Arachnophobia is an extreme fear of spiders and other arachnids. It is one of the more common types of phobias.
Read on to find out what can cause arachnophobia, its symptoms, and treatment options.
A specific phobia is an irrational fear of something unlikely to cause danger.
Arachnophobia means more than being scared of spiders and other forms of arachnids. It is an intense, paralyzing fear where someone actively avoids contact with spiders. This can impact a person’s day-to-day life as it restricts where they can go and what they can do.
This fear extends beyond meeting an arachnid in real life. Even mentioning or seeing pictures of spiders can trigger a fear response in people with arachnophobia.
Although someone may fear a spider’s appearance, research suggests many people primarily fear how they move.
Specific phobias, such as arachnophobia, tend to develop in childhood. Although there is no single trigger for arachnophobia, there are theories that suggest why it might develop. Some of these are:
Evolutionary theory suggests people develop arachnophobia due to an evolved preparedness in dealing with potential threats.
One study tested this to see if arachnophobia is inherent in our nature. Researchers presented a group of 6-month old infants with images of flowers, birds, spiders, and snakes. Upon seeing the pictures of spiders and snakes, the infants’ pupils dilated, which indicated their fear responses had activated.
Another theory is that people’s fear of spiders is learned. For example, the media often depicts spiders as scary and potentially dangerous.
In addition, if a person grows up in an environment where their parents are scared of spiders, this may become a learned behavior, and the child could also develop the same fear.
If a person has a previous unpleasant or traumatic experience with a spider, this may cause arachnophobia to develop.
There are several symptoms that accompany arachnophobia, and they are typically similar to those of a panic attack. Some of the physical signs include:
- increased heart rate
- breathing difficulty
A person with arachnophobia may also show some of the following behaviors:
- avoiding situations where spiders may be, such as television shows, forests, or sheds
- overestimating the chances of encountering a spider
- running, screaming, or crying if they see a spider
- becoming so scared, they freeze in place
There is no way to prevent the development of a phobia, and without treatment, they are unlikely to go away in adults.
If a person wishes to treat their arachnophobia, they could discuss possible options with a doctor, who may suggest some of the following remedies:
Exposure therapy involves gradually exposing a person to their phobia. Research continually examines the benefits of this technique for arachnophobia.
One study found watching arachnid or insect-themed superhero films can help reduce phobic symptoms.
Researchers are also looking into virtual reality to help with arachnophobia. However, more studies are needed to explore the potential benefits this may have.
Recent research suggests allowing a person to control when and the amount of exposure to the spider may lead to quicker improvements, instead of not offering them control.
A variant of exposure therapy is flooding, which is a more extreme technique. Here, a therapist immediately exposes a person to their phobia until the person’s anxiety decreases.
Some anecdotal evidence suggests that hypnotism could help people overcome their arachnophobia. However, there is a lack of scientific evidence to support this.
Hypnotherapy uses relaxation methods to induce a state of focused attention. The therapist will then use techniques and guided imagery to help reduce the phobia.
Cognitive behavioral therapy
In cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a therapist will work with the person to help them overcome their phobic thoughts.
CBT techniques may be some of the most effective treatments for specific phobias, such as arachnophobia.
A person may consider CBT weekly, in a group, or one-to-one. Alternatively, they could take an accelerated course, which involves daily sessions.
Arachnophobia is an intense and irrational fear of spiders or arachnids. People with this condition may show symptoms similar to a panic attack when presented with their fears.
Several theories may explain why someone can develop arachnophobia. This includes evolutionary threat responses, social depictions of spiders, and past trauma.
If a person wishes to treat their arachnophobia, a doctor can suggest exposure therapy, CBT, or counseling.