If a crawly eight-legged insect, commonly known as a spider scares you and appears dreadful, you might be suffering from a specific anxiety response known as Arachnophobia.
For most of us, spiders appear fearful because we know that there are some species of spiders that bite and can inject poison into our bodies.
Thus, a little aversion to spiders is obvious. You may try hard to avoid meeting one of them.
However, if the fear is intense, persistent, and causes distress in your daily life, it may be considered as one of the specific phobias.
It is also known as spider phobia. If you are suffering from this mental health condition, you will immediately feel alarmed and fearful if you see a spider anywhere around you.
The insect induces an abnormal and irrational fear that restricts your everyday activities.
Let us explore more about it in this article.
What is Arachnophobia? (Fear of spiders)
Arachnophobia is an acute, severe, or intense fear of spiders and other arachnids such as scorpions, ticks, mites, etc. The fear brings anxiety responses that are overwhelming and causes disgust and an immediate aversion.
It is important to note that just being scared of a spider doesn’t mean that you are suffering from arachnophobia. Since this is a type of specific phobia; there are some parameters that qualify its existence.
If your debilitating fear is lowering your quality of life and causing a lot of emotional distress, to a point of panic; you may reconsider and delve deeper into the condition to understand whether you have arachnophobia.
Arachnophobia comes from a Greek word, ‘Arachne’ meaning spider and ‘Phobos’ meaning fear.
This condition is marked by an excessive fear of the specific object (spider) accompanied by panic, fear of being harmed, and losing control.
People who suffer from arachnophobia are said to be in constant tension and nervousness when they see or even think of a spider. Sometimes the fear of spiders elicits disgust and an unpleasant yuck factor in the person.
It brings a feeling of nausea and can restrict the person’s normal functioning.
People who suffer from arachnophobia may hate going to the basement car parking area, garage, or storeroom with the fear of meeting a spider anytime.
The fear leads to avoidance and a repetitive try of not encountering another meeting with a spider in the future.
The fear of spiders becomes a phobic reaction when the thought of a spider causes jitters in you.
It brings a lot of physical reactions and emotional symptoms that are overwhelming and do not allow normal functioning. In one way, you can say spiders consume your thoughts and regulate your emotions completely.
The condition worsens because the patient anticipates harm that is not present in reality. Thus, arachnophobia is an irrational fear that is perceived and may not be real at all.
It is a type of anxiety disorder that is laden with a lot of fear and fright.
Like any other phobic reaction, arachnophobia is much more than being scared of spiders. It may lead to several physiological and psychological symptoms that are not normal and have a negative effect on you.
Most people with arachnophobia reported anxiety, discomfort, disgust, and intolerance with the name of spider or seeing pictures of this insect in some way.
Then there are others who seem to have problems with the way a spider creeps and crawls over all the places. They feel disgusted with the movement of the insect.
The symptoms can range from mild emotional discomfort to more severe types of signs.
Most often the person deliberately avoids going to various dark corners or odd spaces where they may fear spiders might be hovering around.
Arachnophobes suffer from the constant anxiety of seeing a spider wherever they may go. This makes their normal function a big challenge for them.
There are some classic symptoms of arachnophobia that are common to everyone who is suffering from such a specific phobia.
The physical symptoms of arachnophobia resemble the symptoms of a panic attack.
However, the intensity and frequency of the symptoms vary according to the degree of suffering that the patient might be having. Some of the physical signs are mentioned below
- Feel nausea and yucky
- Dizziness, as if light-headed
- Shaking of hands and legs
- Stomach ailment
- Trembling of the entire body
- Cold hands that occurs out of excessive anxiety
- Shortness of breathing
- Crying and yelling as an instant reaction by seeing a spider
- Chest tightness
- Racing heartbeat
- Feelings of being chocked
- Skin blushing or red, hot face indicating extreme fear
- Inability to speak as if going into a mute mode
Arachnophobia is much more than just the fear of spiders. Thus it is obvious that this disorder will cause overwhelming nervousness and fear.
It will restrict you from visiting certain places. Moreover, you may feel like you are always under some serious threat, though in reality, you’re absolutely safe.
