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#97 Fears and Phobias with Cai Graham

Season #2


Do anxiety, fears and phobias just fade away with time? Hey there, fantastic parents and caregivers! 🌟 In this episode, we'll be chatting with an expert who's not just talking the talk but walking the walk in the world of fears, phobias, and anxiety, Cai Graham. An International Speaker, Best Selling Author, and Family Anxiety Support Specialist, is on a mission to empower teens and young adults to live happier, more confident lives using her background as Master Practitioner in Coaching and NLP & Timeline Therapy.

“With a deep understanding of the unique struggles faced by teens and young adults, I offer expertise in various areas related to adolescent anxiety. From understanding and managing anxiety to building resilience and promoting self-care, I am equipped to address a range of topics that resonate with both teens and those who support them.”- Cai Graham

Join us for a chat as we:

💬 Go through Cai’s personal journey that led her to become a trusted expert in supporting teens, young adults, and their parents.
💬 Drawing from her expertise and experiences, she'll share practical strategies for parents to support their kids dealing with fears and phobias, giving them the tools to handle emotions and build resilience.
💬 Plus, she spills the beans on communication tips to connect with anxious kids and create a supportive home environment.

Listen now to this empowering episode and equip yourself with the knowledge and tools to support your teens and young adults as they conquer their fears and phobias. Take the first step towards building a mentally healthier future for your children!




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Hello, wonderful listeners! I'm thrilled to have you join us for episode 97 of the 3D Parent Podcast. Today, I am joined by a special guest, Cai Graham, an international speaker, a best-selling author, and a podcaster herself. Talk about a powerhouse! Cai is a family anxiety support specialist with a laser focus on supporting teens, young adults, and their parents. Her mission? To build a mentally healthier and happier generation of young people.

With a background as a master practitioner in coaching, NLP, and timeline therapy, plus her hands-on experience with Childline, the UK's leading child counseling charity, Cai's got the perfect combo of skills. Her focus is on empowering her clients with the tools they need to take charge of their thoughts and emotions. Cai knows the unique struggles faced by teens, and she's here to share her expertise. From understanding and managing anxiety to building resilience and promoting self-care, she's equipped to tackle it all. I sat down with Cai on this episode to ask her about her take on Fears and Phobias in kids and how parents  help them navigate the tough moments when they crop up and how to help children build a toolbox of coping strategies.

What are fears and phobias? 

First off, I asked Cai: What's the deal with fears and phobias? Where do they come from? Are they just cousins of anxiety, or is there more to the story?

So, according to Cai, fears and phobias are indeed related to anxiety, but they're not the same. Fears, she explained, are our natural response to a perceived threat. Our unconscious mind, in its wisdom, is constantly on high alert, a leftover survival instinct from the days of dodging saber-toothed tigers. Now, that was a legit threat, and our unconscious mind kept us safe from it.

But here's the twist – for many folks dealing with anxiety, that alert system doesn't shut down. It's like our unconscious mind is stuck in a perpetual “danger mode.” So, even in a safe space, like a classroom, it's still on the lookout, “getting its knickers in a twist,” to quote Cai,  over potential threats that don't actually exist.

Now, phobias, on the other hand, is anxiety taken to the extreme. They're irrational and totally disproportionate to the actual threat. Cai brought up a great example with spiders. Some people, she explained, absolutely lose it when faced with a big eight-legged friend. That irrational fear kicks in, and it's disproportionate to the actual threat posed by the spider. It's like the mind's yelling, 'Perceived threat! Perceived threat!' but in this case, it's cranked up to eleven.

Now, we touched on the bees briefly in our conversation, and Cai made a crucial point. If you're allergic to bees, being on a bit more heightened alert is warranted. It's not irrational in that case. But when the fear of bees reaches the level of sobbing, breaking down, and seriously interfering with your daily life – that's when it crosses into the territory of a phobia. So, there's this fascinating overlap between fears and phobias, but according to Cai, it all boils down to intensity and duration.

How do they develop? 

