Arachnophobia is a form of specific phobia marked by an extreme and irrational fear of arachnids such as spiders and scorpions. While most people are not much fond of arachnids or insects, phobias of spiders can leave a far more significant impact on your life.
- What Is Arachnophobia?
- Understanding Arachnophobia
- Arachnophobia vs. General Dislike
- Symptoms Of Arachnophobia
- Types Of Arachnophobia
- Causes Of Arachnophobia
- Diagnosis Of Arachnophobia
- Criteria Of Specific Phobia As Per DSM-5
- Treatment Of Arachnophobia
- How To Overcome Arachnophobia
- Arachnophobia At A Glance
What Is Arachnophobia?
Also known as spider phobia, arachnophobia is defined as an acute, abnormal and persistent fear of spiders. Individuals with this phobia experience extreme anxiety, even though they may apprehend that the danger of facing a spider and getting harmed is minimal or nonexistent. The fear can be triggered even in the absence of an arachnid as a person can experience a fear response even when looking at images of spiders or when simply mentioned. Fear of arachnids can turn into a debilitating phobia when it becomes uncontrollable, leads to intrusive thoughts, impairs daily functioning, prevents one from socializing and may even affect their career and relationships.
A person with this condition may experience rapid heartbeat, chest tightness, intense terror, shaking and/or sweating. They may avoid walking barefoot and happen to be alert, especially while taking showers or while getting in and out of bed. It leads to a severe, paralyzing fear where the sufferer can take extreme steps to avoid spiders. Studies 1 show that the fear response is associated more with the movement patterns of the arachnids than their physical appearance. Research 2 indicates that women are more prone to develop spider phobia more than men. However, therapy and relaxation techniques can help to manage symptoms.
Read More About Anxiety Here
Arachnophobia comes from the Greek word for spider, which is “arachne,” and “phobos,” the Greek word for fear. It is much more than normal fear of spiders. The condition is associated with intense and terrifying emotions, thereby making you feel like you’re under a serious threat. The phobia can stop you from taking part in various life events or can keep you away from situations if you feel you’re in danger from spiders.
Just like any other phobias, fear of spiders can also weaken you mentally and physically while interfering with your life. However, upon identifying spider phobia, you can get help from experts and work on your phobia so that it does not meddle with your everyday life. A 1991 study surveyed 118 undergraduate students and it was found that. about 75% of the individuals were either mildly or severely afraid of spiders. The study states that the fear of spiders is “associated with increased fear of other animals, but only animals that are normally considered fear-evoking or disgust-evoking.”
Another study, conducted in the UK on 261 adults, showed that nearly 32% of women and 18% of men in the group felt uneasy, nervous or extremely frightened when they saw the real images of spiders.
Read More About Phobia Here
Arachnophobia vs. General Dislike
If you are afraid of spiders, that does not necessarily mean you are suffering from this condition. Phobias are defined as a condition of extreme fear that causes a form of paralysis and impairment in a person’s quality of life.
If you are a true arachnophobic, your fear of spiders must display the following traits of a specific phobia, as per the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5):
1. Extreme And Persistent Fear
If you hold a normal dislike or fear towards a spider, you are most likely to give an expression of disgust or climb on to some furniture while yelling for help. However, if you are suffering from spider phobia, you will feel an extreme anxiety or enter a state of panic, both with the presence and the anticipation or potential presence of spiders. Actions such as rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, sweating, shaking, screaming, or crying define the phobia. Your fear response may also get triggered by the view of webs, or even realistic pictures of spiders.
2. Immediate Fear Response
If you have arachnophobia, the thought of a spider in the near vicinity is just as terrifying as a spider in your hair. When you see a spider or even assume that you might see one, your anxiety and panic are likely to be immediate. However, in some arachnophobes, the presence or the assumed presence of a spider does not always provoke a panic attack. This is called the difference between a situationally bound and a situationally predisposed phobic reaction. Such individuals are more likely to experience a severe fear if they feel trapped with the spider in the same room or house.
