I have developed a severe germ phobia and it is taking control of my life.

I have a huge problem with germ phobia. Last year I started having this fear of everything around me. I wash my hands in panic, even if I touch my cell phone. I had dogs when I was a kid and loved playing around with them even getting licked and so on.I can’t let dogs touch me or brush against me without using some sort of anti bacterial spray. I see every animal as a germ factory and if I touch it I have to wash my hands. What concerns me the most is that it is now out of control. It might be some mental issue I developed because of my work. My boss is single in his 40’s and has a dog. I have worked for him for four years and there have been times that I have despised his decisions toward me or other workers. Somehow I can’t stand his dog now, either. Could all of this be related to my work? I consider everywhere at work to be dirty, even trees and rocks (I work outdoors), but when I am at home and get out for a run or training I don’t see anything other than animals as a potential threat.

This call for help springs from noticing that when a coworker of mine plays with our boss’s dog, he does not wash his hands and then when he touches me I have to wash whatever clothes he has touched. I see it as huge problem. If I pet a dog and someone calls and I have to answer I immediately have to wash my hands and now see my cell phone as a infected object. If that cell phone touches my pants or my shirt then they are off to the laundry.

I am sick and tired of this mindset, I like animals and I always have. But now I find everything dirty. Please help.

Being concerned with cleanliness is a good idea. However, when this becomes excessive and interferes with your life, it is a phobia. The difference between a phobia and good hygiene is a matter of degree. It is, in my opinion, not a bad thing to wash your hands after petting animals. Being panicked by it, is a phobia.

Actually being too clean is not healthy. We all need some dirt to stimulate our immune system.

Germ phobias are not that unusual. It is hard for me to say what caused your phobia.

The natural response for a germ phobic is to avoid any situation in which there might be germs. As well, it is natural to escape from a situation where germs are thought to be present.  When germ phobics avoid or escape from what they fear, they feel better. However, the fear is increased as a result, so these natural responses are very unhelpful.

Finally, germ phobics think about germs a lot of the time and usually try to stop thinking about germs with little success.

The psychological intervention is straightforward but not easy. The intervention is to reduce avoidance and escape.

In your situation, it would mean not avoiding germ-laden situations. A gradual approach is probably best. You can either delay your cleanup response or make it more sensible. A delay of one, two, then three minutes could be helpful. A quick wash of your hands, rather than an extensive cleaning, would be a strategy.

Not washing your clothes just because they touched your cell phone that touched your hand that touched an animal would be another strategy. If you cannot stop washing then you might delay it for 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, then longer and longer.

In terms of the thinking about germs, it is best not to try and get rid of the thoughts but to accept them. Trying to banish them won’t work. If you can adapt an attitude of curiosity, it will help and the control the thoughts have over you will be reduced.

Although the intervention is simple in concept, it is difficult to do. A psychologist may be able to help.

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