How I Overcame My Snake Phobia

Previously: Picture me flipping through a magazine, coming across a picture of a snake and LOSING MY SH*T, screaming and knocking over anything within a 5 foot radius with my flailing limbs. Yeah, that was me. It wasn’t pretty.

Check out my video to see how my adventure started:


Now: Imagine me holding a snake comfortably. Not just any snake, but a 6′ boa constrictor named “Jezebel” with beautiful yellow and pink markings. I would have never believed it, but I survived this experience! Big-Girl Panties? Check!

THAT really happened this summer. After months of researching snakes to better understand them, I was trembling, jittery and intensely determined. I observed the handler hold and work with her snakes and listened to her facts about them. I saw how affectionate and calm they were with her, the trust that they had developed, and my jitters started to recede.

The first snake I held (which was no longer than a foot long) nearly made my heart jump out of my chest I was so tense and scared. Then with time, I held different smaller snakes one at a time until we were comfortable with each other. The magical shift happened when I sat through the panic and fear while holding each snake and allowed myself to breath, relax and observe until I actually felt a bit bored because the snake wasn’t trying to kill me.

An amazing thing happened that epic day: I overcame my snake phobia! It was a huge transformation that happened over a number of months, but it happened! I went from feeling trapped and held back to knowledgeable and comfortable.

After that day, I have a healthy respect for snakes, I don’t want to have my own snake and I wouldn’t go up to any strange snake and pick it up, but also I wouldn’t feel the need to run around in circles screaming. I also still am not comfortable with a snake up in my face (much like I wouldn’t want a strange dog up in my face either) and I feel like this is a normal, healthy boundary that is ok to keep!

I found that snakes are actually kind of cool and we can be “friends on” (on my terms).

Do you have a fear of snakes? I can share some of the things I learned along the way to arm you with more information. With knowledge comes power, my friend.

Here’s what I learned about snakes that you should know:

  • Snakes aren’t born with the intention of hunting, killing or biting YOU. In reality, most snakes are probably too small to eat you. Although snakes do need to eat, they are just animals. They have instincts, get hungry and are trying to survive each day (just like you and me). Who knew?! Maybe I was the only one who thought every snake was out to kill me; this knowledge helped me to relax a bit.
  • Snakes are not slimy. They are surprisingly soft and smooth. They do not leave any slime as they move. Kind of cool, actually!
  • Snakes are animals (not evil villains). They have instincts, need to eat, sleep and poop. They are sometimes in a relaxed state and sometimes in a cautious or threatened state…just like us, cats, dogs and most other beings. Speaking of cats and dogs, every time I have cornered a cat that I’m unfamiliar with, that cat has done things such as hiss, bare their teeth, growl and scratch. If I give that cat time and space to get used to me and built trust, the situation is diffused. Snakes are no different. I’d probably react the same if a stranger backed me into a corner!
  • Snakes use body language. When they are coiled up super-tightly or their heads are raised towards you or their neck is in a tight S shape, they are uncomfortable. They are not certain if they are going to strike, but they are thinking about it. They are telling you that they may be feeling threatened and may need to resort to one of their defense mechanisms. I found watching HLH Reptiles videos to be informative and helpful in better understanding snakes. You may too!
  • Snakes have 3 primary defense mechanisms: defecating (that’s right, pooping), musking (releasing a terrible odor) or biting.
  • Snakes will generally only strike in 2 instances: They feel threatened or they think something is food.
  • It’s all about trust and respect. The more respectful you are of their space and the more time you take to build their trust, the less chance the snake will have to use any of those defence mechanisms.
  • They may be more aggressive when…When snake is shedding their skin, the layer over their eyes also sheds. The layer over their eyes turns cloudy and they act more defensively (likely because they can’t see as well and feel vulnerable).
  • Snakes would prefer to keep to themselves, in general. If you give them space and don’t smell like their food (wash your hands after handling rodents before touching a snake), there should be minimal problems! If you try to quickly pick them up when they are already showing defensive body language and/or you smell like their meal, there may be more confrontation.
  • Snakes are ambush predators and therefore their strikes are quick and take their prey by surprise. It’s their nature.
  • Snakes that are comfortable with being handled by humans are pretty cool. Just like a well-trained dog or cat, snakes can be just as well-behaved and comfortable with humans.
  • Some snakes are venemous and some aren’t. I think this is part of the equation that I simply never considered. Although getting bitten may not feel great (similar to a cat scratch), it doesn’t automatically mean that I’m going to die. In Alberta, in particular, we only have 1 venomous snake – the rattlesnake – which resides much further south than the Edmonton area. The great thing about rattlesnakes is that they give you a warning when they are feeling threatened so there’s a great chance that you can avoid an unfortunate encounter all together.

I now have a healthy respect for snakes. Snakes are animals. They must be treated with respect, just like any other animal. Some are more dangerous to us than others, but for the most part they aren’t looking to harm someone who is so much bigger than them. They simply want to live to see another day without being bothered.

If you have a fear (rationale or irrational), the great news is that you don’t have to live paralyzed and trapped by that fear. There are ways to move forward from your current situation feeling empowered and free. For more information on this, see my article “How to Overcome Fear“.

If I am able to overcome my intense fear of snakes and find them fascinating, I know that you can also find freedom from your fears.  I encourage you to start getting to know more about the things you fear in baby steps. Many times, we lack understanding and that makes us feel uneasy. Knowledge is power and the only way to truly push those fears aside is to face them head-on.

You can do this, you are strong and you can do things you’ve never imagined possible. I believe in you!

Much love,

Sherri-Lyn

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