Arachnophobia is the clinical fear of spiders. This fear for some can be debilitating and can lead to anxiety which can impede their lives in some way; forcing one to miss activities or avoid certain locations.
1,500 species of spiders live in Ontario alone. People with arachnophobia do not distinguish amongst these different species.
The arachnid family includes scorpions and ticks. Some people with arachnophobia are afraid of these as well. They resemble spiders, so they may be afraid of them just because they look similar.
Fear of spiders and/or scorpions
Classification of Arachnophobia
Arachnophobia falls under several medical classifications. An anxiety disorder is a mental health condition that causes someone to feel incredible anxiety, even at innocuous things.
A phobia is a chronic and extreme fear of an animal, object, or experience. All phobias are anxiety disorders because all phobias create significant fear.
A person can have a few different kinds of phobias. A specific phobia is a fear of a particular thing. Arachnophobia is one such specific phobia.
Someone with arachnophobia may not have anxiety problems elsewhere. They may have additional phobias, but that is not always the case. They are not "sick" or "mentally ill," yet they should get help for their condition.
Signs and Symptoms of Arachnophobia
Like many mental health conditions, arachnophobia manifests differently in different people. There are some general signs that people can examine, though they should be mindful of the age of the person who has it.
In Children and Adolescents
A child may become extremely afraid when they see a spider. They may burst into tears and run away from it. They may scream and call for help, asking someone to kill the spider.
But some children show more subtle signs of anxiety. Their face may become flushed, and they start to breathe heavily. They may start to sweat along their hairline, and their hands may tremble.
Some children may complain about bad dreams they had about spiders. Others may become upset when they think about spiders or read a book with spiders in them.
The signs of arachnophobia can appear at a very young age. A person may experience more severe or different symptoms as time goes on. Some children outgrow their fear of spiders, sometimes for no apparent reason.
Adults may show extreme emotions akin to children. They may cry, scream, or run away from a spider they see.
Some adults may freeze. They may be unable to talk or move as they stare at a spider.
Physical symptoms may be more intense in adults than in children. Adults may feel like the room is changing temperature, experiencing hot or cold flashes. They may feel like their chest hurts or their throat is closing up.
Most of the symptoms of arachnophobia overlap with a panic attack. During a panic attack, a person feels extreme fear and troubling physical symptoms that may make them believe their world is caving in on them.
The symptoms also align with numerous mental health conditions. Generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder share the same signs. What distinguishes arachnophobia is that exposure to a spider triggers the symptoms and nothing else.
Causes of Arachnophobia
Arachnophobia can originate from several potential sources. One or more sources can spark the phobia in a person's mind.
A 2017 study analyzed how babies respond to animals and plants. It found that six-month-old infants expressed a higher fear response for spiders than other kinds of animals. This suggests that a fear of spiders is ingrained in human beings. More to that, the popular children's song "itsy bitsy spider", while cute, may have an effect on how children perceive spiders.
Spiders can inject poison into a person and leave bites that open the body to infection. They evolved with human beings millions of years ago. The sheer number of species means that most human beings have encountered at least one spider.
This means that it is likely that human beings have evolved to fear spiders. This minimizes the chance of receiving a poisonous or infected bite.
Fear allows human beings to escape from threats. A fast heartbeat and an increased breathing rate allow someone to run away and hide from danger. This further suggests that arachnophobia is an instinct that humans have through evolution. Another theory is that there are in fact, deadly spiders on this planet so back before we had a solid understanding of which where venomous and which were not, it makes sense that if a person died from a spider bite, who was one to assume that others weren't deadly as well? It's clear that fear like that can easily carry down through the ages.
A traumatic event may inspire fear of spiders. Someone who receives a poisonous bite from a spider may develop a fear so they do not go through the same experience again. Witnessing someone get bitten may inspire fear, especially if the person bitten was a family member.
People respond to trauma in different ways. Some people may experience a traumatic event like a bite and not become afraid of spiders. Other people may experience a seemingly harmless event that causes a phobia.
Family members can train a child to be afraid of a spider. If a child sees their parent run out of the house after seeing a spider, they will feel the encouragement to do the same thing.
Parents may not inform their children about spiders. They may do this because they think that talking about spiders will make them afraid. But this just leaves the child unprepared to encounter a spider, which can result in a phobia.
There is no one gene that creates arachnophobia in particular. But there are genes that can influence the creation of chemicals in the brain and cause someone to feel more anxious.
Someone with at least one parent who has arachnophobia is more likely to develop it themselves. This may be due to witnessing their parent's fear and replicating it themselves or due to genetics. Scientists are continuing to examine how exactly genes and mental health relate to each other.
Many people feel disgusted when they look at something with similar features to a human being. Body hair, long abdomens, and large teeth are traits that human beings have.
