In this blog, the etiology, symptoms and treatment of Chiroptophobia will be summarized.
What is Chiroptophobia?
Chiroptophobia is a fear of the bats. This fear stems out from a severe aversion to bats, either due to their physical anatomy or due to the ‘horror hypes’ created about them through vampires and Dracula stories.
People who suffer from this condition are always on the ‘look out’ for bats, especially if they go out at night, or have to pass through a thicket of trees or old buildings. Their fear leaves them jittery whenever they are out in the open at night. This fear creates a fierce fright in the person and he is unable to pay attention to anything else.
Chiroptophobia is the intense all-consuming fear of bats. The people suffering from this fear have a powerful inclination to avoid bats or even the images of bats and avoid any kind of exposure vehemently.
The fear may be rational (due to an accident or trauma related to bats) or irrational (conditioned due to another stimulus). This generates automatic symptoms and the person is unable to control them. Therapies are available for the person to deal with Chiroptophobia.
These days Chiroptophobia is on the rose due to the emergence of Coronavirus that was transmitted into humans form a sick bat. The onset of COVID-19 has left the entire world paralyzed- paralyzed with fear and inaction plus helplessness.
How is Chiroptophobia caused?
Chiroptophobia is caused due to hereditary predisposition, a traumatic event or an accident or imitation of behavior of a significant other.
- Genetic Predisposition
Anxiety and related phobias have a significant genetic basis according to Genome Biol. 2003; If a person is suffering from Chiroptophobia, then chances are that there might be an anxiety disorder of one form or another.
There is a high prevalence rate of the existence in a person to develop phobias, depression and anxieties if someone in the family is already suffering from it or any other mental disorder.
It could also be that the person is already suffering from a mental or psychological disorder prior to his developing this phobia. There have been cases where the presence of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) brought on severe symptoms of Chiroptophobia.
- A previous Trauma or Accident
Rational and irrational fear, both develop due to an event or incidence that took place in the past. Either the incident was of such profound proportions or the threat implied to it generated emotions of a magnitude that it developed the intense fear permanently.
Childhood is the time of vulnerability and of forming schemas that will stay with the child for a very long time. These shapes and cast how he would respond in the future. A person suffering from Chiroptophobia may have experienced an exposure to bats in a highly threatening situation or environment.
It might have happened that the person may have been bitten by a bat or seen a similar image or read about it. Even reading about accidents concerning bats and watching horror films impacts the mind of a person who may already have a predisposition in his body to suffer from a phobia.
Although it is a known fact that bats are blind and use echolocation to move and find their prey, still this knowledge does not alleviate the anxiety of the sufferer. Echolocation is the use of sound waves and echoes to determine where objects are in space.
The COVID-19 pandemic
This pandemic has left many fearful of bats to an extent of reaching to the state of Chiroptophobia because a bat was responsible for the transfer of this coronavirus in to the humans. This kind of virus is new to the human DNA and till now no vaccine can be invented. The entire world is in a ‘lockdown state’. Our businesses to emotions are all locked down and only fear remains prevalent!
- Imitation or Modeling
Fears (general or specific) are very common in all of us. There might be a rarity where people are not really afraid, but in 90% of the cases in universal population, fear is present. Fear of one thing or another.
Children learn behaviors from their parents, siblings or significant another. They learn positive as well as negative behaviors. That is the reason people tend to carry themselves around in a particular or desirable behavior in front of their kids.
If a parent seems to be afraid then chances are higher that the child/children will replicate the same, without knowing the real cause of the scare.
Bats as an object of fear
Usually media and literature has portrayed bats as an object of fear. Due to their mysterious habitats of caves, dark places even up in the mountains, bats have always been depicted as monsters of creatures who are out there to cause injury.
They are also shown as vampires and blood sucking cretins who will do only harm and no good. This leads to a higher rise in the prevalence of Chiroptophobia. When confronted with such ‘fears’ the person starts avoiding the fearful situations, thus giving rise to other mental anguishes.
