Herpetophobia (Fear of Reptiles): Causes and Treatment


Herpetophobia is a fear of reptiles. People with herpetophobia are most often afraid of reptiles like snakes and lizards. However, they may also be afraid of other reptiles, such as turtles, alligators, and crocodiles.

Herpetophobia is a specific phobia, which is a kind of anxiety disorder. If you have a specific phobia, you feel an overwhelming sense of fear or anxiety about something. There are many different types of specific phobia.

How common are phobias of lizards and snakes?

Specific phobias are a relatively common anxiety disorder. It’s likely that many people will experience one at some stage of their life.

According to information collected by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), approximately 12.5 percent of adults in the United States will experience a specific phobia at some point in time.

Out of all of the reptiles, fear of snakes is the most common. It’s estimated that 2 to 3 percent of people meet the clinical criteria for a phobia of snakes (ophidiophobia).

The factors that cause specific phobias like herpetophobia are currently unclear. However, there are several things that could contribute, including:

A bad experience

A bad experience with a reptile can cause you to associate it with feelings of fear or pain. For example, a person who’s been bitten by a snake may develop a fear of snakes.

Learning

It’s possible that we learn to fear specific things, particularly at a young age. For example, if you have a parent or sibling that’s very frightened of lizards, you may also learn to fear them.

It’s also important to point out that cultural factors may also play a role in a person’s perception of reptiles. Reptiles, particularly snakes, are often present in mythology, folklore, and religious texts throughout the world.

A 2012 study of 514 participants in Portugal investigated attitudes toward conservation of reptiles and amphibians. Researchers discovered that negative impressions or folklore involving these animals predicted a negative attitude.

Genetics

Genetics may also contribute to the development of specific phobias. For example, if one of your parents is afraid of lizards, this fear, or an increased risk of developing it, could potentially be passed on to you.

In relation to fear of snakes, humans may have evolved a heightened ability to detect these animals. It’s thought that this adaptation helped early humans to avoid attacks by snakes.

A 2014 study investigated people’s ability to find snakes in a search task. Participants were asked to find the snake within a group of distracting background images.

It was found that participants were able to pick out images of snakes from among the background images faster and more accurately than those of spiders or mushrooms.

Fear processing

Everyone processes feelings like anxiety and fear differently. It’s possible that some people may naturally be more anxious. This could make them more likely to have a phobia.

There are two types of specific phobia symptom: psychological and physical. The main psychological symptom for herpetophobia is feeling overwhelming fear or anxiety when exposed to a reptile.

These feelings are often disproportionate to the actual threat that the reptile poses to the person. In addition to feeling fear and anxiety when a reptile is physically present, someone with herpetophobia may also have symptoms when:

  • thinking about a reptile
  • talking about or hearing other people talk about reptiles
  • viewing a picture or a video of a reptile

A person that has herpetophobia will often go out of their way to avoid coming into contact with reptiles. This can potentially lead to a significant disruption of their daily life and activities.

Physical symptoms can also be present in someone with a specific phobia such as herpetophobia. These can include:

Herpetophobia and children

Children can also have herpetophobia. A child with herpetophobia may do some of the following things when they’re exposed to a reptile:

  • freeze
  • start to cry
  • cling to you
  • throw a tantrum

A good indicator of when to seek help for a fear of reptiles is when it begins to significantly disrupt your life. This occurs in several different ways, such as:

  • lowering your productivity at work or in school
  • straining relationships with family and friends
  • impacting social interactions or social activities
  • impairing your ability to carry out day-to-day tasks

If you notice any of these things happening, make an appointment with a mental health professional. There are many types of mental health professionals, including psychologists and psychiatrists.

During your first visit, they’ll talk with you about your history and symptoms. From the information that they gather, they’ll recommend a treatment plan. We’ll discuss the treatment of herpetophobia in more detail below.

The treatment for herpetophobia involves therapy and, less commonly, medications. Let’s take a closer look at each treatment option, as well as some general coping tips.

Therapy

There are two different types of therapy that are often used for specific phobias like herpetophobia. These are:

  • Exposure therapy. Your therapist will slowly increase your exposure to reptiles. For example, they may ask you to think of reptiles in the first session, with the goal of you actually holding a reptile in later sessions. Various techniques to cope with anxiety are also taught.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Often used along with exposure therapy, the aim of CBT is to help identify and reshape negative thought patterns and emotions that contribute to your fear of reptiles.

Medications

Benzodiazepines and beta-blockers are two examples of medications that may be prescribed to you as you’re being treated for herpetophobia. However, these are often only given for a short amount of time to help you cope with feelings of anxiety.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also often prescribed for specific phobias.

Additional tips for coping

In addition to getting treatment for herpetophobia, there are also some additional coping steps that you can take:

  • Aim to avoid letting your phobia become disruptive to your daily life. A way you can do this is to refrain from going too far out of your way to avoid reptiles.
  • Try out different ways to lower stress, such as yoga and meditation.
  • Avoid stimulants like caffeine, as they may fuel feelings of anxiety.
  • Implement, and stick to, healthy lifestyle choices, such as a well-balanced diet, regular exercise, and maintaining a regular sleep schedule.
  • Don’t hesitate to speak to others about how you feel. Joining a support group can help you to connect with people in your area who are also experiencing a specific phobia.

Herpetophobia is a fear of reptiles. This can include any type of reptile, but most often applies to snakes and lizards.

Herpetophobia is a type of anxiety disorder called specific phobia. People that have a specific phobia experience intense anxiety around the object of their fear. They may also have physical symptoms like racing heart, sweating, and shaking.

It’s possible to treat herpetophobia using therapy. If you find that you have a fear of reptiles that’s significantly impacting your life, make an appointment to speak with a mental health professional.



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