Fear Not: Learn to Overcome Common Phobias
Petting a dog, seeing blood, giving a speech-we're all afraid of something. But for some of us, the fear mushrooms out of control, leading to a full-blown phobia. Technically speaking, a phobia is an intense fear reaction to an object or situation that poses little or no real threat. People with phobias know logically that their fear doesn't make sense, but they feel helpless to stop it.
Such overwhelming, excessive fear can take three forms: specific phobias, social phobia (also called social anxiety disorder), and agoraphobia.
Specific phobias are common, affecting some 19 million American adults. They involve intense fear of a particular object, place, or situation. Common examples include the fear of dogs, insects, heights, elevators, water, thunder, tunnels, highway driving, flying, dental procedures, or the sight of blood. Specific phobias usually start in childhood or adolescence and tend to last into adulthood. They are twice as common in women as in men.
Social phobia is also common, affecting about 15 million American adults. It involves a fear of embarrassing oneself or being judged by others. It's not unusual to feel a bit nervous before giving a presentation or meeting an important client. But people with social phobia may worry for weeks in advance. They may avoid the dreaded situation, often limiting their work, school, or social activities. Or they may face it at great emotional cost, often accompanied by physical symptoms such as blushing, sweating, trembling, nausea, or difficulty talking.
Agoraphobia occurs in people who have panic attacks-sudden waves of terror that occur out of the blue and cause physical symptoms such as a pounding heart, sweating, faintness, dizziness, nausea, chest pain, or a smothering sensation. People often fear that these symptoms are signs of an impending catastrophe, such as having a heart attack or losing their mind. Since they can't predict when or where attacks will occur, they live in dread of the next one and may start to avoid the sites of past episodes. Those with agoraphobia avoid public places, such as malls or public transportation, from which immediate escape would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. As their comfort zone grows ever smaller, some become virtually housebound.
Stress management strategies can help keep fear and anxiety at bay. If you're receiving professional treatment, they also may enhance its effects. Make time in your busy day for relaxing activities, such as meditation, reading, yoga, or simply soaking in the tub. Talk about problems with supportive family and friends, rather than keeping them bottled up inside. And be sure to get regular exercise-another great way to both reduce stress and help ease anxiety.
Watch the coffee, though. Caffeine can make symptoms of anxiety worse. Also, avoid smoking and drinking alcohol to excess.
When these steps alone aren't enough, it's good to know that professional help is available. With proper treatment, such as therapy or medication, most people with phobias see significant improvement.
Irrational fear doesn't have to rule your life. Talk with your doctor for more information.
Strangers, monsters, bad grades, zits-there's a lot for kids and teens to be nervous about. Some fear is a normal part of life. But in certain cases, it can get the better of your child and interfere with her daily life.
How do you tell when minor concerns and apprehensions have crossed the line to anxiety and phobias? Watch for these red flags:
If your child struggles with anxiety, find a mental health professional with expertise in treating young patients. Counseling, therapy, or medications may ease your child's mind.