Susan B. Winston LMFT

Shift Happens

Confessions of a True Germophobe

Are you a master at not touching anything in a public bathroom? This is for you.

Posted Oct 30, 2016

I admit it.  I am a germophobe.  The psychological term for "germ" phobia is mysophobia, the pathological fear of contamination by germs.  From a clinical standpoint, it is only an issue if it interferes with how you live your daily life.  I am fairly good at keeping my mysophobia at bay in my daily existence but always go on high alert when I have to fly somewhere.  Apologies to the airlines, but I consider flying akin to being on a trip in an airborne toilet.  Every breath one takes and every time someone opens that tiny bathroom door, I imagine microbes of who knows what being circulated throughout the plane.

True?  Apparently not.  According to a site called, passengers and crew breathe a mixture of fresh and re-circulated air.  The engineering lingo detailing this process is not comprehensible to most, but apparently studies have shown than planes are no more germ-infested than other similarly enclosed spaces.  Like an elevator, for example?  How many of us cringe when someone in an elevator coughs or sneezes?  You do not need to be a germophobe to wince in this situation.

So in keeping with the airplane theme, a true germophobe is definitely not going to touch anything in that bathroom – or any other public facility for that matter.  We are masters at maintaining a grip on paper towel while flushing a toilet, turning on a faucet, or opening a door.  I have been known to ignore nature’s call while flying stateside to destinations overseas.  This is not medically recommended, but you germophobes understand the deal.

Do you carry multiple bottles of hand-sanitizer, just in case you run out?  That does not include the one in your car.  Do you travel with baby wipes and wipe headrests, handrails, restaurant booths?  Do you wear a mask in crowded places (even I don’t do that)?  But if you are in the germophobe club, you are not appalled by knowing that some travelers carry a sanitized sleep sack rather than touch sheets that are not their own even in a luxury hotel.   I have one friend who orders up to 20 extra towels so he can line his floor and never have his bare feet touch the rug.

While people are screened for potential subversive activity on planes, I believe there should be a secondary screening to ensure that someone is not contagiously sick before getting on a plane.  I am not being flippant.  And I do not equate national security with my overwhelming germ-inspired insecurities, so hold the negative response.  On my last flight, the woman behind me had a horrible cold (my sincere sympathy) and she sneezed constantly with nothing in front of her nose.  As a true germophobe, I spent the 5-hour flight anticipating the steaming hot water and scrub- down I required to recover from this.  (And many thanks to all, including the Transportation Security Administration, who helped me arrive safely).

I will continue to board airlines and attempt to hold my breath from Los Angeles to New York.  My family thinks all these swipes and wipes are ridiculous.  (They were the cleanest babies on earth).  But they know that if the germs don’t get me, something else will and I will go down holding a dust-buster in one hand and a bottle of disinfectant in the other.

Afraid of germs?  You are not alone.