Ask your doctor or other health care professional to suggest lifestyle and other strategies to help you manage the anxiety that accompanies specific phobias. For example:

  • Mindfulness strategies may be helpful in learning how to tolerate anxiety and reduce avoidance behaviors.
  • Relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation or yoga, may help cope with anxiety and stress.
  • Physical activity and exercise may be helpful in managing anxiety associated with specific phobias.

Professional treatment can help you overcome your specific phobia or manage it effectively so you don't become a prisoner to your fears. You can also take some steps on your own:

  • Try not to avoid feared situations. Practice staying near feared situations as frequently as you can rather than avoiding them completely. Family, friends and your therapist can help you work on this. Practice the techniques you learn in therapy and work with your therapist to develop a plan if symptoms get worse.
  • Reach out. Consider joining a self-help or support group where you can connect with others who understand what you're going through.
  • Take care of yourself. Get enough rest, eat healthy and try to be physically active every day. Avoid caffeine, as it can make anxiety worse. And don't forget to celebrate successes as things get better.

Helping your child cope with fears

As a parent, there's a lot you can do to help your child cope with fears. For example:

  • Talk openly about fears. Let your child know that everyone has scary thoughts and feelings sometimes, but some do more than others. Don't trivialize the problem or belittle your child for being afraid. Instead, talk to your child about his or her thoughts and feelings and let your child know that you're there to listen and to help.
  • Don't reinforce specific phobias. Take advantage of opportunities to help children overcome their fears. If your child is afraid of the neighbor's friendly dog, for example, don't go out of your way to avoid the animal. Instead, help your child cope when confronted with the dog and show ways to be brave. For example, you might offer to be your child's home base, waiting and offering support while your child steps a little closer to the dog and then returns to you for safety. Over time, encourage your child to keep closing the distance.
  • Model positive behavior. Because children learn by watching, you can demonstrate how to respond when confronted by something your child fears or that you fear. You can first demonstrate fear and then show how to work through the fear.

If your child's fears seem to be excessive, persistent and interfere with daily life, talk with your child's doctor for advice on whether professional diagnosis and treatment are indicated.

If you have a specific phobia, consider getting psychological help, especially if you have children. Although genetics likely plays a role in the development of specific phobias, repeatedly seeing someone else's phobic reaction can trigger a specific phobia in children.

By dealing with your own fears, you'll be teaching your child excellent resiliency skills and encouraging him or her to take brave actions just like you did.

Oct. 19, 2016
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