What do you do if an eight-legged creature finds its way into your home?

Do you: 

1) Pop it back outside?

2) Flush it away / squash it / suck it up with the vacuum cleaner?


3) Have a panic attack, run scared and find yourself unable to deal with the creature?

Well, if you answered 3, this article is for you. Here we explore one of the most common and most talked about phobias: ARACHNOPHOBIA!

What is a phobia?

A phobia is an irrational, persistent fear of things or situations. The source of the fear can create a strong panic reaction symptoms of which can include:

  • Sweating   
  • Increased heart beat  
  • Breathing difficulties.
  • Light headedness
  • Dry mouth
  • Extreme fear
  • Racing dead end thoughts
  • Nausea
  • Increased urination/bowel movements

In time, just thinking about the cause of the fear can provoke those symptoms. Many people have fears or mild phobias that do not need treatment and do not intrude in their life or those of people around them, but phobias unlike rational fears, negatively affect their lives and moderate and severe phobias are likely to require treatment.

See our interesting article on Arachnophobia Facts!

Any phobia is tough! No one likes to experience irrational fear over anything, but arachnophobia has to be up there as one of the most invasive. A fear of dentists is obviously troubling, especially if you have a problem with your teeth – however you are unlikely to encounter a dentist or two running across your lounge wall or lurking under the stairs!

Struggling with a phobia or other anxiety disorder? Our 'Overcoming Anxiety Programme' can help you.

What is arachnophobia?

It is an extreme or irrational fear of spiders. Someone is arachnophobic when their fear of spiders reaches a level that it is irrational, illogical and unhelpful.

Aren’t we all a little scared of spiders?

A certain level of fear is healthy. Not wanting a large beastie to crawl over you is perfectly normal. So too is wanting to stay away from venomous creatures in parts of the world where they can be dangerous.

Running scared of your average house spider, on the other hand, is not in any way useful or warranted.

A brief history

In Greco-Roman mythology, Arachne was a Greek maiden and an excellent weaver. Having learned her craftsmanship from Athena (goddess of craft), her tapestry work was incredible. She then refused to acknowledge the origin of her skills, which angered Athena. So much so, in fact, that Athena challenged her to a tapestry contest. They both finished their work at the same speed but Arachne’s work was so beautiful that she won the contest. Athena was so angered at being defeated by a mere mortal that she destroyed Arachne’s work and struck her around the head. It was only when Arachne killed herself in grief that Athena realised what she had done and brought her back to life as a spider, so that she could continue with her lovely weaving.  

Some studies show that the roots of arachnophobia in Europe can be traced as far back as the Middle Ages, when spiders were believed to be a source of disease. In fact they were, for a long time, blamed for the Black Death. Europeans thought that all spiders were poisonous and caused illness and death with their bites. But in actual fact, although their bites caused some discomfort, they were rarely lethal. It was a case of misplaced fear, as most of the diseases and plagues that affected Europe around that time could be attributed to rats and fleas.

Arachnophobia and culture

Some non-European cultures (such as native Americans) believe spiders to bring good luck and they are regarded as a symbol of wisdom. In fact, the European tendency to fear spiders is not shared by many other cultures. This contradicts early studies that claimed fear of spiders is a common factor of the human race regardless of culture, and confirms later studies, which claim that fear of spiders developed from the association between spiders and diseases from 10th century Europe onwards.

A study from the University of Toronto Psychiatry Department divides arachnophobics in two categories: monitors and blunters.

A monitor will search the entire environment (the room, the car, even clothes) for a spider. When he finds one, he monitors it knowing its movements at all times.

A blunter will do exactly the opposite: he will do everything to keep from seeing a spider wherever he goes, trying to distract himself to avoid encountering one.

Why does arachnophobia develop?

As with all phobias the cause or causes can be unknown, and can vary from person to person. Some people do have a very real experience that causes initial fear, which can then stay with them, and, as they avoid the object they are scared of, they reinforce the negative experience, and over time develop a phobia. Others have no recollection of a single experience but can remember being scared as a child. Like most phobias of this type, its onset usually occurs during childhood.


The traditional old-fashioned way to treat arachnophobia is via systematic desensitization link to phobias and fears. This is a system by which a phobic describes and categorises the situations that scare him on a scale of least frightening to most frightening. Then, together with relaxation techniques, he becomes exposed to those situations until breaking point, when he is removed from the situation. Then the phobic starts again, eventually moving on to real situations such as, in the final step, holding a live spider in his hand and not feeling anxious!

Nowadays, thanks to our advanced technology, phobias of all kinds are starting to be treated with virtual reality simulators. Exposing phobics to the real cause of their fear can trigger unexpected reactions that can be very dangerous for both the patient and the therapist. Using virtual reality, the therapist can control the level of exposure more effectively and stop immediately if the patient shows signs of being overwhelmed.

Further information on arachnophobia and phobias in general

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