Do you have COVID-19 germaphobia? Are you very anxious about invisible germs? Here are things that can help.
Even if you weren’t germaphobic or hypochondriacal before, these fears can take over in the dangerous situation we’re all in during COVID-19. But how much danger is there and exactly where?
One thing is true. There are ways (and new forms) that your old traumas and anxieties are re-evoked and heightened in new traumatic situations. Living in the isolation and quarantine of this seemingly never-ending pandemic, that couldn’t be more the case.
So, here you are. Scared. Sometimes terrified. That you’re going to be infected, really invaded, by a COVID-19 germ. Where is it lurking? How do you know if you’re safe?
Plus, you aren’t sure how much reality there is to your fears. Especially since there is some danger. But, why are you suffering more than most of your friends? Are they being too lax? Or is there some other way to understand how much fear you are feeling?
There is. Let’s talk about what a fear of COVID-19 germs could be, and what a phobia actually is.
What Is A Phobia?
You have a phobia of COVID-19 germs.
What is a phobia? A phobia is a fear of something specific. In this instance, germs. Invisible ones. Generally, a phobia is managed by avoiding the thing you’re afraid of.
That’s not so easy with germs you can’t see. Where are they?
You wash your hands. Excessively most likely. Maybe you get panicked that you’ve touched something that has the virus on it (even though you know that’s unlikely in your own house.) Especially since you constantly sanitize as it is.
And, you wash and wipe down your groceries. Let your packages sit after delivery, longer than the “recommended” time. You’re on top of it. And, you mostly stay in.
But, nonetheless, you are scared. And, you can’t seem to get away from the “possibility” that there are germs everywhere that might get inside you. Make you deathly sick.
This isn’t a normal phobia (if any phobia is.) Because you feel you can’t avoid it.
If you’re phobic of elevators, you walk stairs. You can avoid buildings that have them. If you have a horse phobia, you don’t ride horses. A flying phobia is more a challenge, but you could take a train. Or a Xanax. It’s short-lived. But, germs?
These invisible invaders could be anywhere. This makes you incredibly anxious. Certain you might have touched something with them on it. You’re more than a bit undone.
Be assured. There is a deeper, not-conscious meaning to COVID-19 germaphobia. It could be your early trauma.
COVID-19 Germaphobia & Childhood Trauma
If you went through any kind of childhood trauma – neglect, physical abuse, sexual molestation, a loss with no help grieving – there is a common effect. Blocking feelings.
That means that you had to seal off, lock away, close up any reactions you had to what happened in childhood and the trauma itself: sadness, hurt, fear, anger, emotional need.
What happens to those feelings? They don’t go away, even if you thought they did. And, they aren’t in the past. That child self with all the feelings has been imprisoned inside. Those feelings can seem like “germs.”
Maybe you’ve suffered physical symptoms or a lot of unexplained anxiety. You’re just an anxious person, you tell yourself. There’s more to it than that.
Those blocked feelings have to find other forms of “expression.” They exist in your symptoms.
Now, they exist in your COVID-19 germaphobia. The invisible “invaders” are the feelings you’ve blocked out – the ones you believe it’s “dangerous” to feel.
And, they’re also your emotional needs. The ones that no one paid attention to; made you feel were too much.
That made your trust in people shaky as it is. And, now, with COVID-19 lurking and some people not as careful as others, you’re really scared about how to tell who is safe.
You’re alone – and so your needs are more silently pressing. They feel like invaders too.
How COVID-19 Germaphobia Increases Isolation
There you are. Alone. In a scary time when you could use some reassurance and comfort. Yet, it’s hard to feel comfort, when people seem to be bringing in those COVID-19 germs.
It’s a vicious cycle. Especially because the isolation may also be increasing some of your childhood trauma. Being all alone. With no one to count on or trust. Scarily – alone.
This is really hard. And, isolation isn’t emotionally healthy in a situation of fear. Fear and stress that everyone has now, to some degree, whether they’re germaphobic or not. This is a time for support. Are you reaching out to friends by phone or Zoom?
But, if you don’t even feel safe seeing a few people for a social distance and masked get-together occasionally – or a walk – and can’t even imagine when you will, that’s harder.
Your COVID-19 germaphobia and terrible fears are defeating you. How can you defeat them?
1. Try to trust infectious disease experts for reasonable precautions to take.
2. Read enough information to stay informed and realistic about COVID-19.
3. Take a deep breath. If you’re doing more than necessary, try to relax a little.
4. Talk to trusted friends. What are they doing? Does it seem reasonable & safe?
Here are other things to think about to help you turn your COVID-19 germaphobia around:
What to Do to Defeat Your COVID-19 Fears
If you’re trapped in constant COVID-19 germaphobic anxiety, remember: this is a phobia.
You now have some understanding of what a phobia is. If you believe the explanation, then there are parts of your germaphobia that aren’t realistic to this actual situation.
Yes, an elevator could get stuck, but it doesn’t commonly, and you would get out. If you learn how to ride a horse, the likelihood of danger is minimal. Flying’s statistically safe.
You know what I mean. There are dangers. Things in life are a risk. There’s no reason to minimize the danger of COVID-19. It’s very real. Yet, what is enough to protect you?
Do what you need to do for yourself. If it’s more than others are doing, that’s totally ok. But maybe you don’t need to isolate yourself so that you’re more lonely than necessary.
Think about this:
How much is your fear of COVID-19 invisible germ invaders the whole story?
If part of the not-conscious story is your fear of being invaded by your feelings and needs, maybe it’s time to open up. Feelings need a place to be heard. Needs are normal.
One of the silver-lining things about quarantine re-awakening old trauma is this: you have a chance to grieve those long-ago losses now. Let yourself. Talk to friends. Cry.
And, if you can’t handle your grief or your COVID-19 germaphobia – many therapists are working by secure Zoom or telephone. This is a time to get some help – and, maybe, to finally work out your early trauma.
There’s always hope. Things can and will change. Reach out today for support.
I’m Dr. Sandra Cohen, a Beverly Hills and Los Angeles based psychologist and psychoanalyst. I specialize in childhood trauma and how old anxieties are intensified and re-evoked during the Covid-19 pandemic. Let’s talk.