Ants are very common insects and easy to find in our everyday life, even in the city. You only need to go to a park to be able to find an anthill or a row of these creatures collecting food. Unlike what happens to other insects like cockroaches, in general, ants are not seen with undue discontent by the majority of the population. In fact, many even appear in fables and tales as an example of tenacity, effort and organization.
However, for many people, the mere idea of seeing one of these beings involves the onset of extreme panic and anxiety, as well as the need to escape from that being and avoid the places. where they can be found. is what happens to people with myrmecophobia.
Myrmecophobia: phobia of ants
It is understood as myrmecophobia to ant phobia, i.e. a variant of anxiety disorder. It is one of the specific phobias linked to the presence of a certain type of animal, this type of phobia being relatively frequent in the population.
How the existence of an irrational or disproportionate fear related to the emergence of a stimulus or a situation, In this case, the ants. This fear or fear appears systematically whenever the body is exposed to the presence of ants, an urgent need is felt to flee or to avoid being in front of their presence or to maintain contact with them. This urge usually leads to avoiding both ants and places where their appearance is frequent. If the sufferer cannot escape, they may remain stimulated, but experience a very high level of anxiety and discomfort.
For those who have this phobia, seeing a row of ants or even just one is torture. The same goes for the sight of an anthill, even if there is no visible presence of its inhabitants in the hotel. The panic felt generates a strong sensation of physiological activation, the presence of sweating, tremors, tachycardia, hyperventilation, muscle tension and even gastrointestinal disturbances such as nausea and vomiting are common. An anxiety attack or panic attack can occur. Additionally, it is not uncommon for them to experience a tingling sensation or the sensation of climbing on their body when looking at an ant.
Myrmecophobia can cause the person to avoid places such as the countryside, parks, or green spaces. This can lead to interruption or limitation of the patient’s life, for example by avoiding taking children to play in the park, doing outdoor sports or visiting rural areas. However, in general, this usually does not have an impact in most areas of life, because although it is relatively easy to find ants are not present and visible in most of the places we frequent.
While this is not in itself a dangerous condition for health, the truth is that in some cases this can lead to potentially dangerous behavior. There are documented cases of people catching fire due to panic after noticing that they have ants in their bodies.
Causes: an adaptive phobia?
The causes of myrmecophobia and other specific phobias are not entirely clear and depend largely on each individual case. There are different hypotheses in this regard, mainly linking the biological aspects and the events and learnings experienced by the subject.
In the case of phobias linked to animals and in particular to insects, as in our case, one of the most viable and considered hypotheses is Seligman’s preparation theory. This theory asserts that fear or panic in some animals is the product of evolution: Throughout our development as a species, humans have learned that the bite of many insects is dangerous, surviving in greater measure to subjects with a natural tendency to avoid them. In this way, the panic response leading to avoidance of the animal in question (in this case the ants) would be a product of the inheritance passed down from our ancestors.
Learn from the experience of aversive situations linked to ants is also another of the hypotheses raised, associating the figure of the ant with negative elements by conditioning.
Myrmecophobia is a phobic disorder that can be treated with therapy. The most effective method of combating and resolving it is, although it may seem cruel, exposure therapy.
This therapy is based on the exposure of the patient to the feared stimulus, in this case the ants, without performing avoidance behaviors. Usually, a step-by-step approach is necessary to carry out exposure therapy: before the exposure itself, the patient and the therapist jointly construct a hierarchy of anxiety-generating situations or stimuli, ordering them according to the degree of anxiety and panic generated. For example, it will not generate the same level of anxiety to see an anthill as ants moveOr it is not the same to see an ant let us walk by the hand.
It is recommended to start with moderate intensity stimuli, although this depends on what the patient is able to withstand. The subject should remain in the situation until the anxiety generated has largely disappeared and it is not necessary to avoid the situation. The same stimulus will be continued until at least two exposures with a minimum level of anxiety occur, before moving on to the next stimulus in the hierarchy. It can allow a temporary escape if anxiety overwhelms you, as long as you commit to coming back.
Usually the most used and best valued version of the exhibit is the live exhibit (i.e. with real stimuli), but virtual reality (especially in this case) can also be used so that the therapist can better control the stimulation received by the patient. Imaginative exposure can also be used in cases where initial anxiety is very high, sometimes as a preamble to a live exposure.
It may also be helpful to use relaxation techniques to decrease the anxiety experienced by the patient, both when processing the stimulus or as a means of preparing for exposure. Of course, this technique should be used to relax, it is important that it is not used to mentally avoid or escape the dreaded stimulus. Sometimes it may be necessary to apply cognitive restructuring, in order to combat dysfunctional beliefs that may be the source or the sustaining factor of panic (for example, belief in incompetence or inability to cope. to their fear).
- American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Fifth edition. DSM-V. Masson, Barcelona.