A phobia, defined as a deep-rooted fear of something, can disrupt your everyday life and overall well-being—even more so when the thing that you’re scared of is everywhere, such as insects. This is known as entomophobia, “an excessive and irrational fear or phobia of insects,” says neuropsychologist Sanam Hafeez, PsyD. “This fear can extend to various types of insects, including common ones like ants, spiders, bees, cockroaches, and flies, as well as less threatening or harmless insects.”
Furthermore, bedbugs, in particular, can be quite triggering for people with entomophobia, enough to keep them up at night. Below, Dr. Hafeez explains why that is as well as the symptoms and treatments of entomophobia.
Symptoms of entomophobia
So how do you know if you suffer from entomophobia vs. just not being a fan of insects? Dr. Hafeez notes that people who suffer from this type of phobia will experience an overwhelming sense of fear or panic when confronted with insects or even just the mere thought of them that is disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the insects. “This can lead to significant anxiety and distress, causing restlessness, irritability, and feeling out of control,” she says. “Physical reactions such as rapid heartbeat, sweating, trembling, and shortness of breath are common, as are hyper-awareness and constant scanning of the environment for insects.”
Because of this intense fear, Dr. Hafeez adds that people with this type of phobia often develop avoidance behaviors. In other words, they go out of their way to steer clear of situations or places where they may encounter insects. While in the moment, this tactic may help ease fear and anxiety, doing so repeatedly means they miss out on things and experiences. For instance, a fear of bedbugs may prevent someone from traveling, even if that is something they desire to do.
Triggers of entomophobia
According to Dr. Hafeez, three main things can trigger symptoms of entomophobia: coming in direct contact with an insect, thinking about insects, or observing other people’s fears or distress in response to insects, such as through hearing stories or watching media portrayals that depict insects in a threatening manner.
Moreover, Dr. Hafeez explains that bedbugs can be particularly triggering for people with entomophobia because they are associated with invading personal space and feeding on human blood while you sleep. As you can imagine, this notion can make people with entomophobia feel vulnerable and deeply violated. Also, “the resilience and difficulty in eradicating bedbug infestations can amplify feelings of helplessness and anxiety, intensifying the fear response,” she says. “Additionally, the physical evidence of bedbug bites, such as itching and welts, can reinforce the fear and serve as a constant reminder of their presence, heightening distress for individuals with entomophobia.”
Treatment options for entomophobia
If the fear of bed bugs or other insects keeps you up at night, there are things you can do to overcome the phobia. Particularly, Dr. Hafeez points to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an effective therapeutic treatment for phobias such as entomophobia. “It involves identifying and challenging irrational thoughts and beliefs about insects,” Dr. Hafeez explains. “Through cognitive restructuring, individuals learn to replace fearful and distorted thoughts with more rational and realistic ones.”
Exposure therapy is one form of CBT, which, as its name suggests, involves gradually exposing yourself to feared stimuli such as insects. “Through systematic and controlled exposure, individuals can confront their fears in a safe environment and learn to manage their anxiety responses,” Dr. Hafeez says. “This therapy can be conducted in various ways, such as virtual reality simulations, imaginal exposure—mentally imagining encounters with insects—or in-vivo exposure, gradual, real-life exposure to insects.”
All that said, overcoming entomophobia (or any other phobia, for that matter) requires patience and dedication. While you’re in the thick of it all, Dr. Hafeez says leaning on mindfulness-based techniques such as meditation can also help manage the anxiety and fear that comes with entomophobia.