Arachnophobia: causes and symptoms of extreme fear of spiders

It is common for spiders to come into contact with us and with our homes. Being so small, they can enter our rooms and feed on other insects for a while. Some species can become dangerous (although they usually live in specific territories), but for the most part, they are nothing more than a relative nuisance or unwanted guest to humans.

However, some people have excruciating and excessive panic about some of these beings. These people present serious difficulties and extreme reactions to the visualization or even to the evocation of the imagination of these creatures. These are people who suffer from arachnophobia.

    Arachnophobia: a specific phobia

    Arachnophobia is the extreme phobia and / or repulsion towards all arachnids and especially in spiders. This disorder is classified as a specific phobia generated by animals. This can generate a high level of discomfort or some deterioration in the subject’s functionality.

    In specific phobias, this is one of the most common and generally tends to be more prevalent in women. As a phobia, it is intense and disproportionate fear about the level of threat which may be the dreaded stimulus in question, a disproportion recognized as irrational by the patient. The presence of this causes high levels of anxiety (fear can lead to anxiety attacks), so that at the behavioral level tends to avoid or shy away from the stimulus (this is the particular case of the arachnophobia, spiders).

    Symptoms of arachnophobia include nausea, anxiety, sweating, tachycardia, escape and avoidance behaviors or paralysis, anxiety attacks or crying attacks, among others at sight or to the evocation of an arachnid. In very extreme cases, even alterations in perception can occur. Fear can also appear in advance in situations where the animal in question is likely to appear or towards the products of its performance, such as cobwebs.

      the causes

      The causes of spider phobia have often been discussed by various professionals who have discussed its etiology.

      One of the most plausible hypotheses relates to Seligman’s preparation theory, Which proposes that certain stimuli are linked to specific responses due to the genetic transmission of behavioral tendencies which may be protective for humans. By relating this theory to the specific case of arachnophobia, the human species would have learned throughout its evolution that arachnids are dangerous potentially lethal animals, with which modern humans have inherited a natural tendency to avoid them.

      Another theory is based on the idea that arachnophobia comes from learning, Being an acquired response that has been reinforced by a conditioning process. Experiencing a negative event related to a spider (for example, being bitten or meeting someone who has died from the bite of a poisonous species), especially during childhood, causes arachnids to associate with anxiety and fear which in turn generates avoidance as a mechanism in turn reinforces this fear.

      From a biological point of view, the influence of different hormones such as norepinephrine and serotonin when regulating the level of sensory fear, which could elicit a socially learned or phylogenetically inherited response and most people are not provoked by problems to cause extreme reactions.

      Treatment of arachnophobia

      The first choice treatment to fight arachnophobia it is usually exposure therapy, In which the subject must gradually expose himself to a hierarchy of stimuli related to contact with spiders. You can start with simple stimuli such as photographs or videos, then move on to viewing real spider webs and finally showing a real arachnid at different distances (being able to touch it).

      However, it is usually more efficient to do this show live. it can be done in the imagination if the anxiety level is very high or even introductory to live exposure.

      The use of new technologies also allows new modes of exposure, both in the case of arachnophobia and other phobias, such as exposure via virtual reality or augmented reality which allows a more tolerable approach and sure that that carried out live (in the end and in the head the image to be visualized can be checked and the subject knows that he is not in front of a real spider).

      It is generally helpful to practice relaxation techniques in the face of or in preparation for the phobic stimulus, such as breathing. or progressive muscle relaxation, In order to reduce the level of anxiety that you are going to feel. In this sense, benzodiazepines can sometimes be prescribed to control the level of anxiety or panic in people in frequent contact with these beings or who are immersed in exposure therapy.

      Bibliographical references:

      • American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.
      • Sants, JL; Garcia, LI; Calderon, MA; Sanz, LJ; of rivers, P .; Left, S .; Román, P .; Hernangómez, L .; Navas, E .; Lladre, A and Álvarez-Cienfuegos, L. (2012). Clinical Psychology. CEDE PIR preparation manual, 02. CEDE. Madrid.

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