Fact: Fear of spiders, or arachnophobia, is extremely common and it is possible to overcome it completely with the right help. Let’s start with the basics and assess the level of the fear. The list of typical symptoms shown below should help you to decide where you’re at.
Fear/Phobia Scale and Typical Symptoms
- Mild (1 to 4) I can look at pictures of spiders but I am uncomfortable being in a room with one. I can cope with small spiders and I can even catch one in a container and put it outside. The bigger ones are more of a problem – I just don’t like the way they look.
- Medium (5 to 7) I can only cope with a spider by squashing it, flushing it down the loo or vacuuming it up. I can cover the spider with a glass and ask someone else to remove it, but couldn’t pick it up myself, even in a container. I don’t like the way that you can’t tell which way a spider is going to move – if it goes where I can’t see it, but it’s still in the room, I’m stressed until someone finds it and gets rid of it.
- Severe (8 to 10) I have to leave the room or building if I see a spider, if I can’t, I feel panicky, hysterical, and I can even feel frozen with fear and shock. I can’t even look at spiders on TV without coming out in goose bumps and feeling panic. I go to great lengths to avoid having to deal with spiders being around me, eg. checking the cupboards and plugholes if I’m staying away from home, or looking under the bed in case spiders are lurking there.
If you have a medium to severe level of fear and feel that you need support, claim your FREE 30 minute Change Your Lifestyle Consultation by going to my website www.vernonaharris.com or call Vernon on 07866 730941.
If you have a mild to medium level of fear and you are happy to try self-help, here are some tips.
Tip 1 Design your ladder of steps to recovery
Write down a list of about 10 (or as many as possible) situations you find frightening because of your fear of spiders and arrange them in order from lowest to highest. For example, situation 1 on your list might be looking at an image or film of spiders, situation 10 might be picking up a spider you have found in the house and placing it safely outside. You are going to use this list to help you gradually build up your tolerance of the things that trigger your fear and also to build up your confidence. Think carefully about the details of what really bothers you about these situations – if you dislike looking at spiders, what in particular gives you a bad feeling? If you can’t bear the thought of touching a spider – or it touching you! – what is it that you fear about that? The more specific you can be, the more you will be able to help yourself overcome your initial reactions.
Tip 2 Let’s go back…
In the same notebook that you wrote your list in, jot down anything you can remember about the earliest situation you can recall where you were afraid of spiders. What age were you? What happened? What scared you about the incident the most? Was someone with you? Were they afraid? Even if they seem difficult to bring to mind, these early situations are often what sets the pattern for future mindset and behaviours. Did you find a spider in a place you didn’t expect? Did it land on you? Or did you see giant spiders in a horror or sci-fi film, perhaps?…
Tip 3 Reassuring your inner child
If you were very young when your fear began, you may need to speak comfortingly but firmly to your inner child to begin the process of dislodging it. Here’s an exercise you could try:
Close your eyes, take three deep breaths and allow yourself to relax. When you’re feeling nice and relaxed, allow your mind to just travel back in time to when you were that young child who was afraid of spiders. Tell your much younger self that the spider is much more frightened than you and that it will need to be treated kindly. You could even tell your inner child that the spider is so frightened that it’s shaking! Once your inner child has empathy with the spider’s plight, he or she will probably want to comfort the spider instead of being afraid – you might even visualise your inner child stroking the spider or speaking soothingly to it.
Repeat your visualisation exercise once or twice a day for seven days. Jot down in your journal anything you feel is significant, keeping your outlook as positive as possible – eg, if you felt intense fear to begin with, note how your feelings changed as you spoke to your inner child and how much difference this made. Did your inner child have anything else to tell you?… This exercise could significantly reduce your level of anxiety and make the steps toward your gradual exposure to your fear triggers a lot easier to cope with.
Tip 4 Finding rapid calm
It’s useful, when tackling fears, to have a repertoire of calming techniques that take down your fear level a notch or two very quickly.
I would strongly recommend making deep breathing one of your calming techniques, due to its effectiveness in switching your focus instantly away from your fear.
Simple deep breathing technique:
The instant you feel your fear escalating…Take a deep breath in for a count of 5…Hold for a count of 5…Then breathe out for a count of 8. Repeat this breathing technique until you’re feeling calm again.
Meditation is another tool you can use to naturally and safely reduce your baseline level of anxiety and if you have tried Tip 3, you have already discovered the healing power of visualisation…using all three of these techniques in your journey toward recovery will give you a high level of empowerment and put you back in control.
Tip 5 Gradually does it…
The aim is for you to expose yourself to each stage of your fear ladder until you feel calm and comfortable with each step. From your previous list, start with the lowest step for tackling your fear and see how much tolerance you have of it. Remember, a little discomfort is normal, but stop if you begin to feel overwhelmed and remember to BREATHE DEEPLY.
Once you’re feeling calm, of course you can repeat the process until you’re completely comfortable and calm with the whole step.
Example: “I can look at a friend’s pet spider in a jar for a few seconds, but I begin to get panicky when it starts moving around as if it wants to climb out…so I remind myself that I’m safe and start counting my breaths…”
Remember to reward yourself for each time you work on the “exposure journey” and write down how much you achieved for each step as you go through the process, as well as what your thoughts and feelings were for each stage.
Tip 6 How am I doing?
After you have worked on your “exposure journey” for a few days, review your journal and observe your progress. How is your confidence? Are you starting to feel like you’re taking back control of your life? Remember, it’s fine to re-do any step, until YOU are satisfied, happy and comfortable. Now it’s time to challenge the negative thoughts and beliefs that have been affecting your life, Eg: “I’ll panic or scream if I have to be in a room with a spider for more than 3 seconds.” How could you re-write your previous negative thoughts into positive ones that reflect your new belief system? Eg: “If I see a very small spider indoors, I can now let it walk onto a sheet of paper and tip it gently out of the window”, or “As long as I know the spider can’t touch me, I can look at one contained in a jar and feel calm.”
Tip 7 More Strategies You Can Use to Challenge Negative Beliefs
Logic: What hard evidence runs contrary to the thought?
Eg “If I find a spider in the house, it’s not because it wants to be there – they dislike houses because the environment is too dry.”
Challenging Automatic Assumptions:
Eg “It’s far more likely that the spider is running away from the noise from the TV than running towards me on purpose as they try to avoid warm-blooded animals.”
Imagining you’re talking to a friend with the same issue: What would you say to them? Eg “The chances of a spider intending to harm you are negligible – their priority is to get away from you.”
Tip 8 Keep turning it around…
As you go through your consecutive steps, continually testing yourself and reflecting, keep challenging those negative thoughts you once believed, re-writing them into positive statements as often as you can along the way. Be assured as you go through your process that you are continually reinforcing and adding to your new, positive mindset. Not only will you gain enormous benefit from the process, but you’ll see for yourself, day by day, that these small creatures have less and less power to cause you distress.
Tip 9 On completion of your final step:
Take a clean page of your notebook and copy every positive statement that you noted down in date order, from when you began to work through the steps until the end of the process. Read the list of statements out loud from beginning to end and give yourself full credit for the work you have done to arrive at this point! If you have completed your final goal – wonderful! – you no longer have a strong fear of spiders that can control your life in any way!
Remember, this is an experience you have used to address one area of your life, but the skills you have gained can be used in all areas of your life.
Reward yourself appropriately and enjoy!