In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatments of Melissophobia.
What is Melissophobia?
Melissophobia is the irrational fear of bees. It is categorized as an ‘animal’ specific phobia, which comes under anxiety disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM-V).
People suffering from Melissophobia feel very intimidated in the presence of bees. Anxiety is a very common symptom for all specific phobias. Sufferers undergo extreme anxiety, which can also cause full-blown panic attacks.
In the case of Melissophobia, the fear one has for bees is not wholly irrational. This is because many are afraid of being stung by a bee. A bee sting causes pain and the people who are allergic to insect stings can have fatal consequences. However, the excessive anxiety one has, despite not being allergic to insect stings are unable to explain why they fear.
People who have Melissophobia do not suffer from Spheksophobia (fear of wasps). Nonetheless, because of the lack of rationality one might experience, a sufferer is very likely to get terrified by misinterpreting anything that resembles a bee.
Apart from fearing an encounter with a bee, a Melissophobia sufferer will get extremely anxious on the mere thought of it.
According to the DSM-V for diagnosing Melissophobia, one must have extreme anxiety lasting for at least 6-months. And this anxiety should affect ones social and occupational functioning.
Someone with this type of specific phobia will find living near a garden for example, to be extremely stressful. They might even limit their outdoor activities if they fear they’ll encounter a bee in the area they live in or choose to live in a more populated city as compared to a rural area.
Melissophobia is the fear of bees (or bee sting). The name of the phobia is derived from the Greek word ‘melissa’ meaning honey bee and ‘phobos’ meaning fear. It is also known as Apipophobia. It is one of the most common phobias people have and is an animal specific phobia.
People with Melissophobia, like in all other specific phobias experience intense anxiety on having an encounter with bees. They’re unable to control this anxiety and thus end up feeling more anxious. This anxiousness, in extreme cases can give rise to full-blown panic attacks.
Someone with this type of specific phobia will try to control their anxiety by avoiding bees. However, this avoidance will result in more adverse effects in the long run. By avoiding their fear stimulus, one can have feelings of satisfaction or relief for the time being, but through this act they reassure themselves that bees are something to be afraid of.
This act of continuous avoidance can also turn into Obsessive-compulsive Disorder (OCD)
Apart from anxiety, Melissophobia has a number of other physiological symptoms which include:
- Extreme anxiety upon an encounter with bees
- Extreme anxiety by just thinking about bees
- Avoiding bees
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Inability to handle anxiety
- Muscle tension/tremors
- Increased heartbeat
- Upset stomach
Out of these, one should have at least 3-5 symptoms (including anxiety) to be diagnosed with Melissophobia.
Like every other specific phobia, Melissophobia is a result of either genetics or a past traumatic experience.
Someone who has a family history of anxiety disorders or specific phobias has a higher chance of developing melissophobia than someone who doesn’t. This is because they are genetically predisposed to develop it.
This genetic tendency to develop a mental disorder/specific phobia can also be referred to as a Diathesis-stress relationship. According to this, one with a genetic predisposition will not develop symptoms of Melissophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of bees.
This triggering event can be for example, being stung by bees in the childhood. The sufferer might have developed fear of bees since then because of the pain or unpleasant feelings it caused. Another example of an environmental cause can be, learning to be afraid of bees by looking at parents. It is possible that someone whose parents are afraid of bees, or upon hearing an unpleasant experience of someone with bees can induce fear in the person.
Therefore, it can be seen that here is no one cause for specific phobias to develop. Genetics with environmental factors, together will cause one to have Melissophobia.
Melissophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it. Like all the other specific phobias, Ergophobia is treated by Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Melissophobia (or any other kind of specific phobia). In this therapy, the patient is exposed to the source of his fear over a certain span of time. To begin with the therapy, the therapist exposes the patient to the least triggering stimuli, a picture of a bee or a bee hive for example.
As the therapy progresses and the patient is able to control his anxious feelings, imagery can be used to take the treatment a step further. In this part of the treatment the patient is asked to visualize/imagine a situation in which he is around bees. During the process of imagery, one actually feels being in that particular situation or place, experiencing various senses.
Once the person successfully, without feeling anxious clears this step of the therapy, he is then exposed to real bees, in a garden for example.
While the patient is being exposed to different intensities of stimuli during the various stages of therapy, the therapist simultaneously teaches them coping exercises. These include, breathing techniques or muscle relaxation methods to lower their anxiety, when in an actual fear/anxiety causing situation. This teaches them how to remain calm when exposed to the fear stimuli.
Before actually starting the exposure therapy, the therapist needs to figure out the intensity of the patients fear, as to deduce whether they will be able to undergo this treatment, without any physical or psychological harm caused to them during the exposure processes.
However, these steps desensitize one to their fear of bees, by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatment for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders. Melissophobia is defined as the irrational fear of bees. Thus, the therapist helps the patient in replacing these irrational thoughts with more rational ones.
The patients are helped out in analyzing and justifying the way they feel about being exposed to a work setting. Therapists assist them in uncovering the reasons behind their fear and later they provide them with alternate, pleasant thoughts.
The patient is told to maintain a thought diary (with ABCD column) which provides them a replacement for every irrational thought they have, when thinking about a particular situation. The ABCD stands for:
i. A (antecedents) a situation or triggering event.
ii. B (belief) the thought that comes to one’s mind when in that triggering situation
iii. C (consequences) the symptoms/feelings caused by that event/thought
iv. D (dispute) alternate, rational thoughts provided by the therapist in an attempt to dispute/challenge those irrational beliefs.
