Fear of Spiders
The Fear of Spiders, also known as ‘arachnophobia’ is a specific phobia of spiders or other arachnids. Other arachnids include ticks, mites, and scorpions.
People experiencing arachnophobia experience significant, exaggerated, and extreme anxiety when confronted with spiders or when one simply believes they may come into contact with a spider.
But isn’t having a fear of spiders normal? Yes, to a certain degree the fear of spiders is completely normal. Most people upon seeing a spider will react in an aversive way. For example, they will either try to kill it or get as far away from it as possible. For example, when a spider is in the house, most people will agree that they do not want the spider around. Some people will kill the spider with a can of bug spray or step on it with the shoe. Others will try to get it outside, perhaps on a piece of paper or they may try to scoop the spider into a jar and release it into the garden. There are also some people who will keep the spider in the house because they tell themselves that a spider will help to keep insects away. These are all typical responses of how most people react to spiders.
However, a person experiencing arachnophobia has a fear of spiders that is greatly exaggerated in relation to the threat that most spiders realistically pose.
This fear of spiders may be related to:
- seeing a spider
- anticipating or imagining seeing a spider
- having a spider crawl on their body
- and even being bitten by a spider
- internal physical sensations (sweating, trembling, nausea, increased heart rate, etc.)
- Panic attacks upon seeing of anticipating seeing a spider
- distressing thoughts
People experiencing Arachnophobia may go to great lengths to avoid coming into contact with spiders or even avoid activities where a person believes spiders might be. They may avoid
- walking through a field
- stockpiling wood for fires,
- going outside
They tell themselves that by not engaging in these activities that they kept themselves safe. They also tell themselves that by not going that it is good, because they avoided a situation that may provoke their anxiety. The opposite is actually true. Any protective measure that a person takes to avoid the feelings of anxiety will actually make the anxiety stronger. They have also limited the quality of their life by not partaking in activities good for their quality of life.
Along with people experiencing a feeling of fear some people will also experience feelings of disgust when it comes to spiders (think about when you have noticed a slug on your hand). A person may experience one or the other, or a combination.
Other problematic behaviours arising from arachnophobia may include:
Excessive cleaning of house and car
Obsessively checking spaces where a spider might be
Most people with a spider phobia will tell themselves that if they just stay away from spiders and do not engage in activities where a spider may be that their anxiety will be OK. The main goal with exposure therapy is to gradually expose yourself to the feelings of anxiety when in the presence of spiders and over time allowing the anxiety to dissipate.
The first step will be talking about how your specific fear of spiders affects you and what kind of thoughts, images, and scenarios trigger your anxiety. Through this process you will become attuned to how your own responses to spiders make your anxiety worse rather than better. As we progress you will learn how to respond in a neutral manner, laying the groundwork for graded exposure.
Graded exposure also known as systematic desensitation is taking small tolerable steps towards actual exposure to a real-life spider. A fear hierarchy will be created to go from the least anxiety provoking situation to the most anxiety provoking, based on the client’s specific set of circumstances.
Graded exposure will trigger your anxiety but what we want to do is allow ourselves to experience the anxiety rather than to instinctually run away from it. Avoidance will only make your fears stronger over time and will make them persist for longer than what they need to. Allowing yourself to feel the anxiety without trying to resist it or run away from it will be a key component of your recovery. The idea is that over time your anxiety will naturally dissipate while in the presence of spiders and other stimuli that remind you of spiders.
Ultimately the main goal is to become habituated or desensitised to the feelings of fear and anxiety in the presence of spiders. By the end of therapy, you will be less bothered by your usual visceral response to spiders, to the point that spiders will seem boring and uneventful, like they are for most people.
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