People with developing arachnophobia symptoms often overestimate danger. They may feel that they might encounter spiders at any moment and thus tries to avoid dark corners and places that were kept close for a long time.
They may feel fearful of spider bites or crawling over their body.
Some of the psychological symptoms that a person with arachnophobia suffers from are –
- Your anxiety worsens when you feel the threat looming large upon you.
- Avoiding places where spiders may be present
- May give excuses to others for not visiting such places
- Thoughts of spiders attacking and biting them
- Poor concentration levels as you may feel stuck in fear and anxiety
- Social isolation and avoiding large gatherings
- Thinking about spiders can cause immediate mental discomfort and panic
- The anxiety is out of proportion of the real threat.
- Scream and run away if you see a spider by chance, even if it is far away from you
- You may also freeze in one place out of fear and cannot move to other places
- Avoid places and corners of the house where a spider web may be seen
- You may choose to stay in the safest place and avoid going to unknown places, in case a spider appears in front of you.
Impact of arachnophobia
In case you suffer from arachnophobia, your obvious impact will be a poor quality of life. You will never feel comfortable in unknown places.
Sometimes, you will cross-check each and everything in a place to rule out the presence of a spider.
Sometimes, for a few of the patients, the sight of a spider can feel alarming. They may be consumed by their fear.
People suffering from arachnophobia are always concerned about what may happen if they have to face a spider in their daily life.
Thus, they always remain under an unknown perceptual threat that is not real. The impact of this fear is negative. These people always remain under the grip of fear and trauma.
Fear can impact your work and other daily activities. Even if you are at home, you will not be comfortable thinking that there might be a spider somewhere in the room.
You may also avoid outdoor activities such as hiking, going for picnics, or jungle safari. You will also avoid going to parks, or sitting under a tall tree.
Being afraid of spiders can affect your overall functioning. You will always feel fearful and anxious, and it will stop you from functioning normally in real-life situations.
The overwhelming anxiety can slowly lower your confidence and you may feel like a failure.
What causes arachnophobia?
The actual reason for arachnophobia is unknown. Scientists have elaborated a number of causal elements, though none of them are full-proof.
Just like any other specific phobia, the fear response that comes from encountering a spider is irrational and abnormal.
Even though there is no real and immediate threat, the person may suffer from a host of physical and emotional symptoms that cannot be justified with any reasoning.
Arachnophobia is a debilitating condition that can get worse much earlier than you might have expected.
If you have faced one or many traumatic situations with spiders, you might develop symptoms of arachnophobia.
However, the actual diagnosis will depend on the intensity of the disorder and its duration. The person has to suffer for at least 6 months to get a diagnosis of arachnophobia.
Some of the common triggers that may cause fear of spiders are as follows:
- Seeing a spider ( in a picture or in real-life situations)
- Seeing a spider web
- Scenes of crawling spiders, in a movie or elsewhere
- Thoughts about spiders
- Discussing spiders or webs that can be seen in the house.
The various causes of arachnophobia can be discussed in the following categories –
- The evolutionary theory
- Cultural factors
- Social theory
- Past experience
- Genetic factors
- Psychoanalytic factors
1. The evolutionary theory
Some theorists claimed that arachnophobia can be caused by an evolutionary reaction to spiders.
For ages, these crawling insects are seen as poisonous and harmful for humans. Thus, humans have always been aversive to spiders.
The overwhelming fear symbolizes the person’s die-heart trying to safeguard oneself from being bitten, harmed, or poisoned by a spider. As such, they always try to ensure safe environments for themselves.
The theory says that the excessive fear of spiders causes avoidance and aversion and it is just an ancient survival strategy to be in protected places and be safe.
2. Cultural/religious reasons
Some theories tried to explain arachnophobia as a culture-based fear response to objects, insects, and animals. The fear response is excessive, causing fainting, trembling, choking, dizziness, etc.
These cultures have overrated the fear of spiders and as such people born and grown up in such cultures have developed a disgust for the insect.
People belonging to such cultures have inherited the fear culturally and this has become a part of their life. In Europe, spiders are seen as disgusting, and as such, they are not welcomed at all.
