Fear of dirt, or Mysophobia in medical terms is defined as a pathological fear of being contaminated or exposed to germs. This is commonly linked with mental health disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. People with this condition frequently do hand washing to get rid of germs effectively. Is there any treatment for this phobia? Let’s find out.
Understanding Fear of Dirt
Being concerned about cleanliness is normal to most people. But if this goes out of hand to the point where the individual fears even the tiniest dirt, it becomes a problem. Experts believe that this mental health issue is directly related to obsessive-compulsive disorder due to the individual’s uncontrolled urge to hand washing and clean.
The fear of dirt is also often linked to the following:
- The need to have things in order.
- Fear of being contaminated.
- Distress over thoughts of getting dirty.
- Thinking of causing harm to self or others.
- Aggression, anxiety, and undesirable thoughts.
What Are The Symptoms
The most common symptom of mysophobia is the repeated action of hand washing, a well-known symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder. But it’s important to take note that the reasons for doing the action are completely different for the two mental health issues. People with OCD washed their hands too often because they need to satisfy their need to relieve the stress brought by not cleaning their hands. On the other hand, hand washing for people with the fear of dirt or germs is for pure cleanliness, specifically, to remove the germs in their hands.
Symptoms of mysophobia include the following:
- puts effort into cleaning and sanitizing areas (if they feel comfortable)
- avoiding places that are prone to dirt and germs
- refrains physical contact especially with people they don’t know
- not sharing personal belongings
- scared of getting sick due to dirt
Because of these things, the everyday life of people with a fear of dirt is very much affected. One of their dilemmas is meeting new people since they are not fond of handshakes. Their weakness also includes using public bathrooms and doorknobs.
Living with Mysophobia
Individuals who fear germs and dirt often have a hard time dealing with their daily tasks. The phobia basically hinders them from moving freely without worries. For example, they avoid social gatherings not because they do not want to be in contact with a lot of people. But because they are afraid to get germs from others. This could have a huge impact on their relationships with family and friends.
If they ever decide to attend the gathering, they usually stay in their safe zone and avoid mingling. Instead, they spend most of their time with the sink just to wash their hands.
These behaviors can lead to seclusion. If people are not aware of their fear, they might think that the person with a phobia is not interested in making new friends. Hence, making social phobia a possibility.
Fear of Dirt In Children
Unfortunately, mysophobia can develop in children as well. As a matter of fact, it is quite common in kids these days. Some kids do overcome it as they grow, but some develop worse symptoms such as:
- panic attacks
- chest pain
- trouble breathing
- fast heartbeat
Once you notice your child showing these symptoms along with other signs of mysophobia, it would be better to take them to a specialist. Treating the disorder early is the best way to give them a chance for a better life.
Thankfully, there are several ways to overcome mysophobia. You have the freedom to choose if which one you think would work for you, but if it doesn’t, there are still other treatments to try.
Exposure therapy or desensitization aims to help an individual overcome their fear by deliberately exposing them to germs in facilitated situations. As the patient shows progress, the treatment will be applied in real-life situations. The main objective is to slowly reduce their fear of germs in the most practical way.
CBT is often done together with exposure therapy for much better results. It reduces the anxiety over germs and helps the individual regain their thoughts about their fear. Cognitive-behavioral therapy is also used in other disorders such as schizophrenia, OCD, depression, and many more.
Yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises are some of the options to help you relax in unlikeable situations.
The most traditional method in treating disorders is through medication. Doctors prescribe medicines to help alleviate the symptoms. Some of the drugs were also prescribed for managing anxiety and depression and have been proven to be effective somehow.
There are also some ways for you to overcome mysophobia on your own. For your reference, here are some self-help strategies that you can try:
- Stay physically active. This will help you focus your mind on other things apart from your phobia. Listening to music while working out is a great way to help you stay focused.
- Get enough sleep. One of the reasons why unhealthy thoughts occur is due to lack of sleep. Prevent these thoughts from coming by waking up from a good night’s sleep.
- Eating healthy. If you know that you are physically healthy, you will know that your body will be able to fight germs and protect you from diseases.
- Find a support group. You are not alone and you must know that there are people out there that you can relate with.
- Avoiding triggers and stimulants. Coffee is the top stimulant for anxiety, reduce your intake as much as possible to reduce panic attacks as well.