This last section of the thought diary is what really plays a role in helping the person feel good/less anxious.
• Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)
This is another effective therapy used to treat Melissophobia. It is more commonly used with people suffering from personality disorders, but is also useful with patients of this ‘animal’ specific phobia. Coping skills are taught in the DBT group which lasts for about 6months and can have a number of people (depending on how many join the group).
i. Half-smiling is the first module of DBT. It is a technique that is used with patients who are distressed because of their irrational thoughts. The technique is known as ‘Half-smiling’ because the person is first advised to think about the stimuli that fears or upsets them, and while doing so they are told to lift the corners of their mouths by subtly smiling. Smiling is not that will help one get rid of these unpleasant thoughts, it is the person’s ability to constrain itself from thinking about those thoughts while half smiling.
ii. Mindfulness, the second module, is another technique used in DBT groups which helps the individual in getting rid of those negative thoughts. Individuals are told to focus on the present and be attentive to what is going on around them at the moment. This helps in breaking the link between their mind and any negative thought that might come to them then. For example, a person is told to focus on his breath or on the sound of the blowing wind, making use of their auditory sense.
iii. The third technique or module of the DBT is distress tolerance skills. This module teaches people to calm themselves down in healthy ways when they are distressed or emotionally overwhelmed. Individuals are allowed to make wise, rational decisions and take immediate action, rather than being captured by emotionally destructive thoughts that might make the situation worse. Reality acceptance skills are also learnt under this model so that people fully accept reality and later make plans on how to address the problem/fearful aspects to it.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, is used to manage stress or anxiety. It is an 8-week program which includes group sessions. Mindfulness meditation and Hatha yoga are practiced in these sessions, lectures and group discussions are also done to talk about mental health and increase interactivity.
In mindfulness meditation the person is told to, for example to focus on the sensations felt while breathing or the rhythm of the chest rising and falling during the process. This distracts the person’s attention from something stressful to something which is neutral and soothing.
For quick and effective treatment, patients are also given a set of home works, for example 45 minutes’ yoga and meditation 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15minutes a day.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Melissophobia, instead they are one of the most common ways of relaxation used by many people. Yoga tends to stimulate the meditative state of one’s mind while a person is in a particular yoga posture. Through yoga/meditation the mind is diverted towards something more productive and calm, allowing the person to escape the negative, distress causing thoughts.
Out of a number of yoga types, one can benefit from any yoga type/pose they like. Hatha yoga is one of the different types of yoga. The breathing techniques or the imagery one creates while in a yoga posture are the real factors that makes the person feel less anxious and diverts their mind, away from the thoughts about bees.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Melissophobia. Drugs are very quick in effectiveness, as they start showing progress in the patients’ health at least 2 weeks after the medicine is taken. This type of biological treatment is usually more effective if the cause of the phobia is only genetic. However, these drugs/medicines are not to be taken without a doctor’s prescription or consultation. Two types of drugs are used in the treatment of this phobia:
i. Anti-anxiety Drugs
They are most commonly used with patients who experience panic attacks and also lowers their anxiety by binding to receptor cells of the brain that cause these unpleasant symptoms.
ii. Antidepressant Drugs
These drugs, as the name suggest don’t only treat depression but are also very effective in treating phobias. Medicines like Lexapro reduce the anxious feelings of a person and makes him feel calm. They need to be taken on a daily basis but not without a doctor’s advice.
Whether the cause of Melissophobia, or any other type of specific phobia is genetics, environmental or both, the best and the most effective way of treating them is by using a combination of both biological treatments (drugs) with cognitive treatment (for example CBT/exposure therapy).
Titles to read from
- Give Bees a Chance
by Bethany Barton
- Overcoming Animal and Insect Phobias: How to Conquer Fear of Dogs, Snakes, Rodents, Bees, Spiders, and More
by Martin M. Antony and Randi E. McCabe
- Triumph Over Fear: A Book of Help and Hope for People with Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Phobias
by Jerilyn Ross and Rosalynn Carter
- The A-Z of Phobias, Fears, and Anxieties (Facts on File Library of Health & Living)
by Ronald M Doctor, Ada P Kahn, et al.
- Anxiety Disorders and Phobias: A Cognitive Perspective
by Aaron Beck, Gary Emery, et al.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) Why you shouldn’t be scared of bees?
Bees are not harmful or dangerous. Someone who doesn’t have any sort of allergies to insects shouldn’t be scared of them because even if they sting, it won’t cause long term negative effects on one’s health. And secondly, bees are so closely associated with something as beautiful as flowers.
Q2) Can bees sense fear?
Yes. Bees can sense fear by using their olfactory senses of smell. They are able to detect fear by phernomes (chemicals that an animal secrets, which changes the behavior of another animal) produced by humans.
Q3) How common is Melissophobia?
Melissophobia is a specific phobia and specific phobias are very common. According to research, around 12.5% of the adults have specific phobias.
Q4) What causes the fear of bees?
Melissophobia, the phobia of bees can be inherited either genetically, from one’s parents who have an anxiety disorder. Or it can be caused due to an unpleasant past traumatic event that one might have gone through related to bees.