How I Got Over My Arachnophobia

If you’ve been Googling “arachnophobia treatment” or “overcoming severe arachnophobia” and you’ve found your way onto my post, firstly welcome but more importantly WELL DONE!

As a former severe arachnophobic, I know that it probably took you a lot of attempts to even type in the phrase for fear of coming across an image of a spider. I bet even reading that word gave you chills.

It’s also possible that you’re actually a friend or family member of an arachnophobic who wasn’t able to do the Googling themselves – this was me two years ago. My husband had to research it all for me because I couldn’t chance accidentally coming across a video or photo that would make me on edge the rest of the night.

Whoever you are, I hope you will find your answers to your spider troubles here. Before we get into though, I just want to assure anyone reading that there are NO pictures of spiders anywhere on this page or on my blog – you’re safe to look around.

Finding a cure for arachnophobia

As I mentioned before, it wasn’t me that actually found the cure to my arachnophobia it was my husband. I’ve always said that I would never step foot on Australia but it’s such a big part of the world and as an avid traveller it seemed absurd that I never had or never would go there. So my husband and I booked a 6-month excursion across Europe, Asia and Australia in hopes that my love for travel would vanquish my fear of spiders.

Sadly this was not the case. Almost as soon as we’d booked plane tickets I was having vivid nightmares about spiders, that they were in the room, on my face, in the bed, on the ceiling. I’d always had nightmares about spiders, usually 4 times year I would wake up convinced one was in the bed (this had happened to me once for real as a child, maybe one of the many reasons I was arachnophobic). However, these nightmares were more terrifying and more frequent – almost every night in fact. Something had to be done and soon as we only had four months until we embarked on our first leg of the trip.

My husband did a wonderful job researching and vetting out all the websites that claimed to have the cure for arachnophobia or help a course on it but then finished with a photo of people holding tarantulas. No ok! Not helpful! Then he found that London Zoo holds a Friendly Spider Programme, the website has no spiders on it so it’s ok to click through.

I was nervous at first, knowing that I would come into contact with spiders by the end of the day but the testimonials don’t lie with one person writing…

Can’t thank you enough, it’s been 35+ years of being terrified, gone in an afternoon.

If they could cure her, then my 25 years of arachnophobia should be a breeze! I was ready, it needed to be done and that’s the first hurdle you need to overcome before booking onto any course. Making sure you’re ready to not be arachnophobic for the first time in your life.

I was ready, so fucking ready.

How my arachnophobia was cured

It was a stressful day! I was a nervous wreck, I was constantly shaking and jumpy like I thought that somehow the spiders knew I was conquering my fear and they were going to get to me first.

I took the tube into the city and caught a bus up to Primrose Park and walked the rest of the way to the zoo. There were giraffes practically leaning over the fence onto the sidewalk. If you had been 10ft you might have been tall enough to stroke one. It was very surreal, the whole day seemed – was I really doing this after so many years of being nervous about being home alone in case there was a spider and no one around to dispose of it, or doing my spider checks before going into a room and getting into bed.

Walking into the smallish entrance of the conference room where the programme was held, was like being in an airport detainment room. Everyone was acting nervy, holding plastic water cups but not drinking, looking around the room for some indication as to whether this was going to have a happy or devastating end.

In the first part of the programme, we gathered in a lecture room and were asked as to why we were afraid of spiders. Some of the answers were:

big

hairy

quick

ugly

lurking

surprising

When we were asked why we were choosing now to try and be rid of our fears, many said to prevent passing on the fear to their children. The majority though said it was because they wanted to or were planning a trip to Australia, yet not one person said they were afraid of being hurt or killed by a spider. Strange!

Could the fact that no one was afraid of spiders due to safety reasons make curing us all easier? I think so because retraining our mind not to think of spiders as disgusting creatures seems more simple that convincing the mind to ignore a basic survival instinct.

The psychologist and arachnologist running the programme, were excellent in appreciating how this fear had in some cases become life-altering and did everything they could to make us feel safe and calm, from reassuring us that a full spider check had been done of each room to using a triangle for any illustration purposes.

