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Have you ever been afraid? Everyone gets scared sometimes. Do thunder and lightning make your heart beat faster? Maybe your mouth goes dry when your teacher announces a pop quiz, or your palms sweat when it's your turn to give your report in front of the class. Perhaps you get butterflies in your stomach when you see the bully who picks on you.
We all have fears from time to time. That's true no matter how big we are or brave we can be. Fear can even be good for you sometimes and even help you stay healthy. Fear of getting too close to a campfire may save you from a bad burn. And fear of getting a bad grade on a test may make you study more.
Being a bit on edge can also sharpen your senses and help you perform better in a recital or during a track meet. Some people even enjoy being a little scared. That's why they like to watch scary movies — or go on roller-coaster rides.
What Happens When You're Scared?
Have you ever wondered why being scared makes your heart beat faster and makes you breathe quicker? The body's reaction to fear is called the "fight or flight" response. And people have had it since the beginning of time.
Here's how it works. Imagine you're a caveman or cavewoman alive 100,000 years ago — and you come face to face with a hungry saber-toothed tiger. You have two choices: 1) Run for it (that's flight), or 2) pick up your club and battle with the tiger (that's fight). A final choice (be eaten) doesn't seem like such a good one!
Today, you can apply fight or flight to that bully who confronts you and won't listen to reason. You have two choices: 1) Turn and walk away (flight), or 2) fight, even though you know fighting won't solve the problem.
To prepare for fight or flight, you body does a number of things automatically so it's ready for quick action or a quick escape. Your heart rate increases to pump more blood to your muscles and brain. Your lungs take in air faster to supply your body with oxygen. The pupils in your eyes get larger to see better. And your digestive and urinary systems slow down for the moment so you can concentrate on more important things.
What Is Anxiety?
But for some people with anxiety. or medication (or a combination of these things). such as being up high. or a sense that something horrible is going to happen. . that's called anxiety (say: ang-zye-uhtee). For some kids. this brain chemical system doesn't always seem to work the way it should. like a car crash. One of these chemicals is serotonin (say: sir-uh-toe-nun). For others.Usually. How the chemicals in our brain's nerve cells are balanced can affect how a person feels and acts. Sometimes anxiety can interfere with things you need to do. However. Dealing With Anxiety Anxiety can be treated successfully. When you feel scared but there doesn't seem to be a clear reason. That makes it hard to focus on everyday things. who can help find a way to lessen the anxiety through talking. There might be other feelings that come along with anxiety — like a feeling of tightness in your chest. this feeling of anxiety occurs almost all the time and gets in the way of doing what they want to do. activities. Or a person might develop anxiety after something terrible happens. With anxiety. who can help find out if a medical problem is making you feel anxious. Tell your mom or dad if find yourself more scared than you feel you should be or if your anxiety becomes strong and is getting in the way of what you want or need to do. a bellyache. In some people. like cocaine. Why Do People Have Anxiety? Anxiety can run in families. feelings of anxiety or worry can happen anytime. they might occur only at certain times. relaxation exercises. sometimes this occurs when there doesn't seem to be anything to be frightened about. which is an intense fear of something specific. Your parents might take you to a doctor. Another part of the explanation has to do with the different chemicals in the nerve cells of the brain. like when they are leaving their home or family to go somewhere. Also. or spiders. These feelings can be very frightening. the number 13. our bodies go into fight or flight only when there is something to fear. or to a therapist. like learning and sleeping. Serotonin is one of the brain chemicals that helps send information from one brain nerve cell to another. So can abusing alcohol or other drugs. some scientists think that a special area in the brain controls the fight or flight response. Some kids may have a phobia (say: foe-bee-uh). getting dirty. it's like having the fight or flight response stuck in the ON position — even when there is no real danger. Sometimes certain medical illnesses can cause feelings of anxiety. dizziness.
PhD Date reviewed: November 2007 Phobias .Of course. RUN! Reviewed by: David V. . . if you do come face to face with a hungry saber-toothed tiger. there's just one thing you should do . Sheslow.
"Come on. Kids who have a phobia will be afraid of something every time they see or experience it. Sometimes. even a kid who knows that the phobia doesn't make sense may not be able to stop the mind and body from reacting and having a panic attack. they can feel much longer. "Hurry up. That's why Marisa had to take the stairs. A phobia is different because it is an extremely strong fear of a situation or thing. passing a growling dog on the street. What's a Phobia? A phobia (say: fo-bee-uh) is the fancy name for a fear. Some people who have panic attacks might have chest pains. "Of course I want to get to the top — that's why I came on this field trip. or hearing a huge clap of thunder. Different Kinds of Phobias . "I'll take the stairs and meet you there. when forced to face what's scary. They won't just be afraid once or twice. Some kids who have panic attacks say that when the attacks are happening. It is also a kind of fear that doesn't go away." But when she glanced back at her friends. What's a Panic Attack Like? Panic attacks can be really scary and may make someone shake. Kids who have phobias often go out of their way to avoid the situation or thing that scares them." Panic attacks only last a short time. It's normal for kids to be afraid of things — like taking a hard test at school. or feel like their hearts are pounding and they can't breathe. She has a phobia of being in closed-in spaces and was too scared to take the elevator." When she realized how many stairs that would be. they feel like they can't think straight or that they're "going crazy. that he or she can't escape or might lose control. But to somebody who is having one. A panic attack can cause a kid to think something awful is going to happen. and breathe quickly. don't you want to get to the top?" Marisa looked glum and thought to herself. a kid with a phobia might get very nervous and have a panic attack. sweat. Marisa!" all of the fifth graders yelled from inside the big elevators. Sometimes." she said as brightly as she could. Marisa wasn't too happy. she felt jealous — how come none of them were terrified of riding in the elevator? "I'm OK. feel dizzy. But a phobia isn't just any kind of fear. But she breathed a sigh of relief knowing that she wouldn't have to take that scary elevator ride.
