What Is Arachnophobia?

Close up of a spider outdoors.

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What Is Arachnophobia?

Arachnophobia, otherwise known as spider phobia, is the intense fear of spiders and other arachnids. Classified as a specific phobia, arachnophobia causes clinically significant distress that can impact an individual's quality of life. When in contact with, or thinking about arachnids, individuals will likely feel fear and experience symptoms of anxiety almost immediately.

Around the world, between 3% and 15% of individuals have been diagnosed with specific phobias, with the fear of animals and heights being the most prevalent. Keep in mind that while the fear of spiders is common, not every person who feels afraid or on edge around them has arachnophobia.

Symptoms

If you have arachnophobia you may experience a variety of specific phobia-related symptoms whether you are in the presence of a spider or are just thinking about one. Symptoms of arachnophobia may include:

  • Immediate fear and anxiety when you see or think about a spider
  • Fear or anxiety that is out of proportion to the danger the spider poses to you
  • Avoidance of spiders
  • Panic and/or anxiety responses, such as difficulty breathing, rapid heart beat, nausea, sweating, trembling, and a need to escape

The effects of arachnophobia can significantly impact your quality of life. For example, you may experience panic symptoms and not feel comfortable in your home knowing that a spider is in there. You may also avoid engaging in outdoor activities where spiders may be present, such as hiking or having a picnic in the park.

Remember that being afraid of something is not the same thing as having a specific phobia. In order to receive a diagnosis for a specific phobia, certain criteria must be met, including disruption to acts of daily living and a decrease in your quality of life due to the intensity of the fear.

Diagnosis

Specific phobias are differentiated from fears using diagnostic criteria found in the current edition of the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. A doctor or mental health clinician will use these criteria to better understand your symptoms and determine if you have a specific phobia.

A diagnosis of a specific phobia requires that the symptoms be present for at least six months and cause significant distress or a disruption to your life and well-being.

Your doctor or mental health clinician may ask you questions about your symptoms, their intensity, and their duration. They may also take a medical history, ask about your current coping skills, and find out what your treatment goals are.

Causes

Arachnophobia may be caused by experiencing one or multiple traumatic encounters with spiders. Arachnophobia may also be caused by:

  • An evolutionary response: Research suggests that arachnophobia or a general aversion to spiders is hard-wired as an ancestral survival technique.
  • Cultural and/or religious beliefs: Some individuals within certain cultural or religious groups seem to have phobias that stem from these influences. These particular phobias differ from phobias that are common in the general population, making culture and religion potential factors in phobia development.
  • Genetic or family influences: Researchers believe that there may be a genetic component linked to phobias. Family environmental factors may also influence the development of phobias. For example, if a parent has a specific phobia to something, a child may pick up on that fear and develop a phobic response to it.

Specific phobias are more prevalent in females than males in both adolescents and adults. You may be more at risk for developing arachnophobia if you've had a previous traumatic experience with a spider, if you have another mental health condition, and/or have a family history of phobias.

Treatment

Like other specific phobias, arachnophobia is most commonly treated with therapy, particularly cognitive behavioral techniques. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) focuses on stopping the negative automatic thoughts that are associated with the feared object or situation and replacing them with more rational thoughts. Techniques used may include:

  • Cognitive reframing: This method helps you shift the way you look at something so you no longer perceive it as dangerous or stressful. This may eventually change your physical reaction to a triggering stimulus, such as seeing a spider.
  • Systematic desensitization: In this method, you employ relaxation techniques and then confront your fears from the least fear-producing to the most.

Research has shown that virtual reality therapy, in which the person with the phobia is exposed to virtual representations of spiders, may be an effective treatment method for arachnophobia.

Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) may be a helpful therapeutic technique if your specific phobia developed because of a traumatic experience. In some cases, medications may also be used to treat arachnophobia.

Coping

If you are experiencing symptoms of arachnophobia, there are ways you can cope.

If you or a loved one are experiencing difficulty with acts of daily living, reach out to your doctor or therapist for support and resources for coping with phobias.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

A Word From Verywell

Specific phobias, such as arachnophobia, can be incredibly distressing and may have a significant impact on an individual's overall quality of life. If you are having a difficult time enjoying your life because of arachnophobia, consider reaching out to a doctor or mental health professional for appropriate treatment and support.

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5 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed). Washington DC: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.​​