The term arachnophobia refers to an anxiety disorder in which the person suffers from a fear of spiders. This form of phobia is quite widespread, especially in Europe, and can have different causes as a trigger. While mild forms of arachnid fear do not require therapy, severe arachnid phobias can significantly impair the quality of life of those affected.
What is arachnophobia?
The clearest symptom of arachnophobia is an excessive fear of spiders. However, the type and extent of the symptoms depend particularly on the intensity of the phobia.
Experts understand arachnophobia to be a pathological anxiety disorder , more precisely the pathological fear of spiders.
In Europe this anxiety disorder is one of the most common, although paradoxically there are no poisonous spider species in Europe that could be dangerous to humans. Such a specific fear of spiders, on the other hand, is mostly unknown among primitive peoples. Like most anxiety disorders, arachnophobia manifests itself with excessively violent reactions to the sight or sometimes only the thought of a spider.
The exact causes of such a strong fear of spiders have not yet been clarified, but numerous different theories have existed. Arachnophobia does not always have to be treated therapeutically.
According to experts, arachnophobia can have several possible causes. To a large extent, it is now assumed that negative early childhood experiences with a spider can lead to an anxiety disorder later on.
It can also be a past life of arachnophobia by parents or other caregivers. Other theories suggest that arachnophobia is caused by a natural fear of all life forms that are most unlike humans. This is supported by the way spiders move, for example.
Still other theories lead arachnophobia back to the fact that arachnids can actually pose a threat to humans or could even have been able to do so in the course of evolution. A well-founded fear of the same could therefore, according to these assumptions, be genetically pre-programmed.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
The clearest symptom of arachnophobia is an excessive fear of spiders. However, the type and extent of the symptoms depend particularly on the intensity of the phobia. While some sufferers primarily suffer from excessive feelings of fear and react by fleeing at the sight of a spider or spider-like animals, other patients also experience physical reactions.
This can be, for example, sweating , tremors , hyperventilation , dizziness or a racing heart. Many sufferers also complain of severe nausea , paralysis or even shortness of breath . Often arachnophobia is so pronounced that the mere thought of a spider triggers symptoms. The same applies to photos and representations of spiders on television as well as to plastic spiders.
If the spider sits above a door, many phobics are unable to pass through the door. Sometimes the phobia can even become so severe that it leads to isolation from the outside world or leads to compulsive acts. For example, many of those affected avoid going into the basement, check all corners of the room several times a day or succumb to an obligation to clean. In its extreme form, the spider phobia dominates the entire everyday life of those affected. Secondary illnesses such as panic disorders or depression are also possible in this case.
Diagnosis & course
Arachnophobia can usually be diagnosed very easily, since in most cases the person affected can provide precise information about what causes them the typical feelings of fear.
In the case of arachnophobia, it is more important than the actual diagnosis to determine how severe the anxiety disorder is and whether therapeutic treatment is required. Like most phobias , arachnophobia manifests itself through typical symptoms that occur in strong anxiety and stressful situations .
Exactly which symptoms occur and how severe they are depends on the individual case. Under certain circumstances, the anxiety disorder can increase to such an extent that the person affected shows strong reactions at the thought of a spider. In the worst case, arachnophobia can negatively affect daily life.
If left untreated, the pathological fear of arachnids leads to complications that initially affect the patient’s social life. While a simple case may just not be in the same room with spiders, a seriously affected patient may already avoid going into the basement, into the great outdoors or, in the worst case, even going out of the house. As with anyone with an anxiety disorder, it is important to address these avoidance strategies early on.
From the point at which the patient is dominated by his fear and often reaches an unfounded level of fear, he loses quality of life. In order for arachnophobics not to remove themselves from social life and subsequently lose their job and develop depression, it is important that a therapist or psychiatrist who specializes in generalized anxiety disorders takes over the treatment.
In the case of arachnophobia, therapists achieve the greatest success with cognitive behavioral therapy. The aim of this method is to rethink attitudes and to abandon thought habits and inappropriate behaviors such as fears, obsessive thoughts or actions, drive disorders or depressive disorders.
In an expanded form of behavior therapy, a therapeutic confrontation with the fear-inducing situations or objects is also conceivable. This is used, for example, for patients with claustrophobia or other social phobias.
When should you go to the doctor?
The fear of spiders is generally considered to be very widespread. In a mild form with disgust and slight discomfort, it does not yet represent a reason to see a doctor. However, if there are signs of a manifest phobia with pronounced panic attacks and physical overreactions, a visit to a psychotherapist is necessary. The same applies to deliberately induced restrictions and behavioral problems to avoid contact with spiders.