Studies done in European nations have shown that fear of spiders or spider phobia is not a primal response. It is a culture-bound response that has been transferred from one generation to the other.
In Europe, arachnophobia is common because, for ages, people believed that some species of spiders are poisonous and can cause diseases like black plague and tarantism.
Thus, they teach their younger generations to avoid and kill spiders, whenever seen.
3. Social theories
This theory claims that arachnophobia is caused by observing someone facing the spider with fear and disgust.
For example: If a child sees his/her parent display fear, anxiety, and other irrational symptoms when they are around spiders, the child may also develop a similar fear response.
This is because arachnophobia has become a learned response. As spiders were always depicted as dangerous insects, people were made to believe that they are threatening.
If you grow up in a household where everyone is afraid of spiders, you’ll have a greater likelihood to develop this fear as well.
This is just learning that has come to you by social conditioning. Even if the stimulus is non-threatening, you’ll be forced to think and behave in fearful ways.
4. Past experience
If you ever had a bad experience with spiders, where the spider has bitten you or crawled over you, then the chances of aversion towards this insect become high.
You will always try to avoid the spider wherever you go, even if it doesn’t seem to pose any danger to you. Maybe, your past experience acts as a cue to safeguard yourself from harm now and also in the future.
As you do not want to be harmed and poisoned again, you’ll try to avoid the insect altogether. Maybe you are aware that your fear is illogical and baseless, but you are unable to control it.
To a certain extent, this might be all fine, but if the fear response aggravates and interferes with your daily work and activities, then probably it’s the time to consult with a mental health professional for further medical advice, guidance, and assistance.
People with arachnophobia may inspect their room all the time to hunt for some impending danger from spiders.
They suffer from a constant threat that doesn’t allow peacefulness during the day and probably hampers sleep at night.
5. Genetic factors
Some of the researches done on arachnophobia has shown that fear of spiders could be linked with genetics as well.
The study done by Graham Davey of the University of Sussex, U.K found that arachnophobia has a genetic connection and most of the fear is inherited or runs in families.
In the study, 118 participants were interviewed and tested. Out of this, 75% of patients reported that they had at least one family member who is also scared of spiders.
6. Psychoanalytic factors
Phobias may make no sense or appear weird to an outsider, yet it causes a lot of fear in people who suffer from this mental health condition.
Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis explained phobias in terms of unconscious conflicts and emotional discomfort that gets displaced onto the feared object.
Sigmund Freud first postulated the reason for developing phobias after his classic research on Hans, a little 5-year-old boy who feared horses.
Freud believed that like most other phobias, people develop arachnophobia in childhood. During childhood, the child is unable to make a difference between fear and psychological discomfort.
Thus, things that appear to be an initial discomfort may turn bad in due course of time, if timely intervention is not done.
He said that some unresolved fear of the unconscious gets displaced to seemingly unrelated objects, things, animals, and places.
Thus, specific phobias are caused by unconscious inputs that may not be directly related to the feared object.
How can you diagnose arachnophobia?
Arachnophobia can be diagnosed as a clinical disorder by using the guidelines of DSM 5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Edition 5) published by the American Psychiatric Association for specific phobias.
The clinician will go through the detailed past history of the patient through interview techniques.
The sufferer will be asked several questions about their interaction with spiders, how often the fear occurs, immediate reactions, the duration of the problem, and the various ways their condition affects their daily life.
Arachnophobia can be considered a mental disorder if the fear of spiders is intense, irrational, and uncontrollable by using self-help techniques.
- Unreasonable fear triggered by spiders
- Persistent anxiety that is out of proportion of the feared element
- Fear of spiders are causing avoidance reactions quite often
- The fear is present for the last 6 months or so
- The condition makes you self-limiting and you are not able to control it by any means
- Extreme distress and immediate anxiety response
If you are suffering from arachnophobia, the first thing that you will relate to is your constant urge to avoid such places where you may suspect a spider might be waiting for you.
The fear will make you feel as worse as possible and you might reconsider visiting a professional who can help you out resolving the issue.
