Phobias are anxiety disorders. Man is known to develop a fear of anything and everything and Zoophobia is one of the most common specific phobias. Research conducted on this phobia has shown that humans have a genetic predisposition to fear certain types of animals. Often animals like snakes, spiders, insects etc stimulate a disgust/fear response in us. To an extent, this fear is necessary for the survival of human species. The degree or extent to which humans fear certain animals is directly correlated to the animal’s characteristics, fear-evoking properties and their discrepancy from human form.
Surveys conducted on the fear of animals phobia have shown interesting results. These studies mainly required dividing the animals in 2 categories namely: ‘fear relevant’ and ‘fear irrelevant’ animals. Simply explained; some animals can be considered cute or harmless, others as ferocious or wild and a third category as ‘slimy or disgusting’. In majority of the countries where the survey was conducted, it was observed that the ‘disgust relevant animals’ category had a greater fear score as compared to animals in the other two categories.
Typically, people with Zoophobia tend to fear slimy animals like lizards (Scoliodentosaurophobia), frogs (Ranidaphobia), snakes (Ophidiophobia), spiders (Arachnophobia), cockroaches (Kastaridaphobia), maggots (Scoleciphobia), rats (Musophobia), worms (Vermiphobia), moths (Mottephobia) etc.
Causes of Zoophobia
Phobia of animals is common and exists all around the world. Typically it arises from a negative childhood experience involving certain animal/s. In some cases, the fear resolves on its own without any specific treatment. In other extreme cases, the phobia persists lifelong.
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Most common reason behind acquiring Zoophobia is the intense anxiety or stress that develops in the individual’s mind. This emotion manifests deep into the brain and is recalled each time the individual is placed in a stressful situation. (This typically includes being placed in the same environment as the animal the individual is afraid of).
It is essential to note that not all fear of animals can be labeled as Zoophobia. The latter is a persistent, unwarranted and irrational fear of animals no matter how non dangerous or harmless they are. In other cases, the fear of snakes and spiders can be considered as quite common and necessary.
Symptoms of fear of animals phobia
The Mayo Clinic states that the symptoms of Zoophobia might present themselves not only when the individual is faced with the object of his fears but even when s/he thinks of it. Common physical and emotional symptoms of the fear include:
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- Feeling dizzy, fainting
- Feeling like choking, dying
- Remaining frozen in place
- Experiencing an elevated heart rate
- Rapid and shallow breathing
- Sweating, trembling
- Trying to flee
- A constant movie/image runs in the phobic’s mind where he imagines being attacked by the animal.
Naturally, this phobia can be a debilitating condition to live with, as the animal or even thoughts of it can create great deal of stress in the sufferer’s mind. Some phobics even go to the extremes of refusing to leave their home for fear of encountering the animal.
Every individual suffering from Zoophobia must understand that s/he is not alone and there are millions around the world suffering from various types of Zoophobia. Thankfully, there are options for treating the phobia. Behavior therapy is one treatment that is known to be highly effective. Some doctors or psychotherapists also recommend medication for treating the intense anxiety experienced. However, these must be used as the last resort.
Gradual desensitization is another method that is known to be highly effective for treating the fear of animals. It involves subjecting the patient to pictures or images of the animal feared. Most of the times, this is done in a controlled environment so that the patient is able to handle extreme anxiety.
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Apart from sedatives and antidepressants, meditation and positive visualization are also good long term solutions to overcome the animal phobia. Talking about the fears or writing them down are also therapeutic and can help one overcome Zoophobia.