Anxiety, Fears & Phobias

Are my child’s fears “normal”?

Most people feel afraid in specific situations such as delivering a speech, taking an exam or starting a new school. This fear can be a positive, motivating force which enhances performance. Anxious girlHowever, too much anxiety or general nervousness can be extremely distressing, creating such uncertainty and fear that the person experiencing it cannot function normally. When fear becomes extreme, it can become debilitating.

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a generalised feeling of fear and apprehension that may be related to a particular situation or object – and everyone experiences it.

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.

Fears may develop from a traumatic experience, but for some, there is no clear event that causes the fear to arise.

If anxious feelings persist, they can take a toll on a child’s sense of well-being. For example, the anxiety associated with social avoidance can have long-term effects as a child with a fear of being rejected can fail to learn important social skills, causing social isolation.

It’s important to recognize and identify the signs and symptoms of childrens’ anxieties so that fears don’t get in the way of everyday life.

Some signs that a child may be overly anxious about something may include:

  • Tummy achebecoming clingy, impulsive, or distracted
  • nervous movements, such as temporary twitches
  • problems getting to sleep and/or staying asleep longer than usual
  • sweaty hands
  • accelerated heart rate and breathing
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • stomach aches

Apart from these signs, parents can usually tell when their child is feeling excessively uneasy about something. Lending a sympathetic ear is always helpful, and sometimes just talking about the fear can help a child move beyond it. However, if your child shows no sign of their anxiety reducing over time or develops generalised anxiety (i.e. feels anxious almost constantly, even though nothing specific seems to provoke their anxiety) professional assistance is required.

Panic disorders

A form of anxiety – people with panic disorder have sudden overwhelming feelings of acute and disabling anxiety. These are called panic attacks which recur and last for several minutes, sometimes longer. 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.

Panic disorder is particularly debilitating and the physical effects are intense – it can feel like a heart attack- with:

  • a racing heart beat
  • difficulty breathing
  • sweating
  • weakness or dizziness
  • tingly or numb hands
  • feeling hot or a cold chill
  • chest or stomach pain

Panic disorder often begins in the late teens or early adulthood. More women than men have panic disorder but not everyone who experiences panic attacks will develop panic disorder.

Due to the debilitating nature of panic disorders, professional assistance is always recommended.

Phobic disorders

A phobia is an extreme fear of something specific, like:Clown

  • a person or animal (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.

The most common and disabling symptom of a phobia is a panic attack accompanied by 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. The pattern of behaviour then becomes one of avoidance and can have a detrimental effect on a person’s ability to live a normal life.

Phobias can be caused by genetic and environmental reasons. Children who have a close relative with an anxiety disorder are known to have a greater risk for developing a phobia.

Distressing events can bring on a phobia such as experiencing being trapped in a confined space, exposed to extreme temperatures, nearly drowning, or an animal or insect bite can all be sources of phobias. Phobias are also often found in people with ongoing medical conditions or health concerns. There is a high incidence of phobia development after traumatic brain injuries. Substance abuse and depression also have been connected to phobias.

If a phobia prevents a person from engaging in everyday activities, professional help should be sought.

Carol-Anne Begbie

Counselling for children, young people, adults & families. Gain insight, overcome obtstacles and develop strategies to cope with family issues, anger, anxiety, trauma & grief. Individualised, specialised, safe, confidential!

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Totally Psyched

Totally Psyched offers a friendly, supportive team of mental health professionals with solid credentials and evidence based practice to address a wide range of mental health challenges for children, adolescents & families.

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Equilibrium

At Equilibrium, we provide safe, personalised treatments for babies, children, and their parents to help regain and maintain their health and confidence, the natural way. At Equilibrium, we balance classical homeopathy, naturopathy, nutrition, herbal medicine, supplements and mental exercises. Specialising in Anxiety, Fears & Phobias, Brain Development & Brain Injury and Special Needs.

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North Harbour Living Without Violence

At North Harbour Living Without Violence, our main purpose is to facilitate respectful relationships. We provide education and support for children that have witnessed or experienced family violence, bullying, anger or abuse.

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Indigo

We provide assistance for children, young people and adults with learning, behavioural, emotional and cognitive needs. Our services cover a broad range of abilities and difficulties from struggling learners to giftedness; emotional issues and behavioural concerns. We provide assessments, strategies and support to overcome these difficulties.

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QV Therapeutic Perspectives

QVTP is an independent practice, providing a wide range of counselling services on the North Shore, Albany, and Hibiscus Coast, with special emphasis in self-esteem, anger management, anxiety and depression. Using a range of interactive creative modalities (i.e. music, art, play dance) to make therapy interesting and help engage youth of all ages.

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Tough Love

TOUGHLOVE is a non-profit, self-help organisation that provides ongoing education and active support to families, empowering parents and young people to accept responsibility for their actions and stop destructive behaviours.

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Sowers Trust

We provide wrap around support to young people and families within the community of East Auckland so they have the tools and strategies at hand to deal with the challenges that life brings.

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The Grief Centre

The Grief Centre is a Charitable Trust providing transformative support through all forms of loss and grief.

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Lyn Nicholls Family Therapist/ Counsellor

A practical and supportive family therapy service for parents and children, to help empower all members of the family to have an easier and more enjoyable life.

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  • Trauma & Grief
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