Incy Wincy spider climbed up the water spout
Down came the rain and washed poor Incy out
Out came the sunshine and dried up all the rain
So Incy Wincy spider climbed up the spout again.
For some of you, the above is just a children’s nursery rhyme; for those of you who are afraid of spiders or have full blown arachnophobia it doesn’t bear thinking about. Even the word ‘spider’ can send some arachnophobes into a high state of anxious arousal.
Phobias can seem totally irrational to those who don’t have them. They can become a source of jokes and ridicule. The thought of someone being afraid of balloons, pigeons, buttons, vomit or flying seems strange and weird to those who don’t respond in the same way. According to the NHS Choices website there are an estimated 10 million people in the UK who have a phobia. There are simple phobias, such as fear of flying or fear of spiders, and more complex phobias, such as social phobia where someone does not go into social settings or avoids being with groups of people.
What are phobias and how do they start? Technically a phobia is an anxiety disorder. At first the person may just not like to be near the stimulus (e.g. the spider) then they may start to avoid going into rooms or other places where they think they might come across the stimulus. Over time they become more and more anxious if they think they’ll come into contact with the stimulus and then start to avoid situations, places and people.
Phobias are formed in different ways. They can be learned. Many who are frightened of spiders learn to be afraid of spiders when they are young from another family member or close friend. When you are young you don’t know any other way of reacting, so what you see is the norm and just how things are done in your family.
A phobia can be formed as a result of a specific event: perhaps you were bitten by a dog or were in a turbulent flight and were frightened. The physical symptoms of fear (sweaty palms, heart beating faster, short breathing etc.) can be very uncomfortable and people then fear those unpleasant sensations. People then focus on the awful feelings and try to avoid ever experiencing them again and so a phobia is born. Whatever the origin of the phobia, the more people avoid a situation the less likely they are to learn that they do come through it and survive the situation, even if it is unpleasant.
Treating phobias can be done in a number of ways. Counselling, psychotherapy and cognitive behaviour therapy will help people explore their behaviours, thoughts and feelings, and help them start to change those to a more balanced way of thinking. Desensitisation to the stimuli will often be used to help the person become more comfortable. This allows the person to be introduced to the stimulus in a planned way so that they gradually overcome their fear. Neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) and hypnotherapy also have useful techniques that can help people overcome their phobia.
Whatever the phobia, those suffering from them can be helped to overcome their fears and lead a more ‘normal’ life.
by Anne Morrison © 2011
Anne Morrison, MBSCH, Clinical and Cognitive Behaviour Hypnotherapist, lives in Whitley Bay and works in North Shields. She is also a volunteer therapist at Hospice Care North Northumberland providing support to patients and their relatives. She can be contacted by phone on 0191 300 0933 or via her website www.annemorrison.co.uk.