What is Arachnophobia

What is Arachnophobia

Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders. Read on to learn more about this common phobia.
PsycholoGenie Staff
The itsy bitsy spider went up the water spout.
Down came the rain, and washed the spider out.
Up came the sun, and dried up all the rain,
and the itsy bitsy spider went up the spout again
- Nursery rhyme

If you read this rhyme and find yourself sweaty and anxious, at the thought of a spider, you may be suffering from arachnophobia. Harry Potter fans will remember Ron Weasley, who's deepest fear is spiders, and is horrified on meeting Aragog, the giant spider. Now, no one would like to meet a 10 foot, hairy, talking spider, but with arachnophobia, even the small, household spider is likely to send you into a panic attack. In this article, we examine arachnophobia, its causes, symptoms and treatment.

Arachnophobia, from the Greek word arachne (spider) and phobos (fear), is a phobia or fear of spiders and other arachnids like scorpions. People who suffer from this fear are called arachnophobes. A phobia is not a simple case of dislike, but actual, paralyzing fear, where the person is convinced he is in mortal danger. Even a picture or a toy spider can freak out an arachnophobe, who might run around in a panic and scream his / her lungs out or faint.

Causes of Arachnophobia
What instills fear inside us? An unpleasant encounter, a scary story, our parents. Arachnophobia can be caused by a childhood incident with spiders. Maybe you were bitten by one or while running in the yard, you ran into a web. Maybe you were trapped in a closet with one, inching towards you and crawling onto you. Even another person's bad experience with spiders is enough to drill some fear into you. Watching the movie "Arachnophobia", where deadly spiders kill off an entire town, can give the most jaded, creepy crawly nightmares.

Your parent's insistence to stay away from spiders may have exaggerated the actual spider in your eyes to some sort of gargantuan beast, and hence, the fear lives on with you. Experts say cultural prejudices play a role as well. European cultures have a history of arachnophobia. The myth that spiders are mysterious carriers of disease and evil, has been present since the Middle Ages. A few deadly species like the black widow spider have given the whole race a bad name. Statistics estimate that as many as 55% of females and 18% of males in Western regions, experience arachnophobia. Eastern cultures are much more tolerant of spiders. Some South American communities even include spiders in their food. Of course, you could just be born with the fear of spiders.

Arachnophobia Symptoms
As with most phobias, arachnophobes display a variety of symptoms:
  • Sweating profusely
  • Quickened heartbeat
  • Heavy breathing
  • Feeling nauseous and dizzy
According to Professor Martin Antony of the University of Toronto, Psychiatry Department, arachnophobes display two distinct types of behavior when faced with a possible spider threat: monitors and blunters. A monitor searches the entire room for the spider, and if he finds it, he "monitors" its every movement, so that he knows exactly where it is and what it's doing. A blunter however, will try his best to ignore its presence and distract himself from seeing the spider.

How to Get Over Arachnophobia
The best way to get over any fear is to confront the fear itself. That does not mean you should go spider hunting! And if you know someone who has arachnophobia, don't put spiders in their clothes to "help" them get over their fear. Start with small steps like looking at spider pictures. Avoid horror movies or "When Animals Attack!" specials.

One technique used in arachnophobia treatment is systematic desensitization. Here, the fear is broken down by the arachnophobe, who writes down scary situations with spiders and arranges them in the order of least to most frightening. They imagine dealing with the least frightening situation, and gradually progress to the more and more frightening situations. They then interact with harmless spiders, and try out the different situations. When they can hold a live spider in their hand, they have eventually conquered their fear.

Virtual reality is a technological approach to arachnophobia treatment. Patients wear a VR glove and helmet. They face computer generated spiders and can move the glove closer, to "feel" it crawling on their hand. Homeopathic and medical arachnophobia treatments are also available, where medicines are prescribed for arachnophobes to control the anxiety and stress. The fear of spiders can be conquered with the right attitude. Arachnophobia sufferers should be treated with patience and understanding. Avoid teasing and taunting them. Often, teasing scares the person for life and just increases the fear. The spider is one of nature's most complex insects, and hence, should be admired, not feared.