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Story Sharing: Coronavirus vs. Germaphobia

Germaphobia at the time of coronavirus can be mentally and financially draining. As hand sanitizers become more and more out of stock, it gives off anxiety to those with this phobia. I’d like to share a story of a committed germaphobe. His name is AJ Jacobs and as he shares his story, he learns a lot about the world around him and how to view his condition in the most rational way possible. He reminds readers that it’s ok to be a germaphobe as long as you understand the consequences that follow through. If you can see things in a more rational way than your anxiety can lessen and you may form a new habit still inclined to your phobia. 

Rough Beginnings

Jacobs spoke out about social distancing long before it was trending on the news. Instead of giving handshakes and touching subway poles, he would “elbow bump” his friends and colleagues. His condition was viewed as very strange and often offensive to those around him, yet he still stood by what he believed. Germaphobes often don’t know the root to their condition. For those that do, the phobia may lead to a past trauma and trying to regain control in some way. For Jacobs, he used to get a lot of colds and flu growing up so he felt that he needed to be extra vigilant in his excessive ways.

Moreover, he would literally follow the Bible. In the Old Testament, it discourages civilians to touch women who are menstruating. Before giving a handshake, he would let women know and he received various different responses. He wouldn’t even touch a man’s hand if he ejaculated. Yet, how would he know that? It’s a very personal question to even ask! Matter of fact, in his book The Year of Living Biblically, he emphasizes following the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. This meant that he vowed to the ten commandments and grew his beard to its full potential.




On the contrary, his wife hated the smell of Purell. She called it the “romance killer” and sided with medical professionals letting Jacob know that his behavior could backfire. They theorized it as “hygiene hypothesis.” It was the idea that children in modern first world countries aren’t exposed to enough germs so the development of their immune system is thrown off. This means that a lack of exposure to germs leads to defects of establishment in a child’s immune system. Furthermore, it can lead to the rise of allergies and asthma. In one segment, he talked about his son’s ice cream falling to the ground and licking it while his wife dismissed strange looks and comments. She had gotten so used to the excessive germ killing that it might’ve been even reliving for her to see something “normal” for once.


After a while, Jacobs winds down from his obsessive behavior. He starts realizing that maybe his medical professionals had a point. More so, he realizes that there are more serious subjects in the world, such as nuclear war or climate change, and only a small percentage of germs are bad. While learning about himself, he came across evidence that germaphobia often manifests in other types of phobias. This is why most germaphobes do not understand where it comes from. 


The Relapse

Phobias can be seen as addictions but they are much more than that. After some time, Jacobs did relapse and he went back to avoiding touching poles. Nonetheless, he became more rational when his anxiety lessened. One thing that changed his behavior is relieving himself from the feeling of disgust, which can be a draining emotion. More so, the constant worry about his immune system made him vulnerable. Instead of obsessing, he just does his best to avoid germs completely.

This reminds me of an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, where Ray gets sneezed on at an airport bathroom. He becomes so disgusted that when he gets home, he obsessively washes his face and dishes taking it from his wife Debra. He starts believing that he has a strange medical condition because of how his face looks.  This situation is distraught and hilarious at the same time! 

Bottom line, it’s okay to have germaphobia. Matter of fact, if it weren’t for you germaphobes then a majority of the world wouldn’t be clean. So, thank you! There is no reason to be ashamed of it. However, if you are bringing harm to yourself or others then you need medical attention, and I mean that in the most respectful way possible. You don’t have to justify why you have it just as long as you know how it affects others. This may be counterintuitive for me to say with all the deaths and confirmed cases around the world. Yet, the world isn’t as scary as it seems. It’s, in fact, a lot safer than you may think. 


Change the way you look at things and the things you look at change. ~ Wayne Dyer

I am the Founder and CEO of Counseling On Demand with a Master's Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy with over 25 years of experience in helping Individuals, Couples, Adolescents, and Families who struggle with a wide variety of Life's Challenges. I thus have developed an Array of Effective Counseling Tools and Evidenced-Based Interventions to help you towards Your Road to Better Mental Health and Wellness. You are Never Alone...I look forward to meeting with you or your family member soon!