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What is Arachnophobia? Symptoms, Causes, and Treatment for the Fear of Spiders

Have you ever felt that inexplicable chill run down your spine at the sight of a tiny eight-legged creature scuttling across the floor? Or perhaps you've found yourself frozen in fear at the mere thought of encountering a spider? As the days start getting shorter and a chill appears in the air, these creepy crawlies start invading your home, filling your heart with dread. If so, you're not alone. Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, grips many of us in its tangled web.

There's something about hairy legs and scampering, unpredictable movements that send a shiver down the spine. Spiders have a knack for eliciting fear in many people, regardless of their size or species, and across cultures. For some, it’s nothing more than discomfort. Maybe a scream, and reaching for a rolled-up newspaper. But for others, fear becomes phobia. Let’s explore how arachnophobia impacts the lives of millions of sufferers — and what you can do about it if you’re one of them.



What is Arachnophobia?


Arachnophobia is the fear of spiders and is named for the Latin arachnid for spider, plus phobia. It is one of the most common specific phobias worldwide and affects between 2.7 and 6.3% of the population, with women being more affected than men [1].


While many people are afraid of spiders and will hop on a chair when they see one scuttling along the skirting board, a phobia is characterized by intense and irrational fear. If you’re the household member tasked with catching spiders in a cup and returning them from whence they came, your fear is not likely to be a phobia.


On the other hand, if the sight of a spider, or even the mere thought of one derails your day, then you may be one of millions of people with arachnophobia. If you change your behavior, avoiding a room where you might see a spider or refusing to visit your relatives in Australia, then you are in the grip of a specific phobia. Let’s find out more.


Understanding Phobias


Phobias are irrational, persistent fears of specific objects, situations, or activities. They go beyond simple fears, causing significant distress and interfering with daily life. Some common types of phobias include:


  • Specific Phobias: Such as fear of heights (acrophobia), fear of flying (aviophobia), fear of enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), and of course, arachnophobia.



  • Agoraphobia: Fear of being in situations where escape might be difficult or embarrassing, often leading to avoidance of public spaces.


Phobias can develop from various factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and traumatic experiences. Understanding the underlying causes is crucial for effective treatment.


Symptoms of Arachnophobia


Sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between fear and phobia. We normalize our responses and develop coping mechanisms, telling ourselves that we’re managing as best as we can.


But phobias can take over your life. Arachnophobia manifests through a range of physical and psychological symptoms, and spotting these is the first step to getting help.


  • Intense fear or panic: Even at the sight or thought of spiders.

  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing: Accompanied by sweating and trembling.

  • Nausea or dizziness: Feeling physically unwell in response to spiders.

  • Avoidance behaviors: Going to great lengths to avoid places where spiders might be present.

  • Excessive vigilance: Constantly scanning environments for potential spider sightings.

  • Difficulty functioning: Arachnophobia can interfere with daily activities and relationships.


Does your fear of spiders overwhelm you or lead to avoidant behavior? Take our free online phobia test to find out if you have arachnophobia.


Causes of Arachnophobia


So what causes arachnophobia? The exact causes of arachnophobia will differ based on the individual but may involve a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Some potential causes include:


  • Negative experiences: Traumatic encounters with spiders, such as being bitten or witnessing someone else being bitten, can lead to the development of arachnophobia. The use of spiders in horror movies, haunted houses and Halloween decorations creates a negative association that can develop into a phobia.


  • Learned behavior: Arachnophobia is extremely common: do you remember a parent displaying fear of spiders as you grew up? These fears rub off on us, and observing others displaying fear or disgust towards spiders can contribute to the development of arachnophobia.


  • Genetic and evolutionary predisposition: Some researchers suggest that humans may have evolved to fear spiders due to their potential danger in the environment. There may be a genetic component to phobias, including arachnophobia, which can make certain individuals more prone to developing irrational fears.


It’s true: spiders can be incredibly dangerous. While you’re unlikely to encounter a poisonous spider bite in northern Europe, if you live in some parts of North America or more tropical reasons spiders can pose a real threat. The fear of spiders is, therefore, not completely irrational [2].


But the chance of being killed by a spider bite is incredibly low: around 1 in 10 million [3]. An intense fear of spiders is disproportionate to the threat and may need to be challenged through arachnophobia treatment.


Treatment Options


Fortunately, arachnophobia, like other phobias, is treatable. Several effective treatment options are available, including:

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): CBT is a widely used therapeutic approach for treating phobias. It involves identifying and challenging irrational thoughts and beliefs about spiders, gradually exposing individuals to spiders in a controlled environment, and teaching coping strategies to manage anxiety.

  • Exposure therapy: This form of therapy involves gradually exposing individuals to spiders or spider-related stimuli in a safe and controlled manner, helping them confront their fears and learn that they are manageable.

  • oVRcome’s Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy: Our app-based treatment program for specific phobias combines the gold standard of CBT psychotherapy with graded exposure therapy in virtual reality environments. These clinically proven programs reduce the severity of phobia symptoms [4] and can be undertaken at low cost, from the security of your own home.

  • Medication: In some cases, medications such as anti-anxiety medications or beta-blockers may be prescribed to help alleviate symptoms of anxiety associated with arachnophobia. However, medication is usually used in conjunction with therapy rather than as a standalone treatment. Medicating away your phobia symptoms can even make your phobia worse.

Wrapping Up

Arachnophobia is a common and debilitating phobia that can significantly impact an individual's quality of life, but remember: you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world struggle with, manage and even overcome arachnophobia.


CBT and virtual reality exposure therapy (VRET) are proven to have an impact on the symptoms of specific phobias. Our treatment programs can be undertaken without a therapist, without costly fees and without the stigma of seeking treatment. If the fear of spiders is impacting your life, try oVRcome today.


References:


  1. Polák J, Sedláčková K, Janovcová M, Peléšková Š, Flegr J, Vobrubová B, Frynta D, Landová E. Measuring fear evoked by the scariest animal: Czech versions of the Spider Questionnaire and Spider Phobia Beliefs Questionnaire. BMC Psychiatry. 2022 Jan 6;22(1):18. doi: 10.1186/s12888-021-03672-7. PMID: 34991495; PMCID: PMC8740501.


  1. Rahmani F, Banan Khojasteh SM, Ebrahimi Bakhtavar H, Rahmani F, Shahsavari Nia K, Faridaalaee G. Poisonous Spiders: Bites, Symptoms, and Treatment; an Educational Review. Emerg (Tehran). 2014 Spring;2(2):54-8. PMID: 26495347; PMCID: PMC4614586.


  1. Ennik F. Deaths from bites and stings of venomous animals. West J Med. 1980 Dec;133(6):463-8. PMID: 7467305; PMCID: PMC1272387.


  1. Lacey, C., Frampton, C., & Beaglehole, B. (2022). OVRcome – Self-guided virtual reality for specific phobias: A randomised controlled trial. Australian & New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1177/00048674221110779

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