3. Excessive Fear In Spite Of Awareness
As an adult with normal disgust or dislike for a spider, you’ll be aware of the fact that a normal spider won’t be able to hurt you. Additionally, a spider would not want to hurt you as you have the capability to kill it in no time. However, this awareness will not stop you from feeling scared and anxious if you have this phobia. Moreover, an arachnophobic child may not understand that their fear is excessive.
4. Avoiding Spiders
As an arachnophobic, you will avoid a spider at any cost. You might end up cleaning your house for hours or sleep at your friends place if you see a spider in your house. You’ll also avoid the outdoors or the basement of your house as you fear that you may run into one. Such actions may interfere with various aspects of your life, like your relationship, work, how you spend your time, thereby becoming a psychological burden.
Additionally, your fear for spiders should not be a symptom associated with another disorder, such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or panic disorder. You must be afraid of spiders for at least six months for it to be considered as arachnophobic.
Read More About Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Here
Symptoms Of Arachnophobia
The symptoms for any phobia mostly occur when a person is made to face the situation that he/she fears. In case of arachnophobia, until and unless you see a spider, the symptoms may not show up at all. However, it is possible for the symptoms to show up if you are just thinking about spiders or looking at the images of the spiders. Studies 3 reveal that many sufferers may overthink about the possibility of encountering spiders. The phobia may also lead a person to overestimate a spider’s size and girth, thereby causing physical symptoms.
Here are the most common physical and behavioral symptoms of this condition –
1. Physical Symptoms
The most observed physical symptoms associated with this phobia are:
- Feeling a sense of dizziness or lightheadedness
- Suffering from an upset stomach
- Feeling nausea
- Sweating profusely while shaking or trembling with fear
- Experiencing shortness of breath
- Increased heart rate
- Fainting out of fear
2. Behavioral Symptoms
Apart from the physical symptoms, a person with arachnophobia may also display behavioral symptoms such as:
- An unreasonable and constant fear of spiders.
- Unexplainable alertness connected to the spiders along with the obsession of checking the presence of spiders before going anywhere.
- Avoiding places where spiders can be usually found such as caves, forests, museums, or old buildings.
- Avoiding activities such as hiking and camping trips, where he/she may come across a spider.
- Avoiding places connected to a negative past experience with spiders. In such a situation, the person can also avoid certain rooms in their home to stay away from spiders.
- Difficulty with concentration and functioning at work or personal relationships
- Avoiding social gatherings.
Types Of Arachnophobia
The fear of spiders is divided into two categories- the avoider and the monitors.
1. The Avoiders
A person with this specific phobia is an ‘avoider’ when he/she cannot even dare to see or interact with a spider in any form. The person will avoid looking at the spider at any cost, even if the spider is sitting right in front of him/her. Such people will always look for ways to avoid spiders even though it is impossible to do so in reality.
2. The Monitors
People with spider phobia fall under the ‘monitor’ category when they keep a close eye on the spider or constantly keep checking for the spider. They find it extremely difficult to keep their eyes off the spider but continue to monitor even if the task fosters a sense of fear, panic and disgust.
If you are unable to recognize your type, understand your behavioral pattern around the spider. Think about your actions and accordingly decide the category that suits your actions the most.
Causes Of Arachnophobia
Although the exact causes of onset are still unclear, here are some possible factors that can lead to the development of such specific phobia –
1. Evolutionary Theory
According to evolutionary theory 4, people develop spider phobia due to an emerged preparation of dealing with potential threats. An examination 5 was carried out on a group of 6-months old infants to test whether arachnophobia is inherent in nature. These 6-month old infants were presented with images of birds, flowers, birds, snakes and spiders by the researchers. Upon viewing the images of spiders and snakes, the infants’ pupils dilated, which in turn indicated their fear towards such creatures. The theory also suggests that this phobia was a survival method for our ancestors. Since most spiders are poisonous or deadly, a fear of spiders may have made humans more likely to survive and reproduce.