There are many different kinds of phobias. or a busy store) where they might have a panic attack. Agoraphobia (say: ah-guh-ruh-fo-bee-uh) is another kind of phobia. A kid with a social phobia might feel scared of talking to a teacher or a coach or might be afraid of walking in front of the whole classroom when he or she needs to go to the restroom. There are almost as many phobias as there are things and situations: arachnophobia (say: uhrak-nuh-fo-bee-uh) is a fear of spiders. or an airplane. whereas ablutophobia (say: uh-bloo-tuh-fo-bee-uh) is a fear of washing yourself or taking a bath or shower. Marisa's fear of riding in the elevator was caused by claustrophobia (say: klos-truh-fo-bee-uh). though. Claustrophobia is the fear of being in an enclosed space. like an elevator. The most common kind is a social phobia. They know that about 5 out of 100 people in the United States have one or more phobias. which can make someone feel scared of being embarrassed in front of other people. highways. Sometimes people may think that a kid with a social phobia is just shy. Although most kids might be a little afraid of giving a book report to a big group of kids or talking to a teacher. but just can't control the fear of being with others. Women are slightly more likely to have phobias than men. a tunnel. The fear of the panic is so strong that they often avoid places (like crowds. but it isn't the same thing. Sometimes a traumatic thing in a kid's life — like the death of a parent. kids with a social phobia become so afraid that they can't fully enjoy life or function the way other kids do. and that a kid who has a social phobia might have a parent with one. How Are Phobias Treated? . Some scientists think that a person's genes may have something to do with it. This causes someone to worry about having a panic attack in a place where leaving would be hard or embarrassing. or a big move — can cause a phobia to start. Most social phobias start when a person is a teenager. Why Do Kids Get Phobias? No one really knows exactly why certain kids get phobias. Scientists do know some things about phobias. although this and other kinds of phobias can also start when a kid is younger. A social phobia can make it nearly impossible for a kid to stand up and give a book report or even enjoy a birthday party. A kid with a social phobia may want to go out and have lots of friends. dealing with a divorce. too.
with kids. Anxiety makes someone want to escape the situation — fast.Kids who have phobias often start by seeing their doctors. However." It usually occurs when there's no immediate threat to a person's safety or well being. Having fears or anxieties about certain things can also be helpful because it makes kids behave in a safe way. or therapist. though she might start slowly by just watching other people get on an elevator or just stepping inside with the doors open. a little bit of anxiety can actually help people stay alert and focused. such feelings are not only normal. from the youngest child to the oldest adult. Some kids will take medications that help them better handle their phobias. psychiatrist. and kids can learn to deal with them and feel more in control of their lives. part of Marisa's treatment might be riding on an elevator. and Phobias Everyone. but the threat feels real. a kid with a fear of fire would avoid playing with matches. Experiencing and dealing with anxieties can prepare young people to handle the unsettling experiences and challenging situations of life. the body might begin to perspire. and "butterflies" in the stomach soon follow. Part of handling the phobia may be facing it head on. The nature of anxieties and fears change as kids grow and develop: . the doctor will suggest that the kid visit a psychologist. Anxieties and Fears Are Normal Anxiety is defined as "apprehension without apparent cause. For example. Sometimes a kid can learn new ways of dealing with the phobia. However. In many cases. For instance. months. This could include relaxation exercises that help the kid feel more in control. Feeling anxious in a particularly uncomfortable situation never feels very good. The heart beats quickly. they're also necessary. PhD Date reviewed: June 2010 Anxiety. In the meantime. one of these specialists can help. experiences anxieties and fears at one time or another. treatment can take weeks. Fears. Depending on the kid and how severe the phobia is. If a kid is diagnosed with a phobia. Reviewed by: Colleen Sherman. the important thing to remember is that phobias can be treated. or longer.
