How to fix your spider phobia on the cheap

by Marc Wilson / 07 April, 2017

A jumping spider. Photo/Alamy

If spiders give you the heebie-jeebies, you’re in good company, and can be cheaply cured.

One Saturday in my university years, my girlfriend was working while I had the evening off. We decided I’d go to the new release at the MidCity cinema in Wellington and kick around for a few hours until she knocked off. No sooner had the trailers finished than she appeared beside me – it was a slow evening, and the boss had told her to head off early. “So,” she said, “what’s this movie about?”

Arachnophobia. The answer is in the name. We both spent the movie with our feet off the floor and knees pulled up to our chins.

The stars of Arachnophobia are two large animatronic killer spiders, 374 Avondale spiders and Jeff Bridges. Big animatronic spiders have their charms, but it was the sight of hundreds of Avondales scampering around that really set my skin crawling.

In spite of the name, the spiders are not native to Avondale, or New Zealand, but apparently came to us courtesy of timber shipments from Australia. Despite average Avondale house prices tipping over $880,000, these suckers have stayed put, thriving but not spreading. Lucky Avondale.

Arachnid-wrangler Ruud Kleinpaste.

Fear of spiders is pretty high on the list of phobias. In fact, animal phobias – or anxiety triggered by animals that “must be out of proportion to the actual threat” – are the most common family of specific phobia. About 10% of people are phobic about something, and double that are specifically phobic about animals. Snakes are the most common phobic target, twice as “popular” as spiders, which come in second.

The interesting thing is that you don’t have to have had a bad experience with a venomous snake (or a poisonous spider, for that matter) to develop a phobia – after all, we don’t have many of these in New Zealand. This is because some of our fears are rooted in the part of our brain that predates iPhones, steam engines or fire – it is a deep-seated and visceral response to a potential threat.

Recent research has shown spiders inspire not only fear but also disgust among our most basic emotions. Cockroaches also make us shiver, but more out of disgust – their pairing with things that we really don’t mean to put into our bodies, or that have already come out.

If you have the kind of irrational fear of spiders that interferes with your life, let me save you some money. First, spider phobias can often be solved with as little as a one-hour session with a psychologist. If you’d prefer to heal thyself, then force yourself to watch old episodes of “Bugman” Ruud Kleinpaste handling spiders on YouTube.

Start with a few seconds and build up from there. Once you’re able to do that, get yourself a toy spider and practise holding it. Next time you see a real spider, force yourself to stay in the room, narrating what you’re feeling out loud. Final step: pick it up and toss it out the window. Rinse, repeat, hey presto. No phobia. Now let me tell you about the time I chose Eight Legged Freaks as a date movie.

This article was first published in the March 25, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.

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