Symptoms of Chiroptophobia
The symptoms of Chiroptophobia resemble those of a panic attack. Upon experiencing the image, or the actual bat the person undergoes physical and psychological symptoms. The physical symptoms are the actual visible display of emotions invoked by the bat.
- prickly sensations in arms and legs
- sweating profusely
- dry mouth
- Tightness in the chest
- Feeling faint
The psychological symptoms are the ones that occur at the level of the brain.
- Panic attack
- Unable to relax
- Fear of losing control
- Fear of dread
- Fear of dying
They may suffer from a full-blown panic attack when a bat is spotted. They may ‘duck down’ or ‘take cover’ or do anything possible to ‘protect themselves’. The people suffering from Chiroptophobia maybe loners and tend to keep away from social gatherings especially at night. They usually avoid going on hikes to forests or caves or any such places where there might be fear of being confronted with a bat, because the fear of being unable to cope with intense emotions also leads them to avoidance behavior.
Treatments of Chiroptophobia
There is an array of treatments that can be used to treat Chiroptophobia.
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
This is a psycho-social intervention that enables to create a concordance between thoughts and feelings, that is cognitions and behavior. What we think depends on how we behave. Consolidating the significance of this connection is the crux of CBT.
People suffering from Chiroptophobia learn to rationalize their thoughts in this therapy. CBT helps the client to run an in-depth analysis of their fears. Introspect and learn to connect the actual stimulus with emotion it instigates, as to whether it is a valid behavior or not.
Exposure Therapy for Chiroptophobia
This is one of the most common therapy used in treating phobias and an effective way to desensitize the patient.
In this therapy the client with phobia is exposed to the phobic situation or stimulus gradually with varying durations of time. Every time the ‘exposure’ of the feared stimulus is increased.
In Chiroptophobia the client is exposed to images of bats first. For the fear to be invoked during therapy, the patient must be exposed to an intense stimulus (one that is feared).
It is a type of behavior therapy developed by Wolpe in the 1950s. The aim of Systematic Desensitization is to remove the ‘feared stimulus’ and substitute it with a ‘relaxation response.’
Initially a relaxation technique that involves deep breathing is taught to the client. Then the client is asked to present a list that has hierarchical presentation of his fears, starting from the least fear evoking situation to the most.
The therapist takes the client through these situations via two methods:
a) In vitro – where he is to imagine the bat
b) In vivo – where he is exposed to bats in reality
The exposure to the phobic stimulus is of varying durations, where the client exercises relaxation techniques and can revert to a previous non-threatening situation any time. This exposure to bats should be in a controlled environment first so that the intensity of the fear or the stimulus is not too overwhelming for the client.
The exposure should either be in a zoo or in a lab where the bat can be exposed as per the discretion of the therapist and as per the readiness of the client.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR involves being aware of one’s own thoughts, feelings and reducing the interference from around the environment. We do not pay attention to how we process the various stimuli that affect us. We do not process the way our bodies feel and respond, there is no focus on our thoughts and how these thoughts are influencing our emotions.
In MBSR, the client is ‘woken up’ to actually experience the various senses. ‘Focus’ is the keyword!
In Chiroptophobia treatment, the client is made conscious to pay attention to his thoughts when he is in the presence of the bat. Awareness helps to alleviate the stress symptoms.
MBSR is a structured program that has proved beneficial in treating anxiety disorders, especially phobias. In Chiroptophobia, mindfulness plays a pivotal role in refocusing the thoughts from the stressful stimulus to another stimulus that has a calming effect and does not come with any emotional gear.
A simple exercise of focusing on the breathing during inhalation and exhalation is beneficial for destressing. Paying attention to the muscles in the abdomen while breathing, the feel of lying down on the bed and being aware of your entire body helps the person to bring away his attention from the fear.
