Can something as basic as showering cause anxiety?

In this article, we will go through the process of being scared of showering, the phobia called Ablutophobia, and how anxiety can make it harder for people to keep up with their hygiene. 

There are several reasons for having anxiety. These may include the phobia of washing, bathing and showering called Ablutophobia. Anxiety may also be associated with other reasons such as past experiences, seen experiences or body image issues. The other side of which looks like being unable to shower due to mental health issues. 

Can showering cause anxiety?

It is common for people to have anxiety and panic attacks anywhere. Their room, the shower, at the gym, at a station, anywhere. Anxiety creeps on without warning and can have many causes. Anxiety can also be associated with showering for a lot of reasons. 

Some causes may include:

  • Having had bad experiences in the shower 
  • Having heard about a story or seeing something traumatising related to showers
  • A phobia of water or the shower 
  • A feeling associated to showering that brings in anxiety 
  • Body dysmorphia 
  • Depression 

Most of these causes have a significant root cause to the anxiety being induced in the shower. However, irrational fear of showering is termed as Ablutophobia. Ablutophobia, like all phobias, is an anxiety disorder. 

It’s clinically known as a specific phobia, which is an excessive or unreasonable fear of an object or situation. It can manifest in many ways, from a fear of showering to a complete phobia of all washing.

Ablutophobia is more common in women and children than in men. According to the Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia, children tend to develop specific phobias, such as ablutophobia, between 7 and 11 years of age.

Causes of Ablutophobia

A great deal of phobias are triggered from traumatic past memories that you may or may not remember. 

  • Many children try to avoid bath time for a variety of reasons, including fear or simply preference. It’s possible that your childhood dislike has followed you into adulthood.
  • Other people’s worries can also contribute to the development of this anxiety disorder. If you had the same fear as a parent or a close relative as a child, you may have internalised that person’s behaviours.
  • Genetics may also influence how you feel about showering. You’re more likely to have ablutophobia if one of your parents had it.

What a Ablutophobia looks like: 

Ablutophobia shares many of the same symptoms as other specific phobias. When faced with bathing or washing, symptoms may appear. They can also happen simply by thinking about it. Among the signs and symptoms are:

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Increased heartbeat 
  • Excessive sweating 
  • Racing pulse 
  • heart palpitations
  • feeling suddenly hot or cold
  • Dizziness 
  • Nausea 
  • Dry mouth 

Anxiety can also increase the experience of fear by bringing in thoughts of having a nervous breakdown, fainting or dying. 

One of the most common ways individuals try to cope with anxiety is to avoid the circumstance that causes it. People with ablutophobia tend to avoid bathing and washing, which can cause a variety of health, well-being, and social acceptance issues.

Treatment and therapy 

The first step of revisiting treatment will be to go visit a general physician. The doctor would then determine whether there is a physical illness or injury that’s causing Ablutophobia. If not, they would determine the cause as being anxiety disorder and you’ll then be redirected to a mental health practitioner. 

A clinical interview will be conducted by the mental health expert. They will inquire about your medical and psychological history, as well as your social and familial background. They’ll utilise diagnostic criteria to reach a final diagnosis based on this interview.

Like most specific phobias, cognitive-behavioral therapy techniques are frequently part of a treatment plan for ablutophobia. Your therapist will decide which therapy would be beneficial to you, after which the treatment shall begin. 

Your therapist will almost certainly advise you to evaluate your fear and replace negative self-talk with more suitable thoughts. She may offer homework that requires you to take little actions, such as turning on the shower and sitting in the bathroom while it runs. 

During this gradual exposure, you’ll learn to manage your feelings and anxiety at each repeated gradual exposure. As you’re gradually exposed to bathing, you’ll learn techniques that can help alter your view of bathing and reduce your anxiety and fear.

The most effective treatment for ablutophobia is psychotherapy. Your doctor may, however, prescribe drugs to help you cope with your fear and worry. Medications are typically used in conjunction with psychotherapy as a short-term treatment.

As part of your treatment plan, your doctor may recommend some lifestyle changes or home treatments. These may include relaxation techniques such as breath work and yoga, physical exercise to help reduce muscle tension and anxiety and mindfulness techniques such as grounding and meditation. 

The goal of therapy is for you to practice relaxing and using your newly learned self-talk to soothe your fears while slowly confronting the object of your phobia. 

Complications of Ablutophobia 

Many times, ablutophobia goes untreated because people who have it believe there isn’t a treatment that would help them. Untreated Ablutophobia can lead to other factors that add to the anxiety and isolation of the individual. There are also physical factors that may be affected due to lack of hygiene. 

Complications of untreated Ablutophobia include: 

  • Depression: Depression is a common by-factor or Ablutophobia because the social isolation or just the overwhelming fear of bathing may cause you to experience sadness. Prolonged sadness can lead to depression.
  • Heavy use of drugs or alcohol: Some individuals with ablutophobia may use drugs or alcohol to manage the excessive fear and anxiety. And use of drugs or alcohol may also be increased as a result of anxiety.
  • Social anxiety or agoraphobia: Some people may also develop fear and apprehension when meeting with other people. They may feel unkempt and have thoughts about not being clean enough to see people.
  • They may develop negative thoughts about themselves that extend to body image and size issues. 
  • Issues with work or showing up to school/university is common with Ablutophobia. 
  • Maintaining friendships and relationships may become difficult. 

Is the opposite true? Can anxiety cause you to not shower. 

The relationship between bad mental health and issues with showering, brushing and the sort have been studied well. There is a clear correlation in the fact that mental illnesses strip the individual of motivation and energy needed to do the most basic tasks. 

A good example of this can be drawn from Terry Cheney’s account of her inability to get herself out of bed to take a shower. Her article titled “I Can’t Get in the Shower! What Not to Tell Me” highlights the importance of being a good listener. 

She states: “The number one symptom of depression for me is my inability to get in the shower. Once I’m in there I’m okay, but it takes a gargantuan effort on my part just to turn on the faucet. I lie in bed contemplating that simple movement of twisting the knob, but nothing, and I mean nothing, can incentivize me to actually do it. I know I’m not alone in this because I’ve googled “hating the shower” and there’s a whole community that identifies with this phenomenon.” 

There’s forums and discussion blogs where people find solace in a world where cleanliness and hygiene are some of the top priorities of the modern world and failing to take a daily shower can cause you to look or smell “unclean,” which is generally considered unacceptable.


It’s important to note that the inability to shower when you have depression is not necessarily the same as shower avoidance disorder, or ablutophobia, which is a type of specific phobia and anxiety disorder.

There are many reasons why showering is difficult for people with mental illness, these may include that standing long can feel exhausting and tiring, showering also causes a person to have alone time with thoughts which they may be wanting to avoid, it also brings attention to the body which can be overwhelming for people with body image issues or if they have scars or injuries that they don’t want to see and lastly, fear of wasting water or not being clean enough can also put someone off off showering or bathing. 

Despite the many reasons for being anxious, if you’re unable to bathe due to fear and anxiety, it’s important that you talk to your doctor. They can set up a treatment plan as well as management strategies to help you.

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