This post has been adapted from Chantal’s Wanderfilled London blog which has lots of brilliant posts about nature and exploring new parts of London. Chantal Woodun is a London National Park City Ranger and has volunteered with The Royal Parks’ Learning Team. Chantal has always enjoyed being around greenery and the natural world and believes a connection with nature is critical for both mental health and a respect of the environment. She wants to help people discover the amazing wildlife and green spaces across London and to help share events and knowledge.
It's irrational, we know!!
I don’t recall the origin of my fear of spiders but I also don’t know of a time that I wasn’t terrified of them.
I am aware that the fear is irrational, particularly in the UK. People telling me they aren’t poisonous, that they are probably more scared of us than we are of them never really helped as seeing one run out of the corner of my eye would fill me with fear.
I clearly recall one Friday night in 2000 where I spent about 30 minutes plucking up the courage to kill a spider that had run out from under the sofa and into the fireplace. I stood over that fireplace for about 20 minutes with a rolled-up Evening Standard in hand, my heart absolutely racing, knowing that if I didn't kill it, I would somehow have to sleep knowing that it would be somewhere, waiting for me.
There was another time that I got a neighbour out of the shower to remove one from my hallway. She was Australian and didn’t seem to agree when I told her it was huge.
Facing my fear
Over the years, I have travelled to a number of countries. I rarely fear travelling alone but have spent many a night contemplating my decision to visit a country where the spiders are a lot bigger and more dangerous than in the UK.
Prior to a trip where I was particularly nervous about the spider situation, a friend gave me some advice that changed my life! She told me that before she moved to Australia, she went on the Friendly Spider Programme run by ZSL London Zoo, situated on the northern edge of The Regent’s Park. While I always knew it was a phobia, I had never considered getting help for it.
The zoo was incredibly sensitive, not having pictures of spiders on their website and having carried out a sweep of the building to ensure that we wouldn’t encounter any unwanted friends. The course started with the explanation of why we have phobias and some of the reactions to them. I had always felt I was pretty high on the fear scale but hearing from other people who described their reactions, it sounded crippling. What I found amazing was that the course simply spoke about the science of it all: phobias, reactions, benefits of spiders to the ecosystem, why they end up in our houses and how we should encourage them back outside.
1. They eat common indoor pests, such as earwigs, mosquitoes, flies and clothes moths and are thus effective home pest control.
2. They kill their own kind, as when they come into contact with one another the winner eats the loser.
3. They help curtail disease spread. Spiders feast on many household pests that can transmit disease to humans.
4. They benefit the ecosystem. They eat animals such as aphids that feed on plants.
5. They are food for other animals. Spiders are also important in food chains. Many of our favourite garden birds, such as sparrows and blackbirds eat invertebrates including spiders.
I think the key part of the course was a group hypnosis session. No pocket watches in sight but I do think that this is where all the magic happened. Helping all of the information we had spoken about sink into our subconscious.
The last part of the session was an optional visit to the creepy crawly house. I know for you arachnophobes out there, that would be the show stopper, one that instils fear. However, I assure you that the magic of relearning had already started working and it was good to go whilst in a really safe and reassuring environment. Therefore, the vast majority of people went and I don't think any of us regretted it.
We are friends now
Ok, well that's not quite true and I am by no means saying I love the 8-legged critters, however, after composing myself, I can recognise their importance and respect them enough to now be able to place a container over them and escort them safely out the building.
If you feel the fear and the pain of this phobia, then I feel a course such as the one run by ZSL London Zoo would be hugely beneficial.
How Mission: Invertebrate can help
Through Mission: Invertebrate, we often meet members of the public who can be a bit nervous around invertebrates, particularly spiders. At our family roadshow, we have lots of activities to ease potentially anxious visitors into the wonderful world of invertebrates. For example, our bugmobile is designed to allow children to explore artificial habitats and search for hidden bug stickers before moving on to look at specimen outside then finally meeting the live versions. We also have lots of online resources and crafts to learn about these important animals.