Panic attacks are not fun, I’m sure we can all agree. In fact, panic attacks are debilitating, sneaky and just downright scary. That feeling of being out of control of your own body is horrifying for all of us. And to have it happen anywhere, anytime – for an already anxious teenager, that can make getting out of their front door a real challenge.
And full disclosure from me, the first time I saw my daughter having a panic attack, I had no clue as to what was going on. Luckily for me, her friend knew. He had seen family members having panic attacks before and he knew what it was. Over her shoulder, he met my puzzled look with a flat, “She’s having a panic attack.” A penny drop moment for me.
If you’re new to panic attacks, go and read this blog to find out what you’re looking for. The good news is, panic attacks can be managed. And, they give excellent clues for finding out just where things are going wrong.
A panic attack follows the structure of a pre-schooler’s tantrum. It starts to build, slowly at first (maybe weeks in some cases) with a base of negative thoughts that feed each other. These thoughts get stronger and more dominant over other thoughts, until they become what the person believes. From here, it can only take one comment to trigger a physical response to the thoughts inside. Once the panic attack has begun, like a pre-schooler’s tantrum, it needs to run its course. And it’s worth noting that if the underlying thoughts are not addressed, then the lack of tolerance level gets higher and the next panic attack becomes easier to trigger.
If I was looking at a panic attack, I’d liken it to a mountain with a strong base. Once the panic attack starts, you have to go over the top before you can begin your descent. If those thoughts that are fuelling it aren’t addressed, the next time a panic attack starts it may well begin from a lower place.
There are a number of ways to manage panic attacks:
Before and After
- Keep a journal and note down the place, time and context of the panic attacks. Also worth taking into account is sleep and food prior to the attack. I highly recommend doing this for a month. If your teenager is female, also note menstrual cycles.
- Talk to your teenager about the thoughts that are making the mountain out of the mole hill. Don’t dismiss these thoughts, they will be highly relevant to your teen. Write them down and accept them. Ask your teen for their input as too how to solve them and have a brainstorming session. Click here to find out more.
- Encourage your teen to continue a normal daily routine. Enlist the help of a trusted friend to manage outside of the home.
- Encourage movement in their daily routine, especially if it can be done outdoors to take advantage of all the vitamin D they will be getting from the sun.
- Make time to be present with your teen everyday and be especially proactive about laughing together. Tell a joke deliberately badly or surf You Tube together for something funny.
- Square breathing, also known as box breathing. It’s pretty simple and can be done on their hand or in the air. Simply breathe in for a count of 4, hold for a count of 4, breathe out for a count of 4 and hold for a count of 4. At the same time, move your hand in the shape of a square – up for the in-breath, along for the hold, down for the out breath and along for the hold. Repeat the breathing cycle four times.
- Fingers, another activity that can be done under the table – lightly press and hold the tip of each finger in turn, then massage each finger from the base to the tip in turn. Massage the palm. Then swap hands.
- Drop your jaw – all thoughts will magically disappear!
- Count randomly – 53, 67, 42, 105 …
- 3 calm breaths – in through the nose, out through the mouth.
Don’t wait until the panic attack has started to teach these to your teen. Be proactive and practice one together in the morning for a week, then pick another activity for the next week.
The best way to support your teen through this trying time is to keep talking. Accept the panic attacks and work with them to find the cause.
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