They may seem irrational, but medically termed phobias are for real and can be challenging to deal with, especially in children. This is because, says Dr Shweta Sharma, clinical psychologist, Columbia Asia Hospital, Gurugram, a deep-seated fear in children can be the root cause of a number of psychological problems. They may be a relatively common anxiety disorder but once identified, should be treated immediately. One such phobia is zoophobia which refers to an abnormal and persistent fear of animals. This can become problematic at times when visiting a zoo or keeping a pet at home.
The term zoophobia has been derived from the Greek word “zoo” which means animals and phobia. If a person is zoophobic, they show irrational fear for animals, and even looking at an animal’s image can make them panic. “Zoophobia is a broad term, and may subsume other phobias such as Arachnophobia or fear of spiders, Scoliodentosaurophobia or fear of lizards, Ranidaphobia or fearing frogs, Ophidiophobia or fear of snakes, Kastaridaphobia or fearing cockroaches, Musophobia or fearing rats, Cynophobia or fear of dogs. Zoophobia can mean the fear of huge and dangerous wild animals or even harmless ones,” Dr Sharma tells indianexpress.com.
Causes and symptoms of Zoophobia
Evolutionary factors: Human evolution may have a role to play as to why we develop such fears. Since early days, animals have been considered dangerous and harmful, and a threat to life. Fear is a natural defense mechanism we have developed for survival. In spite of domesticating some of them, the fear of animals has not completely eliminated and is still in our genes. When it goes overboard, one can have zoophobia.
Traumatic experience: A previous trauma associated with animals can also cause this phobia. If the person was ever attacked or hurt by animals, or saw someone else in such condition, one can develop extreme fear of animals.
Zoophobia can occur in both children and adults, and symptoms are:
1. Intense fear upon seeing an animal, even in a picture that triggers anxiety.
2. Completely avoiding a place with animals, such as zoo.
3. Immediate reaction in terms of screaming, crying and attempts to run away.
4. Realising that the fear is irrational in adults.
5. Thoughts of being attacked by an animal.
6. Panic attacks with visible physical signs such as sweating, trouble in breathing, nausea or vomiting, trembling, racing heartbeat, abdominal uneasiness, dizziness or fainting.
If the symptoms have been occurring persistently for over a period of six months, it is better to consult a
doctor, suggests Dr Sharma.
Treatment of Zoophobia
Zoophobia can be treated using following psychotherapies and medicines under the guidance of a mental health professional:
Exposure therapy with relaxation technique: Probably one of the most effective psychotherapies used in treating specific phobias, the exposure therapy makes a person withstand fearful situations involving animals or their images. Besides, relaxation techniques such as controlled breathing, mental visualisation and meditation to cope with anxiety during the exposure to animals are also taught. The aim of this therapy is to slowly build toleration towards the fear.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is associated with modifying the thoughts and behavior of a person through regular counseling sessions where the counsellor tries to understand the inner thoughts responsible for the fear. The counselor guides the person to understand the phobia and help them release the stress and anxiety, and develop more confidence to face their fear of animals.
Medicines: In severe cases, anti-anxiety and anti-depressant drugs, which balance brain chemicals in controlling the fear and anxiety, are prescribed.
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