Does your teen suffer with panic attacks? Panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that causes a person’s brain to suddenly go into fight-or-flight mode at any given moment, even though there’s no actual threat or danger.
Most teens experience moments of nervousness or intense anxiety from time to time. This can make it difficult to determine what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to your teen’s psychological health.
Anxiety attacks cause people to feel an immense amount of stress over a particular worry. Panic attacks can strike without warning and may feel or look like a physical health emergency. Panic disorder is a treatable illness.
As a parent, you know the many symptoms your teen experiences when they have a panic attack. Panic attacks are a sudden attack of fear, which is often accompanied by a feeling of being out of control.
Panic attacks usually come with the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Pounding heart
- Trembling or shaking (feeling nervous)
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Feeling of choking, not being able to swallow
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Chills or sweating
- Nausea or abdominal distress
- Fear of dying
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.3% of 13 to 18 year olds have been diagnosed with Panic Disorder. Sadly, teens who suffer from this disorder also tend to experience other mental illnesses, such as depression, addiction, and obsessive compulsive disorder. Some teens with panic disorder might also experience suicidal thoughts.
Ways to Help Your Teen Cope with Panic Attacks
To support your teen, here are some tips to consider for helping your teen before, during, and after an attack.
Communication, talk to your teen.
You and your teen together might take some time to read about Panic Disorder. In fact, you might learn as much as you can about the illness. When you do this, you may begin to understand what’s going on and you may experience insights and what you need to do to heal. This can be incredibly empowering and even help reduce the anxiety.
Let them know it’s okay, label the panic attack as harmless anxiety.
Many teens misperceive a panic attack when it is occurring. They think all kinds of scary thoughts: Are they going crazy, dying, about to faint or having a heart attack? Such thoughts trigger heightened anxiety, which often leads to worsened symptoms. Therefore, it is important to help teens understand that they are not in any danger but that their body is overreacting to feeling very anxious.
Even though teens won’t show it, they look to their parents or other adults for how seriously to view their condition. If a parent reacts with great concern, it inadvertently sends a message that the panic attack is serious and potentially dangerous. So, when your teen is in the midst of an attack, demonstrate with both your words and behavior that there is no emergency. For example, you can say, “I know how uncomfortable you feel right now but you are okay and after a while, you will feel better.”
Practice relaxation techniques.
Experiencing panic attacks on a regular basis as well as fearing the next attack means that you’re experiencing anxiety much of the time. A great way to not only help reduce your anxiety but also prevent attacks from happening is to learn to relax. This means making it a practice to relax every day. Typically, people relax after a long day or when they feel stressed. And these are good times to practice. However, for someone experience a high degree of anxiety, a state of relaxation needs to be more commonplace than anxiety. Relaxation needs to be the cornerstone of your teen’s life.
Evaluation by a professional.
Starting with your teen’s pediatrician or your family doctor can rule out any underlying medical issues that may be contributing to or exacerbating your teen’s anxiety symptoms, make an initial diagnosis, and give you a referral to a mental health professional for further evaluation.
With adolescent psychiatric disorders, it’s really important that treatment occurs under the guidance of a qualified and experienced mental health professional. Look for someone who works specifically with adolescents, and, if possible, a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in treating anxiety disorders.
Panic disorder can significantly interfere with many aspects of your teen’s life. It may get worse over time, so early intervention is important. Treatment for panic disorder usually involves psychotherapy alone or a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
Sources: ADAA.org, National Institute of Mental Health Image provided by Pixabay.