Arachnophobia is the irrational fear of spiders and other arachnids, such as scorpions. This is one of the most common phobias that exists, along with glossophobia (fear of public speaking), claustrophobia (fear of confined spaces), and acrophobia (fear of heights), among others. Most spiders are not lethal, yet the minuscule amount that are toxically venomous to humans is enough to make most people uncomfortable around them.
There are around approximately 40,000 spiders that exist in the world today, with about 3,000 living in North America. This is not good news for someone suffering from arachnophobia as these 8 legged arachnids can be found in most areas, rural and urban. Thus, making them somewhat difficult to avoid.
According to the Journal of Experimental Psychology, a study done in 2001 found that people could detect images of spiders among images of flowers more quickly than they could detect images of flowers among images of spiders. The researchers suggested that this was likely due to the evolutionary adaptation ingrained in most humans that fearing spiders is important for survival.
According to ExploreIt.org, the black widow and recluse spiders have very toxic venom that can be life threatening to humans. Some wolf spiders in South America, and some running spiders found around the world have venom that causes painful symptoms in humans. In Australia, there are between 50-100 venomous species of spiders at least two of which can be life threatening to humans, the red-back and the Sydney funnel-spider. It is reasons such as these that may cause some people to develop full blown arachnophobia, as well as most people agreeing that spiders in general look grotesque and creepy.
Symptoms of Arachnophobia
Someone suffering from arachnophobia will find it extremely difficult being near spiders or even thinking about them. Doing so will likely give them immense amounts of unwanted anxiety which may even cause them to panic. They may get goosebumps when around a spider and their heart may begin to beat faster. Essentially, their body’s physiology may begin to enter into a fight or flight state.
People with arachnophobia may try to avoid spiders at all costs by limiting the amount of time they spend being outside or in wooded areas. They may excessively spray poison around their home, as well as inside all rooms to ensure that any spiders in the house parish. Though this may accomplish their goal, such a behavior can also pose a risk to the quality of air they are breathing in their home.
Someone with arachnophobia may go to extreme measures such as spraying bug poison around each of the four posts of their bed before they go to sleep each night. They may choose to only live in the cities. They may also be hyper-aware of their surroundings in any given moment.
Below, you will see some more common symptoms of arachnophobia:
Intense anxiety when around spiders
Anxiety when thinking of spiders
Avoiding areas where spiders may be
Excessively spraying bug poison
Overly-aware of their environment
Muscle tension, sweating, and shaking
May experience panic attacks
Causes of Arachnophobia
Genetics and environmental factors are likely to be the causes of arachnophobia, though this is not definitive. Genetics play a significant role in the development of most mental disorders, including phobias. So, if someone were to have a family history of mental illness, especially of anxiety disorders, then they may have a higher chance of developing arachnophobia. This would likely be due to them also having a higher chance of being genetically predisposed to developing mental illness in general.
If someone were to have such a genetic predisposition, then it may only take them experiencing some sort of traumatic event for them to develop full blown arachnophobia. For example, someone may develop an intense fear of spiders due to them being bit by one or by walking into a large spider web. Such events are often very unsettling for most people, and for some, it can be enough for them to develop arachnophobia insofar as they have the genetic makeup to allow such a disorder to develop.
Though we do not definitively know what causes arachnophobia to develop, there is a consensus among most mental health professionals that both genetics and one’s environment play very significant roles. So, taking a closer look at these two different parameters may help give you a better understanding as to whether or not you are at risk for developing this phobia.
Arachnophobia Treatments (abridged)
Exposure therapy is likely to be one of the most common and effective forms of treatment for someone suffering from arachnophobia. Exposure therapy works by having the therapist gradually expose the patient to that which they fear over a given period of time. So, they may show the patient a picture or a video of a spider to evoke fear within the patient. Gradually, over time, she will be able to expose the patient to more intense stimuli, such as actually seeing a spider in real life or even touching one.
Though such a treatment will give the patient a large amount of anxiety, the goal is for them to become desensitized to their fear by being repetitively exposed to it. Theoretically, the more someone is exposed to something they fear, the less it will bother them over time. This is the goal of exposure therapy. Also, it is very important to make sure that the therapist implementing this form of therapy is very adept and experienced at doing so as if exposure therapy is not used correctly, it can have counterproductive effects and can even worsen their arachnophobia as opposed to improving it.
Anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication may also be beneficial for someone suffering from arachnophobia. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor to ensure that it is safe and necessary to do so.
If you think you may have arachnophobia or if you are suffering from some of the symptoms outlined in this article, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated. Upon seeing him, he may refer you to see a specialist such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist for further treatment.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Arachnophobia
MBSR is an 8-week evidence-based program that offers secular, intensive mindfulness training to help people who are suffering from anxiety, stress, depression, and other sorts of mental anguish. MBSR may be able to significantly help someone who is suffering from arachnophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with arachnophobia can expect to learn a plethora of different skills that can help them to relieve the intense anxiety that’s associated with their specific phobia.
Talk to your doctor or therapist to see if MBSR can help you to reduce the intensity of your symptoms of arachnophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Arachnophobia
CBT is a psycho-social intervention that aims to improve one’s mental health. It is a modality that is often used to treat people suffering from anxiety disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder and OCD. Someone with arachnophobia may also be able to benefit from CBT as well seeing as how it would allow them to have a much better understanding as to why they think and behave the way they do in relation to their irrational fears.
CBT can be immensely helpful for someone with arachnophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with arachnophobia is exposed to their fear, they will almost always have an instantaneous subconscious reaction to their fear. Such a lack of introspection is likely a large part of why someone with this condition will suffer to the extent that they will. CBT can help you to take a step back and analyze your fears more deeply than you typically would.
Besides learning to be more fastidious with regards to understanding one’s specific fears, someone with arachnophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.
Psychiatric Medications for Arachnophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe arachnophobia due to the fact that people with phobias often experience panic attacks as well. Some common anti-anxiety medications include Xanax, Valium, and Klonopin, among many others.
These types of drugs are not typically taken on a daily basis, but they may be insofar as their arachnophobia is severe enough. However, this is something that you should first discuss with your doctor before you decide to do so to ensure that it is safe and effective.
These types of medications aren’t only for people who suffer from depression as they can also help people suffering from anxiety disorders as well, such as arachnophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of arachnophobia.
These types of drugs are typically taken on a daily basis. They can indeed help prevent panic attacks from occurring, but they are more so used to help reduce people’s daily anxiety. Talk to your doctor to see if taking antidepressants can help to reduce your symptoms of arachnophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.
Meditation Techniques for Arachnophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from arachnophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimeous state. There are many different ways with which you can implement mindfulness meditation and there are also many different meditation apps which are designed to make things as easy as possible for you.
Mindfulness has the potential to significantly help those suffering from arachnophobia due to how it will help one to distract themselves from their fear by refocusing their attention onto something else that does not have any sort of emotional baggage attached to it, such as by focusing on the breath for example. This is one of the most basic ways that one can meditate and be present.
For someone with arachnophobia in the midst of a panic attack, redirecting one’s attention to the various sensations felt when breathing can actually help to reduce the amount of mental anguish experienced during such an influx of anxiety.
To implement mindfulness meditation to help relieve one’s symptoms of arachnophobia, you can do so by paying close attention to the way the muscles in your abdomen and chest contract and relax with every inhale and exhale. You can spend time dwelling on how it feels as your chest expands during each inhale and how it sinks in with every exhale.
Besides focusing on your breathing, you can also focus on the sounds around you, the way your skin feels as you touch certain objects, the way foods taste, as well as the way certain aromas smell. Essentially, honing into your 5 senses can significantly help you to reduce some of the anxiety that is associated with arachnophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Consuming Less Caffeine for Arachnophobia
It is no secret that consuming large amounts of caffeine throughout the day can aid in making you more anxious. This makes sense when we look closely at how caffeine affects our body’s physiology. When we consume a high dose of caffeine, our heart will start to beat faster and we become more tense. Essentially, our body will begin to go into a “fight or flight” state of mind. Such a frame of mind is often a precursor for someone with arachnophobia to experience panic attacks.
So, consuming little to no caffeine throughout the day may be able to significantly help reduce your day to day anxiety. Although doing so will likely not make all of your anxiety go away, it will indeed help you to reduce any unnecessary suffering that you would have otherwise experienced if you were to consume a large amount of caffeine.