With training, these practices are thought to reduce the habitual tendency to automatically and compulsively engage in and react to mental states and environments (Segal et al., 2002).
The client is taught to pay attention to his breathing –inhalation and exhalation.
For meditation to be effective during treatment, the mind is cleared off all the clutter of random thoughts. The mind and body are made to be ‘in sync’ with each other, so that bat does not invoke a negative thought. The client will meditate during the exposure to the bat and with practice either in imagery first will be able to relieve himself of the symptoms.
5. Self-Help Groups
Self Help groups are an effective type of therapy, in which the client does not find himself as a lone sufferer. These groups are comprised of individuals who are afflicted with the same types of phobias. They come together to share their thoughts, experiences and their coping strategies.
This also helps in developing a ‘sense of I am not the only one’ suffering. Thus, the chances of self-improvement and catering to own anxieties for alleviations becomes effective.
Breaking down the tedium of the daily, helps break down anxiety as well.
• Take up jogging or go for daily walks
Developing a walk routine can damper the way our negative thoughts control our behavior.
• Indulging in an exercise regime
Vigorous exercise like aerobics has proved to reduce or alleviate the symptoms of stress and anxiety. Exercise helps the mind to cope with stress and stressful situations better. This is what the American Psychological Association has to say about inducting exercise to eliminate stress or phobias.
• Altering eating and drinking habits
Cutting down on fatty foods and caffeine can improve self-image, that in turn leads to a raised self-esteem. This finally diminishes the symptoms of stress to a bare minimum. With high intake of caffeine, the body resembles a ‘fight or flight’ response, thus giving way to anxiety.
• Improving the sleep cycle
When we get proper rest, our concentration improves and indulging in negatives lessens. In Chiroptophobia, the client is asked to alter his sleeping patterns because the tired mind finds even the fluttering of a bird as the wings of a bat.
There are a number of medicines that the Psychiatrist can prescribe if the symptoms of Chiroptophobia are severe.
1. Anxiolytics (anti-anxiety drugs)
These are the ones that rid the patients from symptoms of anxiety and panic. The medicines include Xanax, Klonopin and others. These should only be taken after the consultation with the doctor and shouldn’t be initiated or discontinued as per personal discretion.
These medicines are not only used to treat depression, but also to alleviate the symptoms of phobias. Medicines alone might not be as effective, but if used in conjunction with therapies then the results will be better.
Frequently Asked Questions of Chiroptophobia
- Are bats harmful to humans?
Yes. Bats are harmful to humans as they contain many viruses and bacteria that can be transferred to humans through bites and other animals through half eaten fruits.
- What do you do if a bat touches you?
If a bat touches you the area should be properly cleaned with a disinfectant and before the cleaning avoid touching eyes, nose and mouth.
- Can a bat kill you?
No. Bats cannot kill you but they can cause infectious diseases that can kill you.
- Can a bat attack you?
Yes, Bats can if they are threatened in one way or another.
- Can you get sick from touching a bat?
Yes, if a bat bites and the virus from its saliva can enter your body then one can get sick. Rabies can also be contracted. And now Coronavirus can also get a person infected through the body slimes of a bat.
Titles to read from
- Behavior Adjustment Training 2.0: New Practical Techniques For Fear, Frustration, and Aggression by Grisha Stewart
- Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway: Dynamic Techniques for Turning Fear, Indecision, and Anger into Power, Action, and Love by Susan Jeffers PhD and Hay House
- FIVE SECRETS OF OVERCOMING FEAR by Chukwunenye Onuoha
- Overcoming Fear and Anxiety Through Spiritual Warfare by Carol Peters-Tanksley
- Words of Wisdom: Inspirational Quotes and Thoughts on Optimism, Success, Fear, Overcoming Failure,Persistence, and Resilience that Will Change Your Life. (Change your habits, change your life Book 8) by Marc Reklau
- American Psychiatric Association