How often do we find insects at home? This experience is not pleasant, but generally it does not affect us. Now imagine a person who has a phobia of insects …
For her, anxiety increases exponentially. Her body reacts as if she were facing a lion. This situation, although not that common, can significantly affect the quality of life of those who suffer from it.
Hence, it is important to know some of the characteristics of these phobias. Just as it is important to understand their origin and to know the interventions that have proven to be the most effective to overcome them.
The definition of the term phobia
A phobia is an anxiety disorder characterized by strong irrational fear motivated by things that do not actually turn out to be a threat. Many of them begin to appear in childhood and continue into adulthood.
There are different models to explain how the body reacts to a phobia. In this case, we will focus on a three-phase model that can explain the presence of insect phobia:
- First phase. There is a negative affective activation caused by a stimulus considered to be threatening. In this phase, there is no defensive action.
- Second phase. The paralyzing response and focused attention take center stage, all caused by a threatening stimulus of great intensity.
- Third phase. In this case, an active defense is already present, which includes fight or flight. It is caused by the presence and interaction with the stimulus which, for the person concerned, is threatening.
On the other hand, it is important to indicate that there are both physical and psychological reactions. Regarding the physical reactions, the main ones studied are as follows:
- Cardiovascular reactions. Increased vasoconstriction in the peripheral nervous system and increased heart rate
- Electrodermal reaction. It is mainly related to the sweating of the skin, so there is an increase in the connective responses of the skin.
- Defensive reflexes. Increased reflexes such as increased defensive blinking, adrenaline in the body, and increased breathing constants.
There are several classifications of phobias, and one of the most accepted includes three groups. These groups are: social phobias, agoraphobia and simple, specific and focal phobias.
In this case, we will talk about the third group, since the phobia of insects is one of them. Some of the characteristics that must be present in the phobia of insects include the following:
- The reaction or response is disproportionate to the events occurring in the situation. You may overreact to a situation that is not potentially dangerous.
- The phobia cannot be reasoned or explained by the individual.
- The person escapes voluntary control.
- The person constantly avoids the dreaded situation.
- The phobia is maladaptive and persists over time.
A person suffering from this type of phobia can develop different beliefs about insects. Added to this is the difficulty created by the person to cope with the feared situation.
In addition, she may make an exaggerated interpretation of the physical symptoms she presents when she is in front of the stimulus. In this case, being in front of an insect is the cause of excessive fear.
In the specific case of animal phobias, the phobia is related to a specific animal, such as insects in this case. Fear usually reaches its peak when animals are in motion. This intensity also tends to increase when the person cannot find a way out of the situation.
Insect phobia: how does the brain work?
A change in brain activity has been observed in the face of phobic stimuli. Recent research has used structural and functional images of the brain. Two specific areas of the brain took center stage:
- The amygdala. This part of the brain is essential in emotional and defensive responses. In particular, it occupies a central place in responses to threats. Likewise, she is involved in forming associations of stimulation and strengthening.
- Therefore, in insect phobia, there is an overactivation of this structure, as it modulates the physical and behavioral responses to insects. In addition, it activates the activation systems in the brain, thus increasing the level of alertness.
- The insula. Its function is to treat interoceptive sensations, particularly related to negative situations. It also allows the anticipation of aversive or threatening stimuli.
How to treat insect phobia?
There are several approaches to dealing with a phobia. Here, we will focus on the main strategies used in psychology, as they bring satisfactory results at the behavioral level and in the regulation of brain activity.
Let’s talk about systematic desensitization first. It is a workout to fight anxiety, such as relaxation training.
Secondly, the person is gradually exposed to insects, until the anxiety reaches as low as possible. The exhibition can be done through the imagination, photos, virtual reality or make them move.
In addition, there are the exhibition techniques. This consists of exposure to insects live, via the imagination or even via virtual reality. This involves gradually confronting the person with different situations : first those which produce the least anxiety, until those which produce more.
To do this, the starting point is a list made by the person himself. The different situations appear ordered according to the level of anxiety they are capable of generating.
Finally, there is cognitive behavioral therapy. Its goal is to change different thought patterns related to insects. She focuses on identifying unrealistic thoughts.
These techniques should be guided by professionals. We have explained them in a very simple way, but complications often appear in their application. They require the knowledge of an experienced person who knows how to apply them.