Zoophobia (Fear of Animals)
Zoophobia is the irrational fear of animals. Someone suffering from this condition will find it extremely difficult to be around other animals. In fact, in some extreme cases, they may even experience full blown panic attacks as a result of their zoophobia, though this will vary from person to person.
People who suffer from this condition are typically not fearful of only one or two different species. People with zoophobia tend to be fearful of all animals. People who fear specific animals will typically suffer from specific phobias, such as cynophobia (fear of dogs), gatophobia (fear of cats), or arachnophobia (fear of spiders).
People suffering from zoophobia may find it extremely difficult to go out to certain places due to their intense, irrational fear of animals. This may cause them to become a recluse which may increase their risk for developing major depressive disorder. However, this will likely depend on many different factors such as their genetic makeup and environment.
Animals are everywhere and depending on where you live, avoiding them may not be practical. So, someone suffering from zoophobia may choose to live in more suburban areas and in large cities, as opposed to living in more rural areas so they can have a better chance of avoiding animals.
Though they may find that by doing so they will have less anxiety, in the long run their symptoms will likely worsen. This may be due to them consistently reassuring to themselves that all animals are worthy of being feared.
Symptoms of Zoophobia
Someone suffering from zoophobia will experience a great deal of anxiety when around animals. In fact, their fear of animals may be so intrusive that they may even experience a fight or flight state of mind by merely thinking of them. This, of course, has the potential to lead them to experience a full blown panic attack.
The intense amount of anxiety that someone with zoophobia will inevitably experience may motivate them to take extreme actions, such as moving to areas where there are little to no animals in sight, becoming very anxious around pet owner’s, and isolating themselves to the point of depression.
Someone suffering from zoophobia may find day to day life to be quite difficult as they may not be able to avoid animals, regardless of how much effort they put forth. For example, it will be very difficult to virtually impossible for someone to isolate themselves from birds, unless they are absolutely unwilling to leave their home.
Below, you will see some more common symptoms of zoophobia:
Anxiety when around other animals
Anxiety when thinking of animals
Avoiding places where animals may be
Isolating themselves from the outside world
Sweating, muscle tension, and shakiness
May experience panic attacks
Causes of Zoophobia
There are no known causes of zoophobia. However, genetics and one’s environment may play very pertinent roles. For example, someone who has a family history of mental illness, especially of anxiety disorders may have a higher chance of developing an irrational fear of animals. This may be due to them also having a higher chance of being genetically predisposed to developing mental illness.
If someone were to have such a genetic predisposition, then all it may take for them to develop zoophobia could be experiencing some sort of traumatic event. For example, it is very plausible to conceive that a young child who was attacked or frightened by an animal may grow up to develop zoophobia due to the incident insofar as they had the genetic predisposition to develop this phobia.
It may also be possible for someone to develop an irrational fear of animals due to them already suffering from a separate anxiety disorder or phobia. For example, someone suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may develop zoophobia more easily than someone who doesn’t have such a history with mental illness. However, this will vary from person to person.
Though we do not definitively know what causes every mental illness, 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 things may shed some light as to whether or not you are at risk for developing zoophobia.
Zoophobia Treatments (abridged)
Someone suffering from an irrational fear of animals may greatly benefit from exposure therapy. This form of therapy is very common for people suffering from phobias. Exposure therapy works by having the therapist slowly expose the patient to their fear over a specified amount of time.
Though exposing the patient to their fear will give them an influx of unwanted anxiety, the goal with exposure therapy is to try and desensitize the patient to their fear by repetitively exposing them to it. Theoretically, the more someone is exposed to something they fear, the less it will bother them over time.
With regards to zoophobia, the therapist may try to expose the patient to their fear of animals by showing them pictures or videos of animals. The therapist may also bring in a very small animal insofar as it is safe to do so and if the patient is psychologically ready and willing to do so.
Anti-anxiety medication and/or antidepressants may also be very advantageous for someone suffering from zoophobia. These drugs may be able to help reduce the intensity of some of their symptoms. However, merely taking medication alone without also engaging in some form of exposure therapy or talk therapy may not be a very effective treatment strategy in the long-term as the patient will need to acquire the necessary skills to free themselves from their fear of animals.
If you feel as though you may have zoophobia or if you are suffering from some of the symptoms of this disorder, then you should talk to your doctor as soon as you can so that you can be properly diagnosed and treated. Upon seeing your doctor, he may refer you to see a specialist such as a psychologist or a psychiatrist for further treatment.
Exercise for Zoophobia
Exercise has been shown to be extremely beneficial for people suffering from anxiety disorders, including zoophobia. 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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia, 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 zoophobia over time.
Practicing Yoga for Zoophobia
There are numerous different yoga poses that can substantially benefit someone who is suffering from zoophobia. 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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia.
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 zoophobia, you can also expect to acquire increased strength and flexibility, among other benefits.
Reducing Caffeine for Zoophobia
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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia.
Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) for Zoophobia
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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia. 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 zoophobia when you are actually exposed to the specific fear associated with it in real life.
Psychiatric Medications for Zoophobia
These types of medications are very useful to help prevent panic attacks. Such drugs can be extremely useful for people suffering from severe zoophobia 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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia. Some common antidepressants are Paxil, Zoloft, and Lexapro, among several others. These drugs may be able to help reduce some of the symptoms of zoophobia.
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 zoophobia, as well as whether or not it is safe to do so.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for Zoophobia
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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia given the sheer automaticity of their symptoms. For example, when someone with zoophobia 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 zoophobia engaging in CBT can also expect to learn various other skills aimed at helping to relieve the anxiety caused by their condition.
Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) for Zoophobia
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 zoophobia as mindfulness meditation has been shown to be very beneficial for anxious people. In such a structured program, someone with zoophobia 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 zoophobia, as well as where to find MBSR programs in your area.
Practicing Meditation for Zoophobia
There are many different forms of meditation that exists which can be very advantageous for someone suffering from zoophobia. 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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia, 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 zoophobia. Also, remember that it will take a lot of practice to become an adept meditator. So, practice is key.
Exposure Therapy for Zoophobia
As previously mentioned, exposure therapy is one of the most common ways to treat anxiety disorders such as zoophobia. 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 zoophobia 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 zoophobia to their fear, then doing so could be highly counterproductive to the point to where their zoophobia may become immensely worse due to the therapy alone. So, it is paramount that the therapist implementing exposure therapy for someone with zoophobia 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.