Arachnophobia or the fear of spiders is the oldest and most common phobia in the Western culture. The word Arachnophobia is derived from the Greek word ‘arachne’ meaning spiders. The response to spiders shown by an arachnophobic individual may seem irrational to others and often to the sufferer himself.
Causes of Arachnophobia
Scientists who have studied this fear of spiders explain it to be a result of evolutionary selection. This means that Arachnophobia is an evolutionary response, since spiders, especially the venomous ones, have always been associated with infections and disease. Hence, the fear of spiders triggers a “disgust response” in many individuals.
A study conducted in the UK on 261 adults showed that nearly 32% women and 18% men in the group felt anxious, nervous or extremely frightened when confronted with a spider(real or images).
The exact causes of Arachnophobia are different for different people:
- For some people, it is a learned response: they learn to fear spiders after having seen others being fearful.
- An imbalance in brain chemicals may be linked with Arachnophobia
- The fear of spiders can be a family or cultural trait: many people in Africa are known to fear large spiders whereas in South Africa, where they eat spiders, most are unafraid.
- Traumatic experience in the past involving spiders is another reason for Arachnophobia.
Symptoms of Arachnophobia
Initial symptoms of arachnophobia or the fear of spiders may appear in one’s childhood or adolescence. However, following a traumatic episode, some or all of the following symptoms may be present at all ages when the sufferer is confronted with the object of the phobia, in this case, a spider.
- Rapid heart rate
- Hot or cold flashes
- Feeling of going crazy and losing control
- Chest pain
- Feeling of choking
- Inability to distinguish between reality and unreality
- Trembling sweating
- Thoughts of death
- Nausea or other gastrointestinal distress
In some arachnophobic individuals, these symptoms may be triggered merely by anticipating contact with a spider. Even the sight or mention of cobwebs can trigger such a response.
Treatment for fear of spiders
True sufferers of the fear of spiders have an extreme aversion to these creatures so much so, that their daily life may be adversely impacted. These individuals show an active need to avoid areas where spiders may be present. A combination of therapy, counseling, and medications must be used to treat this fear.
It is important that one aggressively seek out the chosen treatment for it to be effective. Medicines like benzodiazepines are helpful in reducing the intensity of the reactions in presence of spiders, but they must be used sparingly and under medical supervision. Relaxation techniques like meditation and positive reaffirmations also form an essential part of the therapy.
One of the more modern methods of treating Arachnophobia includes systematic desensitization. This is a method that has been used for treating many different phobias. The goal of gradual desensitization is to slowly eliminate one’s Arachnophobia and help the individual cope with fear. An application called Phobia Free is known to utilize this gradual exposure technique to help people overcome their fear of spiders. It is available for tablet computers and Smartphone devices. This app, which has been reviewed and approved by the NHS of UK, uses game-play and relaxation methods to help one confront spiders (or other objects of fear).
If you or someone you know is severely impacted by the fear of spiders then it is essential to seek help in order to lead a more relaxed life. It is possible to eliminate Arachnophobia but the first step is to ask for help in order to learn to cope and eliminate the fear completely.