In this blog we will discuss the symptoms, causes and treatment of Selachophobia.
An intense fear of sharks is called Selachophobia. It is a type of ‘animal’ specific phobia which comes under the category of anxiety disorders in the DSM-V.
Someone suffering from it will experience extreme anxiety when exposed to sharks.
Not just the exposure/sight of it, but a mere thought of sharks can instigate extreme anxiety. Sufferers can also undergo full-blown panic attacks.if the anxiety worsens.
Phobias are irrational fears. However, Selachophobia is not wholly irrational.
This is because sharks are very dangerous, carnivorous animals. They are one of the most deadliest animals in water and around 10 people die due to shark attacks each year.
Therefore, one fearing sharks is justified because of the attributes they have.
However, someone who has Selachophobia will be unable to rationalize his excessive fear and anxiety. This is why they tend to avoid their fear stimuli, sharks.
The acts of avoidance one does in order to eliminate anxiety are repetitive.
Though they produce pleasant feelings in the sufferer for the time being and give them a sense of security, in the future they can lead to other mental problems.
One can develop OCD as a result of recurrent avoidance of sharks because these actions take the shape of compulsions.
According to the DSM-V, anxiety and avoidance affect one’s social and occupational functioning.
For example, one will avoid living in a coastal city/near the sea for the fear of encountering sharks.
They will avoid going to the beach for a picnic or setting foot in sea. They will be reluctant to go for a boat ride.
In short, they will avoid sea/oceans because they are a shark’s home.
Additionally, someone with Selachophobia will avoid going to an aquarium or seeing pictures/films that have sharks in it.
Selachophobia, also known as Galeophobia, is an abnormal, persistent fear of sharks.
The name originates from the Greek word ‘selachos’ meaning cartilaginous fish and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Someone suffering from this phobia will avoid any contact with large water bodies because of the fear that they might have sharks
Symptoms of Selachophobia
As with all the other specific phobias, anxiety is the main symptom of Selachophobia. This irrational fear is the driving force, which encourages sufferers to avoid sharks.
This avoidance can be stressful as they will put in all their efforts to escape a fearful situation.
As mentioned earlier, this is what affects their social relations and occupations.
Sufferers go into flight or fight mode because of an adrenaline rush.
In this state, the body’s physiological responses help one make decisions when in fear causing situations.
They either decide to escape the situation (flight) or stay and combat their fear (fight).
In the case of Selachophobia or any other type of specific phobia, the physiological symptoms that are produced when exposed to sharks (including extreme anxiety) cause the person to escape or avoid that situation.
Sufferers don’t have the courage to fight with their fear because of the unpleasant, terrifying experience the body goes through.
Including anxiety, Selachophobia also causes a number of other symptoms in the sufferer. They are as follows:
- Extreme anxiety in the presence of sharks
- Extreme anxiety when thinking about sharks
- Avoiding sharks
- Full-blown panic attacks
- Inability to handle anxiety
- Muscle tension/tremors
- Increased heart rate
- Inability to breathe properly/increased breathing rate
- Feeling dizzy
- Hot/cold flashes when in a flight or fight mode (A hot flash refers to the temporary heating up of the body when in a state of fear. And a cold flash means when the body suddenly starts to shiver or cool down, when encountered by a fear stimulus).
- Butterflies in the stomach
Out of these, one should have at least 3-5 symptoms and anxiety lasting for at least 6-months, to be diagnosed with Selachophobia.
Causes of Selachophobia
Like every other specific phobia, Selachophobia 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 Selachophobia 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 Selachophobia until and unless there is some trigger event, instigating anxiety or fear of animals.
This triggering event can be for example, being attacked by a shark in childhood.
The sufferer might have developed this fear since then because of the pain or injury it caused.
Another example of an environmental cause can be, learning to be afraid of sharks by looking at parents.
It is possible that someone whose parents are afraid of sharks or upon hearing an unpleasant experience of an individual’s encounter with them can induce fear in the person.
Also, watching documentaries about sharks attacking humans or causing harm to them can be the reason for one to develop Selachophobia.
Therefore, it is evident that there is no one cause for specific phobias to develop.
Genetics with environmental factors, together will cause one to have Selachophobia.
Treatment of Selachophobia
Selachophobia like all other specific phobias has no exclusive type of treatment that is specifically designed to treat it.
Like all the other specific phobias, Selachophobia is treated by a number of different therapies including, Exposure Therapy, Cognitive-behavioral Therapy (CBT) and or medications that lower downs the anxiety or other physical symptoms.
• Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
It is one of the most frequently used treatments for patients with almost all kinds of mental disorders.
Selachophobia is defined as the irrational fear of sharks. 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 sharks.
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 Selachophobia.
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 6-months 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.
• Exposure Therapy
It is one of the most frequently used ways of treating patients with Selachophobia (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 shark, 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 encounters/sees a shark.
During this 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 a real shark, in an aquarium 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 patient’s 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 sharks , by exposing them to that stimuli repeatedly, until they learn to undergo the situation without anxiety/panic attacks.
• Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR)
MBSR is a meditation therapy, 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 of yoga and meditation, 6 days a week and to record their results/feelings in a book or diary for 15 minutes a day.
• Drug Therapy
Drugs are used to reduce the physical symptoms caused by Selachophobia.
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
Medicines like Valium are 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 suggests 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.
They are not just one of the many treatment therapies used for Selachophobia, 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 sharks.
Whether the cause of Selachophobia, 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
- Don’t Fear The Shark
by Jonathan Kathrein
- Shark Attacks: Myths, Misunderstandings and Human Fear
by Blake Chapman
- The Wisdom of Anxiety: How Worry and Intrusive Thoughts Are Gifts to Help You Heal
by Sheryl Paul MA
- Be Calm: Proven Techniques to Stop Anxiety Now
by Jill Weber PhD
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1) How common is Selachophobia?
It is an intense fear of sharks.
This type of animal specific phobia is very common amongst humans.
Q2) How do i overcome my fear of sharks?
Medicinal drugs and or psychotherapies (like CBT, DBT, exposure therapy) are effective ways of treating Selachophobia.
Q3) Where does the fear of sharks come from?
Selachophobia is the fear of sharks.
The name originated from a Greek word ‘selachos’ meaning cartilaginous fish and ‘phobos’ meaning fear.
Q4) What is the fear of sharks called?
Selachophobia, also known as Galeophobia, is the fear of sharks.
Examples of other interesting phobias