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Panic Attacks: What They Are and How To Help

If you are the parent of an anxious teen, your child could be particularly vulnerable to experiencing panic attacks. Panic attacks can occur out of the blue, so to best help your teen navigate through these frightening experiences, it’s important to know what they are and how to provide coping strategies.

What panic attacks are

A panic attack is a sudden and sharp rise in anxiety accompanied by physical symptoms such as racing heart, dizziness, numbness, and shortness of breath. Because the brain thinks the body is in immediate danger, the physical symptoms appear to try and protect the body.

When your child is experiencing a panic attack, they can interpret the physical signs to mean something is going terribly wrong or maybe even that they are going crazy. And while many people experiencing panic attacks can have extreme thoughts such as thinking they are going to die, a panic attack is essentially the body pulling a fire alarm when there isn’t really a fire.  When your teen is having a panic attack, there are many strategies you can try to help alleviate the symptoms.

How parents can help their children during and after a panic attack

Parents can take many steps to help support their children during and after panic attack experiences. The first step is reading up on panic attacks and/or panic disorder, so you can have all the information on what to expect when this occurs. Understanding what symptoms to look for will help you identify when a panic attack is happening and better prepare you to respond.

Once you’ve identified that your child is having a panic attack, it can be beneficial to help them label what they are feeling as harmless anxiety. Because the physical symptoms are so strong, teens need to know that they are not in any real danger and that their body is just experiencing an overreaction to an anxious trigger. Using the false alarm analogy can help to calm down your teen’s central nervous system and allow them to relax.

Another strategy to employ when your teen is having a panic attack is to model calmness. Children will mirror your behavior, so overreacting to what they are experiencing will confirm their beliefs that they are in real danger and they need to fear what is happening to them. Instead, explain that what is happening to them is not an emergency or life-threatening. Calmly tell them that you know what they are experiencing is uncomfortable right now, but that the feelings will subside shortly.

After your teen has experienced a panic attack, it’s also important to try and reduce avoidance for future endeavors. Teens who have experienced a panic attack at a certain place or during a particular situation might try and avoid those situations in the future, but avoidance can actually increase the chance of future attacks. If your child isn’t comfortable returning to a situation right away, attempt to gradually reintroduce these challenging environments, starting with the least anxiety-provoking elements first. Let your child know that you understand this is a scary experience and you are there for support.

Red Mountain Colorado Can Help

Red Mountain Colorado is a leading residential treatment center for teens aged 14-17 that is uniquely designed to help struggling adolescents work through mental health issues like depression, trauma, and anxiety.

We use evidence-based and holistic therapies to help your teen break negative thoughts and behaviors and develop greater self-awareness, self-confidence, and positive decision-making. For more information please call (970) 316-7683.