptoms include pains/aches, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat, diarrhea, trouble breathing and headache. Recently, a new and even more dangerous variant of the virus was found in Europe and has been present in New York, just as the vaccine is coming in. the largest risk groups are those with pre-existing conditions (i.e. diabetes, asthma, etc) and senior citizens. However, that does not mean that individuals who do not belong to either category cannot get it. As a matter of fact, many young people who did not suffer from any pre-existing conditions have sadly passed away from the virus, proving that you may not be exempt just because you’re young and healthy.
Germaphobia & the Pandemic
Needless to say, germaphobia has heightened during the course of the pandemic. Coping with the illness during COVID-19 has become even harder for many people. Not only that but many people have recently acquired the illness as well, making it even more common.
We’ve all heard about the one extreme side of people who refuse to wear masks or take any safety measures for COVID-19, often times also labelling it as a “hoax”, but there is also the opposite extreme that accounts for those who feel as they have to take safety precautions 24/7.
Treatment of germaphobia often involves a combination of therapy and anit-depressant medication known as SSRIs, or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, which include Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft. However, The most common treatment is cognitive behavioral therapy which consists of 3 treatments:
- 1: Exposure therapy, which exposes the patient to germs in a controlled situation and then in a real life situation. (ex: handshake without rinsing for 5 minutes)
- 2: Cognitive restructuring, which is treatment that seeks to reveal and change negative beliefs and thought patterns that occur to a germaphobe. (ex. germs are everywhere so they have no control in their reactions )
- 3: Relaxation therapy, which is a technique in which one practices to calm their mind and body. (ex: deep breathing, yoga/meditating, and muscle relaxation.)