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A closer look at the fear of insects

Updated: Aug 24, 2022

A lot of people react negatively to bugs, especially when startled by them. For some people revulsion at the sight of insects is in fact a full-blown phobia. What does entomophobia or fear of insects mean? The medical definition of entomophobia is “an abnormal and persistent fear of insects.” Some other definitions of phobias include the phrase “irrational fear” but in the case of an insect whose sting or bite is dangerous – or can cause an allergic reaction – the fear is not necessarily irrational. And it is certainly overwhelming.

What are some of the reasons for it?

Like many things which cause us fear, panic or stress, there are often underlying reasons which drive us to such emotions. With entomophobia, experts believe there are 3 possible fears which drive the phobia.

Fear of Contamination

Many bugs, such as cockroaches and flies, can carry disease, which causes people to become afraid of being contaminated with something by insects. In addition, we are often disgusted by things which carry diseases. A variety of research has shown that we react more strongly to creatures that we find disgusting than we do to animals that may be more inherently dangerous. Perhaps this is an evolutionary response to our ancestors' misunderstandings of disease prevention.

Fear of Being Bitten

Some people worry that they will be bitten by an insect. Legitimate allergic reactions, particularly to bee stings and fire ant bites, do exist, as do legitimately venomous insects, but by and large, the fear of being bitten by common insects such as house flies, cockroaches, and the like are not realistically warranted. The vast majority of insect bites or stings cause little more than an annoyance, and most fears of being bitten are out of proportion to the risks.

Fear of Infestation

One of the more obvious reasons is that some people worry about their homes or bodies becoming infested with bugs. The idea that insects can overrun our safe spaces, that they could be causing damage to the structure, or contents (regardless how valuable) induces a great deal of stress and anxiety. It can in fact drive us to believe that the insects are present in our homes, even when there are no such indications, such is the intensity of the fear.

What does it feel like?

Individuals with entomophobia can experience a range of physical and emotional feelings and responses to their triggers. From an overwhelming itch to an unpleasant crawling sensation all over or underneath their skin. They may have such anxious thoughts about being bitten by a tick that they are afraid to go outside. Entomophobia can cause the same symptoms as other phobias. These symptoms may include:

  • Trembling

  • Sweating

  • Rapid heart rate

  • Nausea

  • Panic attacks

  • Shortness of breath/hyperventilation

  • Feeling of tightness in the chest

  • Dry mouth

  • Crying

  • Dizziness

  • Muscle weakness

A person does not have to experience all of these symptoms to suffer from entomophobia, but some combination will be present. Even a single symptom could be indicative of an insect phobia if that symptom is severe enough or the result of some form of trigger. While it is unpleasant for those with the fear to experience such feelings, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

What can be done?

Exposure therapy is a type of therapy that involves gradually exposing you to the source of your phobia and repeating exposure to help change your response to insects. Another way to think of this approach is systematic desensitization. It can be very structured and usually begins with talking about your fear of insects. It can then develop to being shown pictures or videos of insects, and then eventually exposed to live insects in a controlled environment.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is another form of treatment which can help. It centers on your thoughts and beliefs about the source of your phobia and how they influence you. CBT is combined with exposure and other types of behavioral therapy to change how you think about your triggers and how you react to them.

Central to this approach is also about developing proactive actions to manage themselves and their physical, mental and emotional response to the stimulus. What is more, this approach is undergoing a 21st century revamp, where virtual reality experiences are used to deliver the exposure to triggers. So, without ever coming close to an actual insect, you can be supported in how to manage your response as if it was right there beside you.

Do you have a fear of insects? Take the free fear of insects test to check severity, and to receive a custom report with actionable tips on how to overcome a fear of insects.

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