Is Cotton Wool Scarier Than A Spider?

Arachnophobia, the fear of spiders, tops the list of most common phobias everywhere in the world. And yet here in the UK you are more likely by far to be injured by the fear of the spider, by jumping and hitting your head on a shelf for example, or tripping over while running away, than by the spider itself. Most UK spiders are about as innocuous and harmless as cotton wool balls.

But even those harmless cotton wool balls can spark a fear response in some people. The phobia (known as Sidonglobophobia) causes much the same response as all the other phobias –reactions can include increased heart rate, sweating, feelings of disgust or nausea, thoughts of death or dying and even full blown panic attacks. People who suffer from Sidonglobophobia will have problems with simple things, such as opening a medicine bottle or using a Q-tip.

In terms of what is a reasonable response to a threat, being afraid of cotton wool is just as logically unreasonable as being terrified of spiders. But as with all phobias, this terror is real, and the fear response just as difficult to control and just as life changing as any other phobia, however unreasonable it might appear to be to people who don’t suffer from it. Spiders, even in Australia, rarely kill or seriously injure anyone, and a cotton wool ball never harmed anyone, anywhere.

But phobias are not “reasonable”, whatever the phobia is. The definition of “phobia” is that it is a persistent fear of an object or situation which the sufferer will go to great lengths to avoid, disproportional to the actual danger posed by that object or situation. So by definition all phobias look irrational, or even silly to others who don’t suffer from them. If you do suffer from a phobia, you are probably already well aware that whatever you are afraid of, whether that be spiders, flying, heights or cotton wool, really isn’t that dangerous to you. And yet the fact by itself usually makes no difference, the fear response still happens, however irrational you may know that fear response is.

Fighting an irrational fear or phobia just by applying rationality often doesn’t work. There are other factors too such as your behaviour and feelings, not just your thoughts, which can feed the fear and stop you getting over it. Certainly being laughed at, called “silly” or just being told the statistics by well-meaning people doesn’t stop that fear response. But help is at hand. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, also known as CBT, has a proven track record of helping people deal with their fears. And that’s so for all the phobias, even a fear of cotton wool balls.