2. Social Theories
Another theory suggests that the fear of spiders in humans is learned. For example, the media or TV shows often describe spiders as scary and potentially dangerous. Additionally, as a child, if you grow up in an environment where the elders or your parents are scared of spiders, this may lead to learned behavior 6, thereby developing the same fear in you as well.
3. Traumatic Past Experience
Phobias often originate or arise from negative past experiences. Hence, it is likely that the fear of spiders has developed due to some negative past experiences with such arthropods. You may develop a fear of spiders from an unpleasant or a traumatic experience with a spider in the past. With time, this fear of spiders may develop into arachnophobia. The condition is linked to intense anxiety disorders, which may be genetic or may have possibly developed from a particular environment.
4. Cultural Background
Some experts also theorize that the fear of spiders is inspired by one’s cultural background. For example, in certain regions of Africa, large spiders are feared. However, in South Africa, where spiders are eaten, people may feel unafraid of them.
Diagnosis Of Arachnophobia
Arachnophobia does not usually require a formal diagnosis from a doctor as phobias are more or less often self-diagnosable. However, it is a wiser decision to seek professional help to enable you to work through your spider phobia. Consider asking yourself a few questions that may help you to understand whether the fear is interfering with your day to day activities.
- Is the fear of spiders making it difficult for you to go outdoors?
- Is it getting in the way of your work?
- Is it affecting your social life?
- Is it stopping you from spending time with your loved ones?
- Does the fear of spiders keep you awake at night?
- Are you not able to stop thinking about spiders?
If the answer to these questions is ”yes”, you may consider seeing a psychotherapist who can help with your spider phobias. However, to diagnose the condition as arachnophobia, the symptoms should be occurring for more than six months and it should be intense enough to disrupt your daily life activities and needs. However, if the fear is not serious enough to cause any disturbance in your daily life, then you may not require visiting a doctor.
Criteria Of Specific Phobia As Per DSM-5
However, it must be noted that fear and phobia are not the same things. Hence, your therapist or any other mental health professional will have to consult the DSM-5 and diagnose arachnophobia based on diagnostic criteria for specific phobia –
- The person shows excessive or unreasonable, persistent and intense fear aroused by a specific object or situation.
- The fear must look out of proportion when compared to the actual danger and develops almost immediately when presented with the object of fear or situation.
- The sufferer takes every possible step to avoid the object or situation of fear or endures it with extreme distress.
- The phobia notably negatively affects the person’s school, work, or personal life.
- The duration of symptoms of any specific phobia must last for at least six months.
- Various anxiety disorders have similar traits. Therefore, the therapist should rule out other disorders before diagnosing a specific phobia.
Treatment Of Arachnophobia
Specific phobias such as arachnophobia are relatively easier to treat when compared to the complex phobias. Chances are high that with age, symptoms of arachnophobia may decrease than what it was during childhood. The treatment for arachnophobia may be in the form of therapy or medication, depending on severity of symptoms and the requirement of the individual.
Here are the most common and effective treatment approaches for this condition –
Studies 7 have found that behavioral therapy based treatment can prove effective for treating spider phobia, especially in children. Here are some therapy approaches widely recommended by healthcare professionals –
Read More About Therapy Here
A. Exposure Therapy
Exposure therapy is the process where the concerned person is gradually exposed to his/her phobia, in this case, it is a spider. A study 8 said that making the concerned person watch arachnid or insect-themed superhero movies, like “Spider-Man or Ant-Man” can help reduce phobic symptoms. A type of exposure therapy is called flooding. Here, the person is directly exposed to his/her phobia by the therapist until the person’s anxiety decreases.
Hypnotism is also said to help a person overcome arachnophobia. Hypnotherapy 9 uses relaxation techniques to provoke a state of focused attention. The therapist will then use techniques and guided representation to help reduce phobia. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support the effectiveness of this treatment.
C. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
In cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), the therapist will work with the patient to help him/her overcome their fearful thoughts. CBT techniques are one of the most effective treatments for specific phobias. A recent 2021 study states “Cognitive behavioral therapy has been identified as an effective treatment for specific phobias,” like arachnophobia.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on arresting the negative, unconscious thoughts that are connected to the feared object or situation, replacing them with more rational thoughts. A person may consider CBT weekly, in a group, or in the form of a one-to-one session. One can also take an accelerated course which involves daily sessions.
Read More About Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Here
Medications do not treat arachnophobia directly, however, they may help improve the anxiety symptoms to a large extent. While these medications won’t treat spider phobia directly, it’s possible to see improved anxiety symptoms overall. Options for medications include:
- Supplements for anxiety
For better results, a combination of therapy sessions and medication may be used to treat arachnophobia. Relaxation techniques such as meditation can also be effective in the treatment of arachnophobia.
Read More About Antidepressants Here
How To Overcome Arachnophobia
Here are some self-help coping strategies that can help you overcome your fear of spiders –
1. Learn More About Spiders
Spider phobia can also develop owing to some misconceptions about spiders in a person’s mind. Hence, to help yourself to overcome this phobia, read up some materials on spiders. The first thing that you’ll learn is that spiders rarely bite until and unless they feel threatened and rarely, spider bite can cause an allergic reaction. Very few spider bites are venomous or dangerous as most of the bites are harmless.
Also, it must be noted that spiders in general (including the much-feared black widow and brown recluse) bite only when they feel trapped between your skin and another object. Also, there are more than 63,000 species of spiders in the world and only 2% of them are dangerous.
2. Build A Healthy Environment
Make sure to store firewood outside your house to avoid bringing spiders into the house. Place well-fitted screens on your doors and windows to stop the entrance of spiders in your house along with sealing any cracks wherever possible. Avoid keeping rocks or lumber right outside your house as spiders are found in such areas and keep your attic and garage free of spider webs.
3. Talk It Out To Feel Less Stressed
Discuss your fear with your close ones and inform them about your treatment. Ask your health care provider to prescribe a professional who can assist you overcome your arachnophobia.
4. Write Down You Fear
Figure out your negative beliefs and thought patterns about spiders that make your anxiety worse and write down the same in a journal or a diary. This way you can pick out specific beliefs and repetitive thoughts that are misleading and replace them with positive thoughts. Think about such positive beliefs catering to the spider repeatedly to change your thought pattern about spiders over time.
5. Lifestyle Changes
Adopt better lifestyle changes such as working out regularly and maintaining a healthy diet to reduce your anxiety along with the symptoms of the phobia.
The key to overcoming such phobia is commitment. Take small yet firm steps and continue it repeatedly until the fear goes away. Only once the fear lessens with the first step, you can move on to the second step for your well being. It must be noted that spiders are not as dangerous or fatal as it is perceived to be and seeking the truth is one of the best ways to overcome arachnophobia.
Arachnophobia is a form of specific phobia that can arise anytime during a person’s lifetime. However, there are ways to cope with arachnophobia and prevent it from interfering with your life. Therapy is the most efficient path to deal with spider phobias. The sooner you work to fight your phobias, the better you will feel. However, overcoming arachnophobia is not an overnight trick. It is a time taking process which will require complete commitment.
Arachnophobia At A Glance
- Arachnophobia is the phobia of spiders
- Being a clinical phobia, it is different from the common dislike of spiders.
- Like other phobias, its symptoms involve nausea, breathing problems, fainting, avoiding outdoor activities, etc.
- Its causes are attributed to past negative experiences associated with spiders, cultural influence, learnt behavior, etc.
- Most of the time, the excessive fear of spiders decreases with age.
- It is also easily treatable by a number of therapies, medication, and self-help coping techniques.
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- Hinze, J., Röder, A., Menzie, N., Müller, U., Domschke, K., Riemenschneider, M., & Noll-Hussong, M. (2021). Spider Phobia: Neural Networks Informing Diagnosis and (Virtual/Augmented Reality-Based) Cognitive Behavioral Psychotherapy-A Narrative Review. Frontiers in psychiatry, 12, 704174. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyt.2021.704174
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