Fear of spiders becomes a phobia when it consumes your thoughts, interferes with your daily activities and keeps you from socializing with your family and friends. Symptoms of arachnophobia include sweating or shaking and tightness in your chest or rapid heartbeat. Behavior therapies along with relaxation and breathing exercises are the main treatment options.
Arachnophobia is an intense fear of spiders.
Many fears seems reasonable. We all try to avoid things that make us feel uncomfortable. The difference between a fear and a phobia is that a phobia is an intense and irrational fear toward one or more things or situations. Also, with phobias, the level of your fear doesn’t match the actual danger presented by the feared object or situation.
Phobias become a health issue when the fear interferes with your ability to carry out daily activities. Phobias can limit your ability to work efficiently, can put a strain on your relationships and reduce your self-esteem. In this case, for example, you might purposely avoid outdoor activities (hikes, picnics, biking) or seasonal activities (Halloween) with family or friends because of your fear that spiders might be present.
Common triggers include:
If you have arachnophobia:
About 3% to 15% of the population has arachnophobia.
Arachnophobia is more common in females than males. Although anyone, at any age, can develop a specific phobia, such as arachnophobia, most develop in childhood and adolescence.
If you have arachnophobia, you may:
What causes arachnophobia isn’t fully understood. Researchers believe causes might include:
Technically, scientists believe neurochemicals overstimulate an area of your brain — your amygdala — in the presence of fear. There’s also thought that a single genetic mutation can increase your risk of arachnophobia if you have that gene defect.
If you have arachnophobia, you know you have a fear of spiders and you know it’s a problem because you take great caution in avoiding situations in which you might encounter a spider.
Your healthcare provider will want to confirm that your fear is a phobia versus a normal level of fear and that it’s not the result of a medical condition or psychiatric disorder. Phobias significantly interfere with your ability to live a normal life. Your provider may give you a questionnaire to fill out or ask you directly how your arachnophobia has affected your daily life, how intense your fear feels and how often you feel it. They may also ask how you cope.
Your provider will make the diagnosis of arachnophobia if you have all of the following:
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and exposure therapy are the two main treatments for arachnophobia.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT): This type of psychotherapy (talk therapy) focuses on managing your phobia by changing the way you think, feel and behave.
During CBT, you’ll:
Exposure therapy (also called desensitization therapy): In this type of psychotherapy, you are gradually exposed to your feared situation. With gradual, repeated exposure, the goal is that you will feel comfortable when faced with your feared situation and, in this case, to recognize that spiders are not dangerous (unless you live in parts of the country known for dangerous spiders).
Exposure therapy may involve:
Exposure therapy can be paced in in several ways. Therapy also includes relaxation and breathing exercises. Your psychologist will develop a unique plan for you, based on the severity of your symptoms.
CBT and exposure therapy are often used together in a single treatment plan. CBT helps you gain insight into your fears, then exposure therapy helps desensitize your body’s “fight or flight” response to spiders.
Medications don’t treat arachnophobia, but are sometimes prescribed, for a short period of time, to treat the anxiety caused by your fear of spiders. Medications, if used, are usually part of total psychotherapy treatment plan. If your healthcare provider thinks you need medication, the drug classes most often prescribed are:
In addition to seeing your primary healthcare provider or psychologist, you can try any of the following that make you feel comfortable:
Without treatment, a phobia can last a lifetime and can isolate you from people and social activities.
Fortunately, phobias are very treatable. Psychotherapy — exposure therapy in particular — helps as many as 90% of people who are committed to practicing the therapy they learned. You may notice improvements within weeks to a few months.
It may be time to see your healthcare provider if your intense fear of spiders:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
It may be comforting to know that many people have phobias. Your healthcare provider is ready to help you. The good news is that arachnophobia is a treatable condition. With treatment and your commitment to practice the techniques you learn in therapy, you can learn to manage your fear of spiders and enjoy your life.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 09/02/2021.
Learn more about our editorial process.