Yet when an animal has them, they can induce disgust because the animal looks like but is not identical to a person. The human brain cannot reconcile the similarities, creating displeasure.
Many spiders have these features. Looking at photographs of them can create a feeling of disgust, which can translate into fear.
Spiders have various cultural connotations. Some cultures regard spiders as symbols of creativity because they can make beautiful webs.
Yet the spider web can also be dangerous. "Being caught in the web" refers to being trapped without any chance of escape.
In Christianity, spiders represent the devil. Medieval writers linked spiders to witchcraft, poisons, and dark magic. These are associations that remain with spiders today.
Many Halloween decorations utilize spiders. Some homeowners plaster their homes with giant spiders, portraying themselves as under attack. These cultural associations with spiders can provoke or stoke fear in someone's mind.
Triggers of Arachnophobia
Seeing a live spider directly is the most common trigger of arachnophobia. But someone's fear may be so intense that seeing a photograph of a spider can provoke fear. Viewing a realistic artwork of a spider may create fear, including pencil drawings.
Seeing things associated with spiders can also create symptoms. A spider web or the eggs of a spider are potential triggers.
A person has arachnophobia when they experience significant fear every time they encounter a trigger. Their fear must impair their life to some degree.
There is no formal arachnophobia test or questionnaire. A doctor can diagnose the phobia based on a person's descriptions of their experiences.
Risks Associated with Arachnophobia
Someone who feels afraid of spiders may avoid areas where spiders reside. Many houses have spiders in them, especially in their attic and basement. The fear may cause them to avoid these locations, meaning that they miss signs of their house deteriorating.
If someone with arachnophobia notices spiders in their office, they may avoid coming into work. This can hurt their job performance.
A panic attack is not fatal in and of itself. But someone can collapse during one and harm themselves. They can hit their head on the floor, or they can injure a limb trying to break their fall.
Treatment of Arachnophobia
All cases of arachnophobia are treatable. Someone should pursue multiple treatment regimens and adjust their treatments if they are not working.
Talk therapy is helpful for anyone with chronic anxiety. A person can sit down with a therapist and get to the roots of their condition. They can do so in person, or they can take advantage of online therapy resources.
They can focus on the causes of their anxiety and try to come to terms with their trauma. They can come up with strategies about what to do when the memories of their trauma resurface. Deep breathing may be enough for someone to deescalate a traumatic situation.
Exposure therapy involves exposure to spiders. An individual may take some medication and then their therapist will show them a spider.
The therapy is designed to show the person that spiders are harmless. If someone shows extreme distress, the therapy will immediately end.
A person can take their therapy into their homes. They can adopt an emotional support animal that helps them recover from panic attacks.
Many kinds of medication are available to people with arachnophobia. There is no medication that can help for arachnophobia in particular. But a person can try out a few different ones if their fear is persistent.
Sedatives and Tranquillizers
Sedative medications slow down parts of the brain that produce fear. Tranquillizers are an alternate name for the same pills. Most doctors refer to sedatives as "sedatives," but a person can use either term.
Sedatives are a good choice for people who have accompanying mental health conditions like psychosis. Their side effects include sleepiness and drowsiness.
Beta-blockers reduce the amount of adrenaline in a person's body. Adrenaline is what increases the heart and breathing rates, contributing to anxiety.
Beta-blockers can also help lower a person's blood pressure, making it good for people with heart disease. But a person should take it in moderation, as dropping the blood pressure too low can cause problems.
Anti-depressants affect how chemicals in the brain work. Some anti-depressants reduce the chemicals that create depression, while others increase chemicals that alleviate the mood.
Anti-depressants are intended for clinical and chronic depression. But individuals who suffer from arachnophobia can benefit, particularly if their fear makes them sad.
Anti-anxiety pills work similarly to anti-depressants. Some of them reduce chemicals that produce anxiety, but others bolster the mood.
Anyone with any anxiety disorder can take one. They should follow their doctor's instructions, as it is possible to overdose on one.
Ways to Manage Arachnophobia
Very few spiders are poisonous. They do not attack humans, even if humans come near them.
Spiders eat insects like mosquitoes that spread viruses to humans. A person can manage their phobia by recognizing the positive values of spiders in the natural world.
Focusing on positive media depictions of spiders can also help. Movies like Spider-Man show spiders in a heroic light.
Arachnophobia is a chronic and significant fear of spiders. It is one of many specific phobias, which are anxiety disorders centred around specific things.
Ancient human beings developed a fear so they could avoid threats. Yet traumatic incidents and parenting can also lead to a phobia.
Getting help from a therapist is the best way to resolve arachnophobia. A person should undergo exposure therapy and take medication. They should also focus on the positive works and symbolism of spiders.
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