Many adults are tormented by fears that stem from childhood experiences. animals. one fear may disappear or replace another. As kids grow. and being left alone. insects. If anxious feelings persist. such as a dog bite or an accident. or distracted nervous movements. • Kids ages 4 through 6 have anxiety about things that aren't based in reality. such as fears of monsters and ghosts. • Kids ages 7 through 12 often have fears that reflect real circumstances that may happen to them. It's important for parents to recognize and identify the signs and symptoms of kids' anxieties so that fears don't get in the way of everyday life. Kids often learn to fear a specific object or situation after having an unpleasant experience. a child may want to pet a lion at the zoo but wouldn't dream of going near the neighbor's dog. The anxiety associated with social avoidance can have long-term effects. heights. Some signs that a child may be anxious about something may include: • • • • • becoming clingy. impulsive. Separation anxiety is common when young children are starting school. darkness. And some fears may extend only to one particular kind of stimulus. For example. blood. They include fear of strangers. For example. Signs of Anxiety Typical childhood fears change with age. a child who couldn't sleep with the light off at age 5 may enjoy a ghost story at a slumber party years later. becoming emotionally distressed when one or both parents leave. they can take a toll on a child's sense of well being. such as temporary twitches problems getting to sleep and/or staying asleep longer than usual sweaty hands accelerated heart rate and breathing . In other words. whereas adolescents may experience anxiety related to social acceptance and academic achievement. clinging to parents when confronted by people they don't recognize. a child with fear of being rejected can fail to learn important social skills. such as bodily injury and natural disaster. • Toddlers around 10 to 18 months old experience separation anxiety. causing social isolation. An adult's fear of public speaking may be the result of embarrassment in front of peers many years before.• Babies experience stranger anxiety.
and how do they affect your child's personal. A phobia can be very difficult to tolerate. and sometimes just talking about the fear can help a child move beyond it. What are the symptoms of the fear.• • • nausea headaches stomachaches Apart from these signs. What's a Phobia? When anxieties and fears persist. and academic functioning? If symptoms can be identified and considered in light of your child's everyday activities. Fears. This isn't to say that the anxiety should be discounted or ignored. if they continue to have trouble or there's anxiety about other things. adjustments can be made to alleviate some of the stress factors. sometimes the opposite occurs. severe. The anxiety becomes a phobia. and persistent. Focusing on Anxieties. . Most. the phobia will be resolved. As much as a parent hopes the child will grow out of it. But the good news is that unless the phobia hinders the everyday ability to function. the child sometimes won't need treatment by a professional because. "Real" phobias are one of the top reasons children are referred to mental health professionals. social. it should be considered as a factor in your child's normal development. especially if the anxiety-producing stimulus (whatever is causing the anxiety) is hard to avoid (e. or a fear that's extreme. will overcome or outgrow it. or Phobias Try to answer the following questions honestly: Is your child's fear and behavior related to it typical for your child's age? If the answer to this question is yes. with some reassurance and perhaps a night-light. and the cause of the anxiety looms larger and becomes more prevalent. both for kids and those around them. such as being afraid of the dark. the intervention may have to be more intensive. Lending a sympathetic ear is always helpful. thunderstorms). Many kids experience age-appropriate fears. in time.. However. rather. problems can arise. it's a good bet that your child's fears will resolve before they become a serious cause for concern.g. parents can usually tell when their child is feeling excessively uneasy about something.
Helping Your Child Parents can help kids develop the skills and confidence to overcome fears so that they don't evolve into phobic reactions. If you don't. "Don't be ridiculous! There are no monsters in your closet!" may get your child to go to bed. with being full "up to my knees" as not so scared. If you talk about it." the child can venture out toward the feared object. "up to my stomach" as more frightened. . but it won't make the fear go away. Saying. To help your child deal with fears and anxieties: • Recognize that the fear is real. and then return to you for safety before venturing out again. don't cross the street deliberately to avoid one. it can become less powerful. the phobia is likely to continue to affect your child. If an isolated incident is resolved. The child can also learn some positive self-statements. it feels real to your child and it's causing him or her to feel anxious and afraid. This will just reinforce that dogs should be feared and avoided. this may signal the need to seek outside help. • Teach kids how to rate fear. Contact your doctor and/or a mental health professional who has expertise in working with kids and adolescents. As trivial as a fear may seem. you should take action. • Teach coping strategies. don't make it more significant than it is. A child who can visualize the intensity of the fear on a scale of 1 to 10. Parents should look for patterns.Does the fear seem unreasonable in relation to the reality of the situation. or psychologist. But if a pattern emerges that's persistent or pervasive. Provide support and gentle care as you approach the feared object or situation with your child. may be able to "see" the fear as less intense than first imagined. If your child doesn't like dogs. such as a counselor. with 10 being the strongest. Being able to talk about fears helps — words often take some of the power out of the negative feeling. and "up to my head" as truly petrified. • Don't cater to fears. though. Using you as "home base. psychiatrist. • Never belittle the fear as a way of forcing your child to overcome it. and could it be a sign of a more serious problem? If your child's fear seems out of proportion to the cause of the stress. Younger kids can think about how "full of fear" they are. Try these easy-to-implement techniques.
Using these suggestions. Sheslow. PhD .such as "I can do this" and "I will be OK" to say to himself or herself when feeling anxious. Reviewed by: D'Arcy Lyness. including visualization (of floating on a cloud or lying on a beach. you can help your child better cope with life's situations. PhD Date reviewed: November 2007 Originally reviewed by: David B. The key to resolving fears and anxieties is to overcome them. Relaxation techniques are helpful. for example) and deep breathing (imagining that the lungs are balloons and letting them slowly deflate).
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