Fawn McNeil-HaberParentsTeens

Anxiety in Teens: How to Help Your Child Through the Storm of a Panic Attack

teen panic attack

The raging hormones, social pressures, and academic load a teenager carries can easily create the perfect storm of anxiety.

It’s no wonder anxiety in teens is identifiable now more than ever.

As a parent, wanting to remove anxiety or distress from your child’s life is only natural. But remember, it’s impossible to wash away your teen’s panic attack the same way you once washed away the tomato sauce from their chin.

However, you can still help your child in the throes of a panic attack. How?

 

Know the Signs of a Panic Attack

First, it’s important to know the signs both leading up to a panic attack as well as when your teen is in the middle of one.

Pre-Attack Symptoms

Anxiety in teens is often more stealthy than in any other age category. Mostly, it’s easy to misinterpret anxiety symptoms for the normal attitude flux of a teenager.

Subtle symptoms often leading up to anxiety attacks include:

  • Changes in sleep pattern
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Social avoidance or isolation
  • Restlessness or feeling “on edge”

Panic Attack Symptoms

Spotting a full-blown panic attack is slightly easier. Still, it’s often pegged simply as teenage drama or overreacting.

In identifying a panic attack, look for:

  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shakiness or dizziness
  • Numbness in arms or legs
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Upset stomach or feeling of nausea

Anxiety in teens often makes teenagers feel like they’re going crazy or even dying. Yes, panic attacks are that extreme and that real!

 

Label What Is Happening in Their Mind and Body

Anxiety in teens—even among all the theatricalities of youth—requires validation. In other words, you need you to take them seriously.

Sure, they may be extremely emotional, at times. But anxiety is more than overreacting or being dramatic. Rather, it’s your teen being overrun by their autonomic nervous system. And unless they’re a whiz in biology class, that little fact is going to elude them.

So, make it a point to call out each symptom.

It may be something as simple as saying, “I can see that you’re breathing very shallow.” Tell them to look at you and then, offer to take a few slow belly breaths with them, reminding them that this feeling will pass. Identifying those “I feel like I’m dying” symptoms helps to lessen their stronghold.

Keep in mind, labeling physical symptoms related to a panic attack can become an “aha” moment for your teen. It may dawn on them that this experience isn’t new  and doesn’t make them crazy.

 

Be a Model of Calm

Mom supporting teen daughterAnxiety in teens often causes a social stir. Especially when it reaches the point of a panic attack.

Even if all eyes are on you and your child, don’t make this about you. Remember the offer to breathe slowly with your teen? Well, it has a two-fold purpose, keeping you calm as well. Essentially, you can’t scream “calm down” and expect their body to relax.

In the throes of a panic attack, words often go in one ear and out the other. Instead of depending solely on words, focus on your actions.

For example, take them aside or somewhere private to where you can focus on each other and regain control. Make this moment about empowering them rather than simply surviving an overwhelming situation. After all, you don’t want to reinforce a victim mindset or your child’s feeling of helplessness. Anxiety does that for them already.

 

Bring Them into the Moment

Help your teen move from the overwhelming sensations in their body, to the present moment outside their body.  Have them identify and describe 5 things they can see; 4 things they can hear; 3 things they can feel/touch; 2 things they can smell and any tastes in their mouth.  Take you time with this. While it may be hard at first, continue to encourage them to try.

This can help to move them from the waterfall of sensations to the solid grounding of the world around them. It can focus their attention away from thoughts that may spiral their panic higher.  It can orient them away from the bodily sensation that exacerbate the fear.

However, staying in the moment also means staying with the panic.  Remind them it will pass.  Despite feeling like they will implode, a panic attack will not hurt them.  It’s hard but they can ride the wave of panic until it crashes on the shores and dissipates.

 

Identify Triggers to Empower Your Teen

Teen practicing mindfulnessBattling anxiety in teens means that you have to be hyper-vigilant and incredibly self-aware as a parent. It means knowing what and how things impact your child.

And further still, it’s vital to teach your teenager those same mindfulness skills. Doing so enables them to identify and face their own anxiety triggers.

It can be difficult for your teen to return to the “scene” or to the situation that brought on extreme panic. But encourage them against avoidance. You can even face the trigger with your teen, proving to them that a trigger isn’t an indictment for experiencing another panic attack.

Teach them to do a “check-in” on how they are feeling in various situations. And practice your belly breathing or other calming techniques should they feel negative emotions bubbling up.

Anxiety in teens is often overlooked simply because of the assumed ebb and flow of teenage emotions. But teens experience anxiety, too.

Navigating the unfamiliar waters of teenage anxiety often requires the skillful input of a professional. Please visit my Teen Anxiety page to learn how I can help your teen to reclaim their calm and you to be a more supportive parent.

 

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