#FearlessFebruary: Spiders, Scorpions and Snakes, Oh My!

1 Mar

arachnophobia – noun – extreme or irrational fear of spiders.

Eight pokey legs skittering across my arm would have sent me through the moon and straight into the looney bin at one point in my life. That’s exactly why I found it so important to face that fear.

I know it makes no sense to fear something that’s less than one hundredth your size, but throw in a venomous stinger, some fangs or a pair of pincers and I think you’ll understand. I am proud to say that I have faced my fear, even if I haven’t eradicated it.

Not everyone can do this on their own, and not every phobia can be faced this way, but I found a method that worked for me. Psychology calls this “self-administered systematic desensitization”. I’ll break this terrible tongue-twister into the four easy (but painful!) steps I took:

Step 1 – Figure out your phobia

This is where we “establish an anxiety stimulus hierarchy”. In the English language, this means you start small and figure out what freaks you out. For me, this meant imagining arachnids and seeing where the creep factor began and ended for me. For example, imagining a spider on the wall outside was fine, but a spider on the wall in my bedroom… Yeesh!

Then we upgrade to images via google. Searching spider pics, I started with cartoons and ended with real photos.  A few were actually kind of cute, while others were pure nightmare material. This is how I found out that it was all about the spindly legs for me.

Step 2 – Learn relaxation technique/rethink your feelings

SPIDEMEDITATION.jpg

In psych, we call this “implementing coping mechanisms”, which was as simple as bringing the image of that terrifying spider to mind while taking some deep and steady breaths. You’re supposed to do this until the panic passes.

If you’re like me, and that’s not enough, you can try “cognitive reappraisal” which means you think about it differently. Personally, this meant imagining that long-legged spider on the bedroom wall suddenly jumping at me.

My original response would be to run away flailing and screaming, but I re-imagined this to be a situation where the spider lands harmlessly and runs away. The poor little thing has much more cause to be afraid, after all.

Even if you’re working with a professional therapist, this is usually going to take a while to work. Maybe even weeks or months. Think of it as taking your power back.

When something has that much of an effect on you, it has some kind of power over you, and it’s all about changing your role from the victim of the situation to the victor.

Step 3 – Put them together

This is also known as “reconditioning the stimulus response”. When you’ve lost your head enough times to where you can keep it level in the face of a terrifying mental or visual image, it’s time to turn to the tactile.

They really make some disturbingly realistic spider toys for kids, so this is where I started. It was ridiculously hard to pick up that plastic spider. Every time I touched it I wanted to shake the creepy tingles out of my hands and dance a coward’s dance. I eventually gathered up my courage and took some deep breaths.

“It’s not a big deal, we’re just chillin’.” Became my mantra.

Before I knew it, I was picking up plastic creepies like they were nothing. I had slowly but surely changed my basic reaction to the little buggers and we were gradually becoming friends. It was time to move on to the real thing.

Step 4 – Getting Real

leezard

The next step started at the Tucson Reptile Shop. I began with a lovely lizard. She was gorgeous, but kind of creepy. It gave me the tangible feeling of something in my hand that was safe and yet weird at the same time.

Then came the arachnids. I had a really had time being close to the big beautiful tarantulas they had in their tanks. I admittedly wussed out, but not entirely. Here is my evidence:

SCORPION

All in all, anything that conquers you can be conquered in turn. Brave up, bear down, make your phobia a success story and don’t be afraid to consult a professional for something that simple.

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