What is Ophidiophobia? (An Overview)
In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Ophidiophobia.
An irrational fear of snakes is called Ophidiophobia.
It is a type of specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V. Someone suffering from this type of specific phobia will experience extreme anxiety exposed to snakes.
For a sufferer, not just the exposure/sight of a snake is terrifying but the mere thought of it can instigate extreme anxiety.
This anxiety can cause one to have full-blown panic attacks.
Ophidiophobia is claimed to drive from Herpetophobia (fear of reptiles).
This fear though is not wholly irrational because snakes are potentially dangerous.
Their fangs contain poison. If a snake bites one, the poison can be life threatening to the victim.
Thus, the fear of snakes is somewhat justified.
However, someone suffering from Ophidiophobia is unable to rationalize his fear because of excess anxiety one goes through.
This excessive anxiety causes one to avoid their fear stimuli, snakes. This act of avoidance is repetitive which produces pleasant feelings in one.
Thus, one can develop OCD as a result of it.
As the DSM-V suggests, these acts of avoidance affect one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, someone might live in a more populated area instead of a rural one for the fear of encountering snakes.
Someone living near a garden might restrict themselves within their homes.
One might not attend school or office for the fear of getting exposed to snakes. The sufferer will self-isolate themselves and can have depression.
Ophidiophobia is an irrational fear of snakes.
The word originated from the Greek word ‘ophis’ meaning snake and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Symptoms of Ophidiophobia
Like in the case of all other specific phobias, Ophidiophobia too has anxiety as its focal symptom.
Individuals suffering from an irrational fear of snakes suffer from extreme anxiety which, as mentioned earlier, can result in one having panic attacks.
When one undergoes extreme anxiety, the body experiences other physiological symptoms as well. Such as increased heartbeat or palpitations.
When the sufferer thinks of snakes he goes into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush.
In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.
They either decide to escape the situation (flight)-faint or suffer from panic attacks or stay and combat their fear (fight)-by taking counterproductive actions.
Sufferers of Ophidiophobia experience symptoms in different ways. One might have more severe symptoms than the other, based on their past experiences and intensity of the phobia.
Though, as the DSM-5 suggests, one must experience anxiety lasting for at least 6-months.
Symptoms one experiences in Ophidiophobia are:
- Excessive anxiety when exposed to snakes
- Excessive anxiety when thinking about snakes
- Inability to manage anxiety
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Avoiding snakes
- Increased heart beat
- Muscle tension
- Feelings of dizziness/fainting
- Feeling depressed
- Fear of an impending doom
- Excessive sweating
- Hot/cold flashes
- Butterflies in the stomach
- Drying up of the mouth
For one to be diagnosed with Ophidiophobia, a person should experience at least 3-5 of these symptoms (including anxiety).
Causes of Ophidiophobia
Like every other specific phobia, Ophidiophobia is a result of either genetics or a past traumatic experience.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias has a higher chance of developing Ophidiophobia than someone who doesn’t.
This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop it.
Genes and neurotransmitters also play a significant role in this genetic predisposition.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship.
According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Ophidiophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear related to snakes.
An environmental trigger event can be a past traumatic experience such as, the sufferer might’ve been bitten by a snake and suffered pain and bad health, thus developed fear.
Or, they saw their parents getting scared of them.
They might’ve heard from a family member about an unpleasant incident related to snakes that happened to them.
Media reports showing stats of the number of people who die due to snake poising can lead to Ophidiophobia.
Iophobia (fear of poison) can also be a reason why one develops Ophidiophobia.
Treatment of Ophidiophobia
Ophidiophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Ophidiophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Ophidiophobia is defined as the irrational fear of snakes.
Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about being exposed to snakes.
Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation.
The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation.
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Ophidiophobia.
It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of this ‘animal’ specific phobia.
Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts.
The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling.
Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts.
Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment.
This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then.
For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the blowing wind, making use of their auditory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills.
This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed.
Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse.
Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem/fearful aspects to it.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Ophidiophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia).
In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time.
To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of a snake for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further.
In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he is around snakes.
During this process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to real snakes, in a garden for example.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises.
These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation.
This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of snakes, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions.
Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions, lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process.
This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes of yoga and meditation, 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Ophidiophobia.
Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken.
This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic.
However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation.
Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
Medicines like Valium are anti-anxiety drugs.
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias.
Medicines like Lexapro reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm.
They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Ophidiophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people.
Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while a person is in a particular yoga posture.
Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like.
Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga.
The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about snakes.
Whether the cause of Ophidiophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read
- The Fear of Snakes: Evolutionary and Psychobiological Perspectives on Our Innate Fear (The Science of the Mind)
by Nobuyuki Kawai
- Overcoming Animal and Insect Phobias: How to Conquer Fear of Dogs, Snakes, Rodents, Bees, Spiders, and More
by Martin M. Antony and Randi E. McCabe
- Fear of Snakes: The Ultimate Guide to Overcome Ophidiophobia or Snake Phobia (Phobia, Overcome Fear, Ophidiophobia, Fear of Snakes, Fear of Reptiles, Snake Fear, Fear of Serpent)
by James Scott
- Overcome Fear Snakes Subliminal Affirmations: Ophidiophobia & Reptile Phobia, Solfeggio Tones, Binaural Beats, Self Help Meditation Hypnosis
by Subliminal Hypnosis, uncredited, et al.
Side Note: I have tried and tested various products and services to help with my anxiety and depression. See my top recommendations here, as well as a full list of all products and services our team has tested for various mental health conditions and general wellness.
What we recommend for Phobias
- If you are suffering from Phobias then ongoing professional counselling could be your ideal first point of call. Counselling will utilize theories such as Cognitive behavioural therapy which will help you address the fears you are facing.
Weighted Blankets may help you sleep better if your phobias are affecting your quality of sleep. Weighted blankets apply enough weight on you that they make you feel much more relaxed and calm at night.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) What causes Ophidiophobia?
It is either caused by a genetic predisposition (family history) or an environmental trigger event (childhood experiences).
Q2) How do I get rid of Ophidiophobia?
To overcome this irrational fear of snakes, one must consult a doctor (psychologist/psychiatrist) in order for them to plan their suture treatments. therapies used to treat phobias include exposure therapy, CBT, Yoga and or medicinal drugs.
Q3) Do I have Ophidiophobia?
If one suffers from extreme anxiety lasting for at least 6 months, panic attacks, increased heart rate, breathlessness and other physiological symptoms, one can be diagnosed with Ophidiophobia.
Examples of other interesting phobias
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