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The Definition of Arachnophobia
Arachnophobia is an anxiety disorder revolving around the fear of spiders. It is actually one of the most common specific phobias. According to the American Psychiatric Association, a specific phobia is a type of anxiety disorder that is recognized by an extreme, persistent and irrational fear of the presence of a specific thing. It is estimated that close to 9% of the population experiences specific phobias.
In severe cases, panic attacks are triggered in a person with arachnophobia if they simply view a picture or even think of a spider. Many arachnophobia sufferers will completely avoid situations where spiders may be present. In severe cases, arachnophobia may lead to agoraphobia, the fear of leaving one’s home. The fear of spiders has a surprisingly historical origin. Spiders were once believed to be the harbinger of death, carrying disease and contaminating water and food supplies. Arachnids were even blamed as the cause of the Bubonic Plague, though this theory was later proven incorrect.
Arachnophobia is often developed early in life after a startling encounter with a spider. Many who experience arachnophobia may not recall a specific event as the source of their fear. Some who suffer from arachnophobia may experience panic symptoms when entering a room where spiders may be present; others may not experience symptoms unless they come into contact with a spider. Symptoms experienced by those affected by arachnophobia may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heartbeat
- Excessive Sweating
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Treatment for Arachnophobia
The most common course of treatment for arachnophobia is systematic desensitization. This method of therapy allows the patient to gradually face their fear of spiders, first by viewing pictures of spiders, then by encountering real spiders. The ultimate litmus test for those who wish to conquer their fear of spiders, is to be able to successfully touch a spider with out experiencing a panic attack or extreme anxiety.
For some who suffer from arachnophobia, the idea of seeking treatment is unthinkable. The fear of spiders is so strong that they would rather live with the fear than undergo a therapy that might make them come in contact with a spider. For patients with this form of extreme arachnophobia, many therapists use virtual reality technology to aid in desensitization therapy. This allows the exposure to the feared spiders to be completely controlled by the therapist or the patient in the safety of a clinical setting. A typical systematic desensitization therapy using virtual reality technology utilizes a computerized helmet, glasses or gloves that is worn by the patient. A computer-generated spider is viewed via virtual reality, until the patient is ultimately able to let the spider “crawl" across their hand.
Arachnophobia, like many phobias is simply an intense fear of a specific thing, in this case, spiders. While some sense of fear can be normal and even helpful in everyday life, a phobia can affect the quality of a person’s life. It is important to seek treatment from a qualified therapist or psychiatrist to manage the symptoms of this or any phobia. With the right treatment, most suffers of arachnophobia can conquer their fear and virtually eliminate their phobia.
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