Since an anxiety disorder can lead to massive mood swings, shocks and circulatory problems, treatment with the help of a specialist is essential. Similar effects can also show up in professional life in the long term. The consequence is limited performance, which also occurs in the private sphere. Intense fears and nightmares affect sleep. It is becoming increasingly difficult for those affected to cope with everyday life. Increasing social isolation is also a serious warning sign.
Excessive efforts to shield oneself from fear show the urgency of professional treatment. This includes the permanent sealing of door gaps, windows and other potential entrances for spiders. In severe cases, attempts at protection result in a refusal to leave the familiar and controllable environment. But even without an intense expression of fear, a prospective therapy can be useful. In overcoming their phobia of spiders, patients generally react with relief, gain new confidence, and gain greater self-confidence.
Treatment & Therapy
If the arachnophobia is so pronounced that the person concerned feels restricted by it or suffers from it in some other way, it can make sense to carry out therapy. This is what is known as behavior therapy .
In this, the treating therapist will try step by step to confront the patient with spiders as part of an included confrontation therapy . First of all, it can be talking about spiders or looking at a photo or video. Later on, the person concerned is encouraged to look at a real spider and finally to touch it. In this type of therapy, the therapist wants the patient to overcome his fear, which, however, means that he has to face it and live through it.
Whether the treatment is successful depends to a large extent on the will and cooperation of the person concerned. If the therapy is stopped prematurely, the arachnophobia may worsen.
Outlook & forecast
A weak to moderately pronounced fear of spiders does not require therapy, as it does not severely restrict the person concerned in his lifestyle. It will not regress spontaneously either. There are no known long-term effects of mild arachnophobia.
However, a strong fear of spiders can lead to extreme situations, for example if the person concerned has a panic attack. In the car or in other dangerous situations, these can lead to accidents. Even with strong phobias, this will not recede spontaneously.
A therapy, on the other hand, has a good to very good chance of success. The focus is on exposure therapy . But it is absolutely necessary that the confrontation with the spider is also endured. Failure can aggravate arachnophobia rather than combat it. If the therapy is successful, the phobia occasionally turns into an affection for the spiders: sometimes spiders are kept as pets by former phobics, but at least they are recognized and accepted as beneficial insects.
There are several newer therapeutic approaches – including with the help of virtual reality technology – which also have good prospects of success.
Since the causes of arachnophobia have not yet been clearly clarified, prevention in the actual sense is not possible. However, parents can exemplify and train their children to deal with spiders and other animals in a healthy and not overly fearful manner and in this way influence the possible development of arachnophobia. If there is already a fear of spiders, which manifests itself in severe symptoms, it can make sense to see a therapist and undergo treatment.
Arachnophobia is considered well treatable. This often makes follow-up care unnecessary. However, many therapists recommend a follow-up session as there is a certain risk of relapse. The risk of relapse is high in the following cases: The disease was particularly severe and debilitating. Residual symptoms may be present after treatment is complete.
In addition to the spider phobia, there are other anxiety disorders or other psychological disorders. A follow-up examination is recommended here. As a rule, a single follow-up session is sufficient. The therapist talks to the patient about their experiences since the end of therapy. He checks whether the phobic has achieved his goals and can show success in dealing with spiders. If necessary, in consultation with the patient, he prescribes further stabilization sessions.
The person concerned has to deal with his fear of spiders in his own environment. If this was not done during therapy, it can be done as part of a follow-up treatment. Secondary prevention requires repeated exposure: the phobic should consciously look at and touch spiders in order to avoid relapse.
Learning or deepening a relaxation technique is advisable to prevent recurrence of anxiety symptoms. Courses on the following methods are suitable for this: breathing techniques, autogenic training , progressive muscle relaxation , imaginative methods, yoga, Qi Gong, meditation .
You can do that yourself
Arachnophobes don’t necessarily need to treat their spider fear. To avoid panic attacks, it is usually sufficient to avoid contact with spiders. If this is not possible or if the arachnophobia is to be overcome, systematic desensitization can help . Regular contact with spiders or practicing with plastic spiders can help overcome fears.
In the case of pronounced arachnophobia, appropriate exercises should be carried out together with friends or under the supervision of a therapeutic counselor . Alternatively, there are therapeutic measures from naturopathy. Has proven useful as the knock acupressure , wherein by the knocking on the acupuncture points is the flow of energy regulated in the body, or are pressed in certain points on the hand lines palm therapy.
Should a panic attack occur despite these measures, the following applies first and foremost: keep calm and take a deep breath. The psychological stress can then be reduced through physical exercise, appropriate home and natural remedies (e.g. arnica , ginseng , green tea, chocolate) and dealing with what has happened. In the long term, arachnophobes should seek a conversation with a psychologist and address the fear of spiders with professional help.