Understanding anxiety, fear and phobias
Everyone experiences anxiety. Most people feel anxious in specific situations such as delivering a speech, taking an exam or participating in a competition. This experience of anxiety can be a positive, motivating force which enhances performance. However, too much anxiety or general nervousness can be extremely distressing, creating such uncertainty and fear that the person experiencing it cannot function normally.
As with adults, children and young people respond differently to life’s stressors depending on their age, individual personalities and coping skills. In most cases, fear and anxiety in children are often natural and change or disappear with age. For example, a child who experiences separation anxiety as a preschooler may become a social butterfly who fearlessly bounds into school a few years later.
Children and young people may develop fears from a traumatic experience, but for some, there is no clear event that causes the fear to arise.
Generalised Anxiety Disorder is an anxiety disorder in which the person feels anxious almost constantly, even though nothing specific seems to provoke their anxiety.
The sufferer may experience:
- Problems sleeping
- Difficulty concentrating
- Headaches and/or stomach aches
- Breathing Difficulties
- Muscle tension & inability to relax
Anxiety is a generalised feeling of fear and apprehension that may be related to a particular situation or object.
It is often accompanied by a range of symptoms including:
- Rapid heart beat
- Upset stomach or stomach ache
- Breathing difficulties
Panic Disorder is particularly debilitating and is characterised by acute anxiety accompanied by intense physical effects. These attacks are often random with no known or identifiable trigger. Some people with panic disorder have frequent attacks, some experience clusters of attacks, and others have infrequent attacks.
- A racing heart beat
- Difficulty breathing
A phobia is an extreme fear of something specific, like:
- A person or animal of person (like clowns or insects)
- A place or type of place (for example, a hospital or graveyard)
- A type of object (such as needles or knives)
- An activity (like swimming or riding in an elevator)
- A situation (for example, being alone in the dark)
The fear is unreasonable and disproportionate to the situation. People with a phobia experience an increase in heart rate, irregular breathing patterns, feelings of imminent danger or embarrassment (or both) and an overwhelming desire to avoid the triggering object or situation. Many psychologists agree that once a phobia is established, it is maintained by the relief the person experiences from escaping or avoiding the feared object or situation.