More Phobia Symptoms

In adults, phobias produce all the unpleasant physical symptoms of  ‘normal’ fear:

* heart palpitations
* feeling sick
* chest pains    
* difficulty breathing
* dizziness 
* ‘jelly legs’
* feeling ‘unreal’
* intense sweating
* feeling faint    
* dry throat
* restricted or ‘fuzzy’ vision or hearing.

In severe cases, people may feel certain that they are about to die, go mad, or lose control of themselves and injure someone, or do something disgusting and humiliating. Most of all they feel an overpowering urge to ‘escape’ from the situation they are in. Children are more likely to cry, shout or scream, or simply run away when confronted by the things they fear, though they may also be sick or go rigid. Paleness, perspiration and trembling are also signs of severe anxiety.
The level of symptoms that children with phobias experience varies a great deal, from very mild anxiety to very severe panic and terror. A mild degree of nervousness in particular situations is not usually a problem, but it is only a matter of degree, and at the other end of the scale there are children who have full-scale panic attacks when in the dreaded situation, and soon refuse to enter it altogether because of the terror that grips them at such times. 
Phobias aren’t just severe anxiety: the anxiety is turned into a phobia by avoidance. In the early stages of a phobia the child’s parents sometimes try to tackle his or her fears head on by forcing him or her to enter the feared situation. If this works, the phobia can be overcome.  If it doesn’t, this is only likely to strengthen the fears and make the child want to avoid the phobic situation even more. It also risks destroying the child’s confidence in its parents. 
Avoidance is attractive because it brings a reduction of the tension; thus it rapidly becomes a habit. As with adults, avoiding the situations that make them feel frightened makes children more sensitive to those situations, and ‘conditions’ them to fear them even more.
This is why phobias can be such a big problem. Because we tend to avoid the things we fear, the fear can worsen very rapidly. To recover, we need to put that process into reverse, but the fear reaction is virtually automatic, and very difficult to control. It is a reaction inherited from our early history as a species, when we needed some instinctive protection to balance out our curiosity and tendency to flirt with danger. Fortunately, humans learn quickly and can train themselves to respond positively to threats, and not to react with terror to things which prove, with experience, to be harmless. 


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