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Shortcuts: Overcoming arachnophobia

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(CNN) -- This weekend saw California's ninth Annual Tarantula Festival. Loathe spiders? Convinced you could never attend such an event? Here are some tips on how to relax around creepy crawlies.

You are not alone: Fear of spiders is generally considered to be the most common -- though irrational -- of all phobias (in the U.S. it is estimated that half of all women, and a quarter of all men are arachnophobes). Next time you freak out at the sight of a spider remember that all over the world people are screaming just as loud, and trembling just as violently as you. Shared phobias are always so much more bearable than solitary terror.

They're just getting on with their lives: This is one of the two key things to keep in mind if you happen to spot a spider, the simple mantra you should chant to yourself repeatedly whenever you feel the TTs (Tarantula Tremors) starting to take hold. Whether they are crawling up a curtain, circumnavigating your bathtub or sitting quietly in a web underneath the handlebar of that mountain bike you never use, spiders are not remotely interested in you, concerned about you or even conscious of your presence -- they are simply getting on with their little spidery lives immersed in their own personal spidery thoughts. Sure they might happen to share the same space as us, but their world is not our world, and the moment you start to acknowledge the basic existential separation between our two species, the better you will feel.

They aren't out to get me: This is the second key thing to remember around spiders. Although books and films are positively crawling with malevolent arachnids -- remember Shelob, the giant man-eating spider from Lord of the Rings? (actually probably better not to) -- these are fictional creations. Of the many thousands of recorded species of spider in the world only a handful are dangerous to humans, and of that handful none, not even the nasty Australian funnel-web spider, deliberately hang around on street corners waiting to accost you. Statistically you are way more likely to be harmed by, say, a slice of contaminated cheese, yet you don't see people standing on chairs screaming: "Oh my God, there's a piece of Double Gloucester under the sofa!" So try to keep a bit of perspective.

Get some exposure therapy: With so many people suffering from fear of spiders, it is no surprise that whole industries have sprung up devoted to combating that fear. Exposure therapy is one of the most popular and successful methods of treating arachnophobia, involving, as the name suggests, a gradually increasing exposure to spiders, first through pictures, then videos, then face to face and finally, actual physical contact. Exposure leads to familiarity, and that in turn promotes relaxation so that by the end of the treatment you should be able to cradle a tarantula without batting an eyelid. Or at least that's the theory.

Or maybe try hypnotherapy: Another popular way of coming to terms with spiders. Basically you get hypnotized into thinking that rather than being hideous scuttling monsters that look like severed earlobes with legs spiders are in fact jolly fine little fellows and nothing to get worked up about after all. Look into my eyes, my eyes, my eyes, not around the eyes, into the eyes etc.

Accept that while spiders might be bad, no spiders is a lot worse: Spiders actually serve a very useful ecological purpose, trapping and eating lots of other creatures that, in their own way, are all equally upsetting. Do you want to live in a house crawling with woodlice? See your garden devoured by greenfly? Wake up to find your mouth full of maggots and your eyes being sucked out by giant man-eating bluebottles? No? Then show a bit of appreciation!

They are scrumptious with ketchup: OK, maybe this is taking things a little too far, but by all accounts certain of the larger species of arachnid are actually rather tasty. The Piaroa Indians of Venezuela's Amazon Basin, for instance, consider grilled tarantula a great delicacy, while in Cambodia deep-fried 'a-ping' (spider) is popular as a street snack. That's not to suggest you should go out and start guzzling every spider you see. Merely that, if you can train yourself to think of them not as nasty creeping horrors but rather as miniature eight-legged hamburgers (or donuts, or kebabs, or profiteroles -- whatever you most like to eat) then much of the horror inherent of spiders is swiftly dissipated.


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Learn to love spiders and you'll have them playing in the palm of your hand.

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