It’s that time of year again when it’s hard to keep on top of the spider webs in the home! If you are alert to the presence of spiders you will know that there are plenty of them around in the home and garden. And if you are alert to their presence this may be because you love them or because you are afraid of them. If you are afraid of them you are not alone, many of us find spiders’ long legs and their hairs bring up a feeling of disgust and anxiety which then renders us unable to cope, and with the best thing seeming to be to avoid the leggy arachnid.
Tips to help you overcome your fear of spiders
So here are a few tips to help you with your fear of spiders. This is best done with someone you feel safe with, so have a think about who that might be and speak with them to see if they feel they could help you.
1. Do some reading about spiders and get to know about them. Did you know that the more knowledgeable we are about something the less fearful we are? This is why a significant part of British Airways’ courses in overcoming a fear of flying is an education in aerodynamics. So, read up about spiders. Find out about the different types of spiders, how they live, how they spin their webs, the different types of webs, and so on.
2. Get to know them in real life. Start small. Ask a friend or relative to find you a small spider which they will put in a jar (with air holes) so that you can look at it with glass between you and it. Let’s not call the spider it, let’s give it a name. Perhaps choose quite a cosy name which sounds friendly. In my house spiders have tended to be called Sally or Bob. Keep the little spider in a jar somewhere where you will see it every day, and a couple of times a day take some time to look at the spider closely. If this is too hard, start with pictures first.
3. At first you will feel frightened when you are looking at the spider. That’s OK., it doesn’t mean you can’t do it, it just means that you have adrenalin and cortisol, the two main stress hormones, buzzing around your body. Try to think of these as being like a faulty warning signal in your body. They are giving you the wrong message and need to be ignored. Try this for about 15 minutes and see what happens. You don’t even need to try to get rid of the feelings you are having, just understand what they are and let them be there until they naturally subside. You could just take a moment to correct any tension in the body and slow down your breathing, although it does not matter if you do not do this.
4. Once you have got over your initial high anxiety, take a close look at the spider. Is it as large as you though it was? Does it look like it wants to do damage or is it just getting on with its own life? Get really interested in this little creature, and get really interested in your own reactions too. Notice what thoughts you are having, what body sensations you are having.Do your thoughts and body sensations stay the same or do they change. There is no right or wrong way here, just become your own scientist, observing the spider and yourself.
5. It’s helpful to rate your anxiety level: just a simple scale of 0-10 will do, with 10 being panic. Every 5 minutes or so ask yourself what your level of anxiety is. If you can, try to keep being with the spider in a jar until the anxiety has come down by at least half. So if you started at a 10. Stay with it until it’s a 5 or below; if you started at an 8, stay with it until it has reduced to a 4 or below. If you do this you are desensitising yourself to the spider and to your own responses to the spider. When you run away at the height of your anxiety you are sensitising yourself because you will keep associating the spider with fear, and teaching yourself that the best way to deal with fear is avoidance. When we know that our feared object is not dangerous, we can allow ourselves to feel the fear in order to overcome it.
6.Once you have reached a point where you feel more comfortable with your little spider in a jar, move on to a new level. This could be asking your friend or relative to find a larger spider and doing the same thing, or it could be doing the same thing with the little spider outside the jar. If you take a spider out of the jar then use a dry washing and put the spider in here. That way you can observe it moving around the bowl and your helper can gently push it back down if it come close to the top. Use all the same principles already described.
7. Each time you have reached the point of being able to tolerate your anxiety levels at each stage, make the challenge a little more challenging. It’s an idea to have a hierarchy, but be prepared to be flexible about it so that it works for you. An example of a graded hierarchy could be:
a. Looking at cartoons of spiders
b. Looking at photos of spiders
c. Reading up about spiders
d. Looking at a small spider in a jar
e. Taking the little spider out of the jar and observing it in a washing up bowl
f. Watching your helper handling the spider
g. Putting your hand flat on the bottom of the washing up bowl and allowing the spider to walk over your fingers.
h. Handling the spider
i. Repeating the above steps with a larger spider
j. Practicing moving a spider from inside to outside by covering it with a glass and slipping a piece of card under the glass
k. Remaining in a room with a spider
l. Going in to a shed where there are a number of spiders.
Depending on how you get on, you may be able to move very quickly up your hierarchy (it has been known to happen in a day with a CBT therapist) or you may need to give your self time and do each stage for a few days or longer. It really doesn’t matter, what is important is that you are taking control of your behaviour and the anxiety will fall into line. You are also taking control by deciding to seek out the spider yourself, whereas until now it seems that the spider has found you, although of course really we are all just living side by side.
CBT for Arachnophobia
Hopefully you will find these tips helpful, but if this is too difficult to do, you can always have some help from a CBT practitioner. Remember to do the usual check that the practitioner is fully qualified and accredited with the BABCP, and also ask them about their experience in helping people with arachnophobia. If you need help for a child or teenager, check that the therapist is qualified to work with the younger age groups.
NB. There are, of course, some spiders which are dangerous to humans, especially outside Europe, and these should be avoided.