Your health care person will assess your condition and see the significant distress that the fear is bringing in your life.
If the fear is an overwhelming response to the stimulus, (spiders); then they will either start a psychotherapeutic plan alone or in combination with anti-anxiety medications.
It is a well-known fact that specific phobias are best treated with psychotherapy and individual counseling. Arachnophobia treatment also follows the same pattern.
Sometimes, anti-anxiety medications are given along with therapy to manage symptoms and reduce the mental restlessness of the patient.
Some of the best treatment procedures for arachnophobia are mentioned below.
- Cognitive behavior therapy
- Exposure therapy
- Virtual therapy
- Relaxation techniques
- Other forms of therapy
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
One of the best and widely used treatments for arachnophobia is CBT. This psychotherapeutic method is practiced by a licensed psychologist.
The aim is to help the patient manage symptoms and learn better ways of coping with fear.
If you are suffering from arachnophobia, your health care professional may ask you to alter the way you think and feel positively about the feared object. This is done by changing your perspectives about spiders.
During the CBT session, you will be guided in the following ways
- You will be asked to discuss your symptoms and describe all your feelings
- Your therapist will help you to develop a better insight into your problem
- The way you respond while in a state of fear will be discussed with you in detail. All the irrational thoughts that have clouded your thoughts will be cleared off
- You will be taught to recognize your negative thoughts, and re-evaluate your feelings
- Use various rational problem-solving skills to reduce the fear response and feel in control of yourself
- In CBT sessions, you will learn to keep your mind calm by focusing on the positive thoughts. Your focus will be channelized in learning adaptive behaviors and coping skills when you’re in grip of fear.
A common treatment for arachnophobia is exposure therapy. In this method, the person is exposed to a series of small, gradual, and self-paced exposures to the feared insect.
For example, your therapist may ask you to pay a visit to the storeroom or see behind the curtains of a less used room.
This method records your immediate response and helps you unlearn those maladaptive behaviors that are disturbing.
The technique helps you to relax, controls your breathing rate, and helps you gain insight into the irrationality of the fear.
Repeated exposure therapy helps you to face the feared situation confidently. It also helps you to realize that spiders are not dangerous until and unless you are in a real dire situation.
Usually, exposure therapy involves a structured plan of action that aims to manage symptoms in the best possible way.
The procedure involves breathing exercises and a gradual move towards the feared element.
People with arachnophobia often get scared when they see pictures or videos involving spiders. However, exposure therapy can help to come out of such an irrational fear.
During exposure therapy, the patient can expect the following things:
- Recalling the feared experience in detail
- Looking at the images of spiders or seeing videos of people encountering spiders confidently
- Exposure to real-life situations where spiders are present
The aim is to gradually expose you to spiders and desensitize the intensity of your fear response slowly and steadily.
A number of computer-generated simulations have been developed to treat specific phobias. Virtual reality therapy is one of them that is also used for treating arachnophobia.
Here, the patient is exposed and made to interact with the spider (phobic object) on the computer screen. The immediate reactions of the patient are recorded.
The advantage of virtual reality therapy is, the patient is slowly exposed to the feared stimulus by increasing the degree of feared simulations to counteract the real fear of spiders.
Variable success rates have been reported by patients. However, scientists believe that virtual therapy is a cutting-edge method to treat arachnophobia.
In this method, the patient is exposed to scenes of spiders coming towards them, crawling on their bodies, etc. the purpose is to expose them in a safe and controlled environment with a lesser degree of threat.
The phobia can be overcome slowly because the patient develops an insight into their levels of anxiety and learns to cope with it effectively.
Sometimes patients are prescribed anti-anxiety drugs to help them calm down and relax. It also puts them in deep sleep and helps to manage the symptoms well.
The medication is the second line of treatment that is followed with psychotherapy to help patients manage their symptoms in a better way.
The common medicines that are given are sedatives, beta-blockers, tranquilizers, etc.
Apart from all the above-mentioned treatment plans, patients are motivated to do some lifestyle changes and improve their overall health.
This is done by helping them use yoga and guided meditation to relax and improve their quality of life.
