Facebook Pixel

Take the Scare Factor out of Public Restrooms: Step 3, is Obsessing Making You Sick? An Editorial

Rate This
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder related image Photo: Getty Images

In steps 1 and 2 of this series, we addressed safe methods to use in public restrooms. With all the viruses out there, it is very important to protect ourselves as much as possible. While we focus on remaining physically healthy, we should also be aware of our mental health.

I grew up using the "5-second" rule (i.e., if you drop food on the floor, you can still eat it if you pick it up within five seconds). Mind you — this was at home, not in a public place. I also believed Grandma when she told us, "You gotta eat a peck of dirt before you die." However, after working at an academic health facility for eight years, I've learned to defend myself more efficiently from germs.

Surprisingly though, many people at work admit to being germaphobes. In the beginning, I had a mixed reaction to their phobia. Were they being overly freaky? Was I being too lax? Which way is correct?

Medicinenet.com author Leanna Skarnulis, in her article Cleanliness Rules Germaphobes' Lives, claimed the following: "Germaphobes are obsessed with sanitation and feel compelled to clean excessively, but they're really suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)."

I disagree with that quote. I do not believe that germaphobes have full-blown OCD. However, obsessing about germs relating to public restrooms, for example, may consume one's life and eventually lead to OCD if not recognized.

Most germaphobes have relationships, go to work and lead relatively normal lives; but isn't it exhausting? The other day I discussed this topic with one of the stylists at my hair salon who admitted to being a germaphobe. She went on to proclaim her disgust with public restrooms, hotels, airports, etc. When she goes to restaurants, she uses her antibacterial gel after handling the menu and refuses to order anything with fresh lemons unless she knows the preparer has worn gloves. I'm not sure what her protocol is with for the actual meal. Upon leaving, she waits for somebody else to open the door and scoots out without touching anything. I asked if she wished she were not so germaphobic. She replied, "No, it doesn't bother me."

The Mayo Clinic stated the following: "Obsessive-compulsive disorder often centers around themes, such as a fear of getting contaminated by germs. To ease your contamination fears, you may compulsively wash your hands until they're sore and chapped. Despite your efforts, thoughts of obsessive-compulsive behavior keep coming back. This leads to more ritualistic behavior — and a vicious cycle that's characteristic of obsessive-compulsive disorder."

In my opinion, living with the anxiety of obsessing over germs might easily be touching on mental illness. Personally, I would rather catch the flu than worry about catching the flu day after day. To become so anxiety-ridden that you become obsessive compulsive is much scarier than catching a bug on a toilet seat.

If you come to a point where you feel you are performing rituals to help ease the anxiety of facing germs or if you're not sure how much is too much, ask your doctor for advice. And stay calm.

Cleanliness Rules Germaphobes' Lives. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/parenting/features/cleanliness-rules-germaphobes-lives?page =3

Reviewed May 25, 2011
Edited by Alison Stanton

Add a CommentComments

There are no comments yet. Be the first one and get the conversation started!

Enter the characters shown in the image.
By submitting this form, you agree to EmpowHER's terms of service and privacy policy

We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

Get Email Updates

Related Topics

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Guide

Have a question? We're here to help. Ask the Community.


Health Newsletter

Receive the latest and greatest in women's health and wellness from EmpowHER - for free!