How many times have we found a fly in the kitchen? An experience that is not pleasant, but with which we can live. Now, imagine a person who is paralyzed by the same situation, while feeling how anxiety is growing exponentially. His body responds as if a lion has been found, rather than a harmless little animal. This may be one story, of the many that are actually given, of insect phobia.
This situation, despite not being so common, can significantly affect the quality of life of those who suffer from it. Therefore, it is important to know some of the characteristics of these phobias, as well as to understand their origin and to know the interventions that have proven to be most effective.
A phobia is a disorder marked by anxiety , in which there is a strong and irrational fear motivated by elements that do not actually turn out to be a threat. Many of them begin to manifest themselves in childhood and move into adult life. There are different models to explain how the body reacts when it has a phobia. In this case, we will not focus on a three-phase model that can explain the presence of insect phobia:
- First phase : there is a negative affective activation, given by a stimulus that is considered threatening. Even so, in this phase there is no defensive action.
- Second phase : the paralysis 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. This is caused by the presence and interaction with the stimulus that for the person is threatening.
On the other hand, it is important to indicate that there are both physical and psychological reactions. In the case of physical reactions, the main ones studied are the following:
- Cardiovascular : increased vasoconstriction in the peripheral nervous system and increased heart rate
- Electrodermal : it is especially related to sweating on the skin, therefore there is an increase in the connective responses in the skin
- Defensive reflexes : increased reflexes as an increase in: defensive blinking, adrenaline in the body and respiratory constants.
All these responses are activated by the presence of any type of insects, in the case of the presence of insect phobia.
Specific phobias, insect phobia
There are multiple classifications of phobias, and one of the most accepted distinguishes them into three groups: social phobias, agoraphobia, and simple, specific, and focal phobias. In this case, we will talk about the last ones named, since the phobia of insects belongs to them.
Among the characteristics that must be had in the phobia of insects we can find the following:
- The reaction or response is disproportionate to the events that occur in the situation. You can overreact to a situation, which is not potentially dangerous.
- It cannot be reasoned or explained by the individual.
- It is beyond voluntary control.
- It leads to constant avoidance of the feared situation.
- It is maladaptive and persists over time.
Therefore, the person who suffers from this type of phobia can develop different beliefs about insects. Added to this, the difficulty created by the person to face the feared situation.
In addition, you can make an exaggerated interpretation of the physical symptoms that you present when you are in front of the stimulus. In our case, when to be in front of an insect because of the phobia of them.
In the specific case of animal phobia, phobias are related to specific animals, such as insects in this case. Fear usually reaches its highest intensity when animals are in motion. On the other hand, this intensity also tends to grow faster when the person does not find a way to escape or escape from the situation.
How does the brain act in insect phobia?
It has been found that there is a change in brain activity when faced with phobic stimuli. In this case, we will focus on the phobia of insects. More recent research, there are those that use structural and functional images of the brain. In it, three parts have taken center stage:
- Amygdala. This part of the brain is essential in emotional and defensive responses, especially it takes center stage in responses to threats. Likewise, it is involved in the formation of stimulus and reinforcement associations. Therefore, in insect phobia there is a hyperactivation of this structure, since it modulates physical and behavioral responses to insects. In addition, it activates activating systems in the brain, increasing levels of alertness.
- Insula . In the case of insect phobia, it has been seen that there is an increase in activity in the presence of the stimulus that generates the phobia. Its function of processing interoceptive sensations, especially related to negative situations. In addition, the anticipation of aversive or threatening stimuli, as is the case of insects in this phobia.
How to treat insect phobia?
There are multiple approaches to managing a phobia. Here, we will not focus on the main strategies used in psychology. With the use of it, satisfactory results have been seen, both at a behavioral level and in the regulation of brain activity.
First of all, we will talk about systematic desensitization. This consists of a training that is incompatible with anxiety, an example is relaxation training. Subsequently, the person will be gradually exposed to insects, until anxiety is reduced to the lowest possible level. In insect phobia, exposure can be made through imagination, photos, virtual reality or having them live.
Second, there are the exposure techniques. This consists of exposure to insects live, in imagination or even using virtual reality. It is about the person gradually facing situations: from those that produce less anxiety to those that produce more. To do this, the starting point is a list made by the person himself in which these situations are ordered according to the level of anxiety that they are capable of generating.
Lastly, there is cognitive-behavioral therapy. Its objective is to change different thought patterns related to insects. It focuses on identifying unrealistic thoughts, taking into account the possible and the probable.
These techniques, and in general the management of insect phobia, should be guided by professionals. We have explained them in a very simple way; However, the truth is that complications often appear in its application that require the knowledge of an experienced person who knows how to manage them.
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