Scientific study findings have revealed that mediation and calming mental exercises help to reduce fear and anxiety.
Mindfulness meditation helps the patient to focus their thoughts in the present moments. They are taught not to think about past experiences that were disturbing.
The aim is to keep stress away and help remove the negative thoughts of meeting a spider any moment now. The constant fear of meeting a spider can be upsetting and puts the patient in a state of fear and alarm.
During meditation, the patient travels to a calmer, more relaxed state of mind that is less reactive and more adaptive by nature.
Other therapy methods
Hypnosis, supportive therapy, and family therapy may be useful in the treatment of arachnophobia. Hypnosis is used to enhance the therapist’s suggestion that the phobic object (spider) is not dangerous.
Self-hypnosis can be taught to the patient as a method of relaxation when confronted with the phobic object.
Supportive psychotherapy and family therapy are often useful in helping the patient actively face the phobic object during treatment.
Not only can family therapy enlist the aid of the family in treating the patient, but it may also help the family understand the nature of the patient’s problem.
How to overcome arachnophobia? (Self-help tips)
People suffering from arachnophobia may use some of the self-help tips discussed below to manage their physical and emotional symptoms.
These methods are safe and can be done easily to reduce the immediate fear response and boost the self-confidence of the person.
If you are being bothered too much by the psychological presence of spiders in your life, and feel uncontrolled at times, you may try out these simple ways to keep your anxiousness in check.
- You can do a deep breathing exercise to calm down and relax
- Use of progressive muscle relaxation can help to reduce and control the physical symptoms of arachnophobia
- Eating a healthy and balanced diet is important for keeping yourself fit and fine
- Follow a good sleep pattern
- You can join a support group of similar sufferers and learn good coping skills through mutual discussion.
Quick facts about Arachnophobia
Some of the quick facts about arachnophobia are as follows:
- Arachnophobia is much more than just the fear of spiders.
- It can trigger fear and anxiety even if there is no spider present in front of the person.
- Thinking about spiders can rob a good night’s sleep
- Arachnophobia leads to extreme avoidance and inspection tendencies
- People suffering from arachnophobia shows an abnormal fear response marked by screaming and yelping
- Arachnophobia may appear irrational to others, but for the sufferer, the fear is real and life-like even without the presence of a stimulus.
When to see the doctor?
It’s time to see a psychiatrist or a mental health professional if your fear is intensifying day by day and you’re unable to function normally.
Most patients visit doctors when the fear gets out of control and starts to surface in daily life situations.
When your fear consumes your thoughts and makes you feel overwhelmed and irritable, seek immediate help to cope up with your struggles.
The therapist helps you to manage the symptoms and unlearn the maladaptive behaviors with a systematic health plan that is individualized and can be undertaken according to your convenience.
Prognosis of arachnophobia
The rate of recovery from arachnophobia is promising. Like many other specific phobias, arachnophobia is a treatable condition.
The likely course of the disorder shows significant improvement with CBT and medication. Within a few weeks, patients show signs of improvement.
They get into a much better position to handle their fear and anxiety.
Summing Up from ‘ThePleasantMind’
Arachnophobia is an extraordinary fear that is unrealistic and irrational. The level and intensity of fear response don’t match with the actual threat. Thus, it is known specific phobia, animal type.
Just remind yourself that like many other types of phobia, arachnophobia is treatable with patience and tenacity.
There is no overnight magic that is going to reduce your symptoms, but with your support and help, you can actually make it. With timely treatment and your commitment, you can win over your fear in the best possible way.
Are you interested to know more about ‘Germaphobia’ then click here?
A Psychologist with a master's degree in Psychology, a former school psychologist, and a teacher by profession Chandrani loves to live life simply and happily. She is an avid reader and a keen observer. Writing has always been a passion for her, since her school days. It helps to de-stress and keeps her mentally agile. Pursuing a career in writing was a chance occurrence when she started to pen down her thoughts and experiences for a few childcare and parenting websites. Her lovable niche includes mental health, parenting, childcare, and self-improvement. She is here to share her thoughts and experiences and enrich the lives of few if not many.