After a good talk about the reasons behind our fears, we moved into the next room to work on how to retrain our minds in how we perceive spiders. We all lay down and began some relaxation exercises as well as other techniques to focus the mind and before we knew it the lights were back on and a whole 30 minutes had passed (it honestly felt like 5-10 minutes had gone at most. The power of the mind!) We had experienced a form of hypnosis, in which we had pushed our fears of spiders away from our mind and had replaced them with a sense of calmness and a feeling of control.

Before I knew it we were at the final part of the day, where we entered the insect enclosure and much to my surprise, I didn’t feel any sense of anxiety. I marched confidently up to the doors, swung it open and waltz in as if I’d be going through doors all of my life.

Inside the spider’s lair

The first test was when I gazed upon a fairly cracking sized house spider, in a bathtub sealed behind glass. As I glanced over the edge of the tub and saw what was the first of many spiders I would encounter that day, I felt nothing towards it. The usual hair-raising, stomach churning, stabbing fear was gone or at least muted behind a thick wall of rationality. As a group, we made our way an array of caged spiders, of various sizes from tiny little colourful ones which were actually quite cute to larger sized ones. Ones from my nightmares but having the knowledge that they were behind glass, unable to get anywhere near me I felt in control, which was something I never thought I could have with a spider.

However the real test was to come, those that had confidently made it around the caged spiders had the option to walk in the orb room – a room of free-roaming orb spiders. Gulp. Orb spiders are extremely slow but are quite sizable. Another arachnologist very patiently guided small groups of people around the room, explaining what the spiders do, how they live and why they are incredible creatures vital to our ecosystem.

Did you know that without spiders we’d be wading through an inch of flies every day?

It might seem a little overwhelming at this point in my story, so if you feel like you want to take a break you can. Though I urge you to read on because one thing the psychologist made very clear that it’s important to push yourself in order to progress as you can regress and become arachnophobic once again if you retreat back into avoiding spiders and getting other people to catch them.

Naturally, completing the orb room was a massive breakthrough and we all needed a little time and a hypnosis refresh but we were ready for the next challenge – catching a house spider. This is something I never thought I’d be able to do but then I never thought I’d be able to walk through a room of spiders so I was confident.

We were handed a clear plastic cup and a sturdy piece of card. The psychologist prepared us mentally before releasing a house spider to which we all had to catch in turn in order to pass the course. As soon as the spider was free, I calmly placed the cup over it and with focus and purpose, slid the card underneath. With one swift movement, I turned the cup over with the card on top and handed the container with the little guy inside, completely proud of my achievements. I received my certificate and was free to leave and enter a new world living without the fear of my next encounter with a spider because next time I’d be ready to deal with the situation myself.

Life without arachnophobia

This part of the story actually continues straight after capturing the house spider, those that felt they wanted further exposure. Especially those of us wanting to go to Australia were invited to hold Katie – a red-kneed tarantula. With the potential to bite and sting this was the first time I actually lost my cool and had a little cry. On my first try I couldn’t relax and looked like I had a live grenade in my hands but after a few minutes and some words of encouragement from my fellow arachnophobia conquerors, I had another go. First stroking her soft velvety legs which felt like a miniature cat’s leg and her fuzzy little belly which actually reminded me of peach!

Realising how delicate and small she was made me for the first time in my life understand the saying that they’re more scared of us than we are of them. She sat perfectly still and when it was time to hand her back I found myself being cautious not for my benefit but to make sure I didn’t scare or hurt her. The last thing I wanted to do was hoover her up!

Four months later we were in South East Asia and their spiders are just as large as Australia’s and I found myself unphased when I had to walk under webs (one containing a large inhabitant!) and felt such sympathy for those who had to be dragged under, tears streaming down their faces.

Since completing my course I’ve captured and released about half a dozen spiders, though not another house spider yet. Maybe now I don’t notice them as I would have done before or maybe my cats get to them first, either way the best part of it all is I don’t spend every waking moment dreading the next time I see one and having to plan how to get around it.

Living without arachnophobia is truly freeing. I’m probably never going to love spiders – I certainly won’t be getting one as a pet but I can live freely knowing my life is determined by my chances of coming into contact with a spider. I hope one day you can feel this way too!

If you’ve conquered a major fear, I’d love to know about it! Send me a message or leave a comment below.

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