Written by: Tara Lehman on August 4th 2017
All my life I have hated and feared spiders, and particularly those long legged, hairy, large and scary tarantulas. I have seen them at events, in cages and even at birthday parties, where I have had chances with other onlookers to touch or hold one of those creatures. My fear was so intense I could not even look at them or would shake my arms as I backed away as if it were walking up my arm. That all changed in at Science North in Sudbury on July 29th 2017.
With my wonderful sister, her kids, partner and my daughter, we all drove from our cottage on Manitoulin Island to Science North for my nephew’s birthday. I love this place and had been there a couple of years earlier. Enjoying the hands on experiences there, I held a giant millipede, fed a skunk and held a snake – all without fear, but full of curiosity. However, when we came near the tarantulas, I sped past them saying “yuck” without looking.
This year was different. I had just started to read a great book on worry and anxiety by Dale Carnegie entitled: How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. This is an old book and some of the stories I have to ignore (including parts of a chapter about housewives) as the book was written in the 1940’s. I had only read a couple of chapters when we went, but I began to realize that us humans worry too much, including myself.
I thought, as I had to stop and watch my nephews hold the tarantula when we got to that part of Science North that day, ‘why can they do this and I can’t? As kids, a lot of us have lesser fear of things such as spiders and bugs than we do as adults – I remember playing with daddy long-legged spiders without worry as a little kid. I was proud of myself for having the ability to stop and actually watch my nephews hold this hairy bug, as normally I would have told them I would meet them at the next exhibit, then run! The handler then ask if I wanted to try holding “her”. I hesitated and to my surprise responded with: “I think so.” What did I just say? I was shocking myself, let alone the family around me. I handed my sister my phone to take a picture, placed my hand on the table and told the handler I was ready. The spider, which was very gentle and surprisingly light, walked onto my hand. My sister took a couple of pictures and then I said: “please take it off”. We then went on to the next exhibit, butterflies which are way more my thing, where my hand shook for about 10 minutes after that spider experience. Even now when I look at the picture I can’t believe I did it, but am showing that picture to everyone with pride!
What happened in my mind that day? I thought about how nothing horrible happened to my nephews, the handler was right beside me to take the tarantula off the second I asked him to, and he had told me that she was gentle and would not bite. I asked myself, ‘In this situation, what is the worst thing that could happen?’ Well it may bite me. ‘What were the odds of this happening?’ Very low or they would not allow her to crawl on people’s hands. So, what was I all worried about? Nothing really. Processing the thoughts and likelihood of my worse fear happening helped me get over this fear. I accepted the odds of anything bad happening as being really low and I faced my fear. Would I handle a domestic tarantula again? You bet I would!
Dale Carnegie has great ways in his book, on how to think about and overcome worry, most of which as still valid today. I have created a thinking process tool to help with overcoming fears, from several of his tips. Good luck and conquer those fears one at a time!
TLC Tool – Conquering Your Fear:
1 – Write down or ask yourself, “What am I afraid of in this moment?”
2 – Write down or ask yourself, “What is the worst thing that could possibly happen?
3 – Write down or ask yourself, “What is the likelihood that my worst fear will happen?” This is where you need to analyze the situation as I did above. My fear of the spider biting me was not likely to happen and if it did, there was plenty of help around. If she did bite me and my fear happened, I was in a safe environment.
4 – Accept your analysis and prepare yourself to move forward – deep breathing works here too or having a safe environment with people around, such as in my situation.
5 – Ask yourself if you are ready to face it. If not, try starting with a smaller fear.
6 – Face your fear with pride! Good luck!