Cai highlighted that fears and phobias can trace their roots to various factors. Take her own experience, for instance. She revealed a deep-seated phobia of swimming in deep water. And guess what triggered it? The movie, “Jaws.” Yep, that intense fear of being a shark's lunch began after watching that iconic movie. But it's not just about shark-infested waters. Cai delved into other triggers, like the dark. She shared that environmental factors like scary movies, or even a dog barking in the dark, can shape these fears during childhood. And let's not forget the genetic card. Some of us are more predisposed to anxieties and phobias. It's not just about learning behaviors from mom or dad; it's in our DNA. 

"As parents, we need to acknowledge that. It can be a phase, we can grow out of it, but if it shows signs of continuing, I think we need to take it seriously."

What are some effective strategies or techniques parents can use to support their kids who struggle with fears and/or phobias

  • DARE Technique (CBT): Cai introduced us to CBT's powerful DARE technique – Diffuse, Allow, Run Towards, and Engage. It's about acknowledging the fear, understanding it, and rationalizing with it. However, she highlighted that cognitive reasoning might hit a roadblock during an anxiety-inducing moment.
  • NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) and Visualization: NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming): Cai is a big proponent of the magic of NLP. Instead of engaging with the cognitive bit, she emphasizes visualization. Using a phobia model, she guides kids to picture a fear-inducing scenario, turn it black and white, and run it backward at varying speeds in their heads. It's like rewiring the brain's movies and pictures.
  • Reframing: Cai suggests reframing fears positively and changing the narrative. For example, is your child terrified of bees? If yes, then learn about their importance in pollination and their intelligence. Show them a new perspective, making it less about fear and more about appreciation.
  • Exposure and Desensitization: Cai highlighted the effectiveness of exposure, like those specialists on TV showcasing someone overcoming their fear of spiders. It's about reframing the brain to recognize that these perceived threats aren't as menacing as our minds make them out to be.
  • Breathwork – Box Breathing – Adding Color: When the panic sets in, Cai's go-to move is box breathing. Breathe in for four, hold for four, exhale for four, and pause for four. This simple yet powerful technique communicates with the primal part of the brain, slowing down the adrenaline rush and releasing feel-good hormones. She also added a new element, color, if basic box breathing is not enough to cut through the fear. Here’s how: have your child identify the color of their fear as they are feeling it, let’s day pea green. Then have them identify the color if the anxious feelings were gone, like pink. Then have them do the box breathing exercise while visualizing breathing in the pink color and out the pea green color.   

How can parents create a supportive and understanding environment for their anxious kids at home?

First things first, validation is key. Cai stressed the importance of acknowledging and respecting your child's feelings without overdramatizing them. It's a delicate balance – provide reassurance without inadvertently signaling, "Even Mum thinks there's something wrong." 

Then there's the art of open communication. Cai advocates for a lot of listening – no eye rolls when your kid starts their anxiety narrative. It's more like, "Okay, honey, let's talk. What do you need right now?" Simple, but so effective.

Cai introduces this cool concept called gradual exposure. Cai used the example of school anxiety. Instead of a strict "you're going every day" approach, she proposed a more gentle journey. Find the better days, discover the fun parts, and strike deals that work. Also, we teach our kids by example. If you freak out about spiders, guess who's watching and learning to do the same? Cai advises parents to model good coping strategies, showing that fears can be managed.

Celebrate victories, even the tiny ones. Did your kid make it to school without a meltdown? That's a win worth cheering for. It's all about acknowledging the small steps and not pushing too hard when they're out of their comfort zone.

“Home should be their sanctuary,” says Cai. So she advises creating a calm environment where they feel safe. But here's the secret sauce: teach them coping skills. Cai suggests playful ideas like visualization around their phobias. Is it’s fear of snakes, Imagine putting a sombrero on it. If it’s fear of dogs, picture a clown nose on a dog – turning fears into something less scary.

Wasn't that conversation with Cai just enlightening? I'm feeling equipped with some fantastic insights into tackling fears and phobias for both parents and kids. If you're hungry for more wisdom, you can dive into the first chapter of Cai's anxiety book, "Fearless and Free," available on her website. Plus, exciting news! Cai is gearing up to launch a “Changing Pictures” course the first week of April, 2024, where you can equip yourself with the tools to reshape those anxious thoughts. So, head over to her Instagram, Facebook, or, and stay tuned for all the updates.