Beverages like coffee and tea are often high in caffeine, as well as some energy drinks. In fact, even some foods have caffeine in them as well, such as dark chocolate. Being more conscious of your daily caffeine consumption may help you to reduce some of the symptoms associated with arachnophobia.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Arachnophobia
DBT is a very effective form of treatment for people struggling with emotion regulation. It is often used to treat people suffering from borderline personality disorder. Nevertheless, it can also be very advantageous for someone suffering from anxiety disorders like arachnophobia too. This is due to the numerous amount of coping skills you can expect to learn in a DBT group. These groups typically last about 6 months long and can have anywhere from two people to several people depending on how many join the group.
One very effective DBT skill for helping someone with arachnophobia is half-smiling. This technique works by having you think about that which you fear or upsets you all while slightly raising the corners of your mouth by lightly smiling, thus the term “half-smiling.” Although, it isn’t enough to just think about your fear while half-smiling, you also have to try and refrain from entertaining those painful emotions that your specific fear may evoke.
Mindfulness meditation is also heavily used in DBT and can greatly benefit someone with arachnophobia as it is done in a group setting, which helps to put the patient out of their comfort zone. These group mindfulness practices may include drinking warm tea to hone in on the sense of taste and tactile senses or simply focusing on the breath.
Coping ahead is another very useful DBT skill that can help someone with arachnophobia. With coping ahead, you will want to find a place where you can sit down quietly without distraction. Close your eyes and then think about the many different possible scenarios where you would face your specific fear and overcome it or cope with it. Doing so will help you to be much better adept at coping with your arachnophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Exposure Therapy for Arachnophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as arachnophobia. It can be an efficient way to help desensitize the patient to their specific fears. Be that as it may, it is imperative that the therapist implementing it on their patient is very adept at doing so. For example, if the therapist were to slightly expose someone with arachnophobia to their fear, then it may not be very effective as they may need a higher amount of exposure to truly trigger any sort of worthwhile change in the patient.
The same can be said for the antithesis of this scenario. If the therapist were to excessively expose someone with arachnophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their arachnophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with arachnophobia has a very strong sense of just how severe their symptoms are so that they can know the level of exposure that the patient will likely be able to handle.
Working Out for Arachnophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including arachnophobia. Specifically, cardiovascular exercise can significantly help to relieve one’s stress. This is not to say that weight-resistance training would not benefit someone with anxiety, but rather that aerobic exercise is has been shown to be more effective at releasing those feel good chemicals in the brain, such as endorphins.
According to the American Psychology Association, exercise can help to condition the mind to better cope with stressful situations. This makes sense when we take into consideration the high amount of stress that the body is put under during strenuous exercise. So, if you yourself are sedentary, then engaging in some form of aerobic exercise may be able to significantly help reduce your symptoms of arachnophobia by making it much easier for you to cope with the anxiety and stress that’s associated with this condition.
There are many different aerobic modalities that you can partake in to help reduce your symptoms of arachnophobia, such as swimming, biking, skiing, walking, and jogging. You can also acquire the many benefits of exercise by playing sports such as tennis, soccer, basketball, and racquetball, among many other sports. Engaging in some form of exercise consistently may be able to help relieve some of the pain associated with arachnophobia over time.
Yoga Practice for Arachnophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from arachnophobia. In part, this is due to the meditative state of mind that yoga tends to emit in those who practice it on a consistent basis. Yoga can be thought of as meditation in motion. It can help to relieve some of the anxiety associated with arachnophobia due to the mere fact that by engaging in yoga, your attention will be redirected to something more productive.
There are many different types of yoga that someone with arachnophobia can benefit from, such as hatha yoga or hot yoga, among many others. Nevertheless, regardless of the many different forms of yoga that exist, virtually all of them can help to relieve some of the stress and anxiety that is associated with arachnophobia.
If you have never practiced yoga before, then it may be in your best interest to take a class or watch some guided videos that can help you through each pose. Just like with meditation, the more you practice yoga, the more adept you will become at it. Besides helping you to reduce your symptoms of arachnophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.