Myrmecophobia is the irrational fear of ants. Someone who suffers from this mental illness may find it extremely difficult to go for walks on trails or be outside in unfamiliar territory due to the fear that they may come in contact with ants. Myrmecophobia is unlike pupaphobia (fear of puppets), achluphobia (fear of darkness), or sanguivoriphobia (fear of vampires) as there is no innate danger involved in these phobias. On the other hand, myrmecophobia is rooted in the reality that ants can actually be harmful in some instances.
Ant bites can be painful, but are typically not very dangerous. However, red ants and paraponera clavata (aka Bullet Ants) can be quite painful. In fact, it has been reported that the Bullet Ant, which can be found in Nicaragua and Honduras, has the most painful sting of all hymenoptera’s (e.g. ants, bees, wasps, etc.) The pain is said to be analogous to that of a gunshot wound, hence the name. The fear of getting stung by any of these painful ants may be reason enough for someone to develop myrmecophobia.
Symptoms of Myrmecophobia
People who suffer from myrmecophobia may make major life decisions based on their fear of ants, such as choosing to live in a city as opposed to a more rural area with land. If someone with myrmecophobia does live on a lot of land, they may go through painstaking efforts to treat their lawn with pesticides and may even be irrationally concerned about it. The sight of an ant may give them intense anxiety and they may react to the ant(s) as if they were a much more dangerous threat, such as a dog or a shark.
It is also important to recognize whether or not the person suffering from myrmecophobia also suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) as the may be obsessed with the idea of getting bit by ants. Such an obsession may bring forth unnecessary mental anguish and stress. In addition, the onset of another mental disorder along with myrmecophobia may shed some light as to why their symptoms are what they are.
Avoidance will be one of the most prevalent symptoms of this condition. This is the case with most phobias. Avoiding that which they fear will give them immediate relief from the painful anxiety that they would otherwise experience. However, using avoidance in the long term may be a terrible mistake as by doing so, you are reinforcing the irrational belief that ants are something to be extremely fearful of and are worthy of your fear and dread. So, avoiding may not be a good idea in the long term if you’re looking to reduce your symptoms of myrmecophobia.
Below, you will see some common symptoms of this phobia:
- Intense anxiety/dread when near ants
- Irrationally concerned with ants
- Obsessive use of pesticides
- May often stay inside or on pavement
- Anxiety when thinking of ants
Causes of Myrmecophobia
The exact causes of myrmecophobia are not known. However, genetics and one’s environment are likely to play very significant roles in someone developing this condition. People who have a family history of mental illness, especially with anxiety disorders and phobias may have a higher risk for developing myrmecophobia. Such a genetic predisposition for developing mental illness may mean that a traumatic experience is all that needs to occur for someone to develop this phobia.
For example, suppose a young child experienced the traumatizing event of being bit by hundreds of ants at a playground. The anxiety of such an event may be much more severe if they are allergic to ant bites. Such an experience can greatly impact the psyche of an adolescent and may permanently scar them by causing them to develop myrmecophobia.
Though it is not exactly known what causes myrmecophobia, genetics and personal experiences may be quite significant. This can be said for virtually all mental illnesses as well.
There is no exact treatment method for this condition. However, talk therapy and exposure therapy may be able to help. Talk therapy would work by having the patient talk about some of the underlying reasons as to why they are so fearful of ants and to try and work through the worry thoughts experienced by the patient. Along the way the patient may also learn some helpful coping skills to help them cope when they’re in the midst of a panic attack due to their myrmecophobia.
Exposure therapy may be able to help reduce the symptoms of myrmecophobia also. This form of therapy would work by slowly exposing the patient to ants. Depending on the severity of the patients myrmecophobia, the exposure therapy treatment may start off by showing the patient pictures of ants, videos of ants, and then to ultimately have them be near ants in real life with little to no irrational anxiety. Essentially, the purpose of this form of therapy is to try and desensitize the patient to that which they fear.
Medications like anti-anxiety or antidepressants may be able to help minimize your symptoms as well. However, you should realize also that medication will not teach you the behavior changes that need to be learned in order to help treat myrmecophobia for long term benefits. Medication may be helpful by making it easier for you to learn the skills taught by your therapist, as well as making it more tolerable to be exposed to ants during exposure therapy.
Remember to first talk to your doctor before you decide to take any medication.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Myrmecophobia
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 myrmecophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Myrmecophobia
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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia 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 Myrmecophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of myrmecophobia.
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 myrmecophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.
Meditation Techniques for Myrmecophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from myrmecophobia. Specifically, mindfulness meditation has been shown to be quite beneficial for helping people to enter into a more equanimous 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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia, 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 myrmecophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Consuming Less Caffeine for Myrmecophobia
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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Myrmecophobia
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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia. 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 myrmecophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Exposure Therapy for Myrmecophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as myrmecophobia. 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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their myrmecophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with myrmecophobia 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 Myrmecophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including myrmecophobia. 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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia, 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 myrmecophobia over time.
Yoga Practice for Myrmecophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from myrmecophobia. 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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia 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 myrmecophobia.
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 myrmecophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.
If you think you may be suffering from some of the symptoms of this condition, then you may benefit from therapy. Feel free to reach out to your doctor or local mental health clinic to see what your available options are and to see if there is any sort of discount or promo code available to help you with the costs of treatment, as well as if your health insurance will cover treatment costs.