At the Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness, we recognize that panic attacks can be extremely challenging for teenagers. They can happen suddenly, causing intense fear and physical symptoms that can be overwhelming. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), almost one-third of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 have anxiety disorders, which often include panic attacks as common symptoms.
By adopting appropriate coping strategies and receiving adequate support, teens can learn to manage their panic attacks and regain control of their lives. At MCAW, we want to provide parents and teens with coping skills that they can put into practice when facing a panic attack.
Causes of Panic Attacks in Teens
Several factors can contribute to the development of panic attacks in teens. Understanding these underlying causes can help in addressing and managing the issue effectively.
- Genetics and Family History: Genetics and family history can play a role in the development of panic attacks. If a teen has a close family member who has experienced panic attacks or panic disorder, they may be more susceptible to developing the condition themselves.
- Major Life Changes: Major life changes, such as starting a new school, moving to a new city, or experiencing a significant loss, can trigger panic attacks in some teens. These changes can cause stress and anxiety, which can, in turn, lead to panic attacks.
- Chronic Stress: Chronic stress can increase the risk of panic attacks in teens. According to the American Psychological Association, approximately 31% of stressed teens report feeling overwhelmed, depressed, or sad, all of which can contribute to the onset of panic attacks.
- Substance Use: The use of certain substances, such as alcohol, caffeine, or illicit drugs, can trigger panic attacks in some teens. Substance use can also exacerbate existing anxiety, making panic attacks more likely.
Recognizing Panic Attack Symptoms
Before discussing coping strategies, it’s important for teens and their caregivers to understand the symptoms of a panic attack. Panic attacks can manifest in various ways, but they generally involve a combination of physical and emotional symptoms.
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Trembling or shaking
- Intense fear or terror
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
- Detachment from reality
- Feelings of doom or impending danger
7 Panic Attack Coping Skills
1. Deep Breathing Techniques
Deep breathing is a powerful tool in combating panic attacks. Encourage teens to focus on slow, deep breaths, which can help calm their nervous system and reduce the intensity of their symptoms. The 4-7-8 technique is one popular method: inhale for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. Repeat this process until the panic subsides.
2. Grounding Exercises
Grounding exercises help teens reconnect with the present moment and take their focus away from the panic attack. One simple grounding technique is the 5-4-3-2-1 method, which involves identifying the following:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can touch
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
3. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body. By focusing on these sensations, teens can distract themselves from panic attacks and achieve a sense of relaxation. Begin at the feet and work your way up the body, tensing and releasing each muscle group for a few seconds.
4. Cognitive Reframing
Cognitive reframing is a technique that helps teens change the way they think about their panic attacks. Instead of viewing the attack as a catastrophic event, they can learn to see it as a temporary and manageable experience. Encourage them to challenge their negative thoughts and replace them with more positive or realistic ones.
5. Visualization Techniques
Visualization can help teens create a mental escape from their panic attacks. Encourage them to think of a peaceful, happy place and imagine themselves there. They should focus on the sights, sounds, and sensations associated with this place, allowing their minds to become fully immersed in the calming scene.
6. Use of Distraction
Distraction is a helpful technique for redirecting the mind away from panic attacks. Teens can try engaging in an activity they enjoy, such as drawing, listening to music, or playing a game. By focusing on something else, they can take their mind off the panic and lessen the intensity of the attack.
7. Seeking Professional Help
If panic attacks continue to interfere with a teen’s daily life, it may be necessary to seek professional help. At the Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness, we offer various services and support for teens struggling with panic attacks, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, trauma-informed therapy, and other treatments to provide additional coping strategies, guidance, and encouragement.
Treatment for Teens with Panic Attacks
It’s essential for teens to practice these coping skills regularly, even when they’re not experiencing a panic attack. By doing so, they can build resilience and become better equipped to handle future panic attacks. Encourage them to set aside time each day to practice these techniques and incorporate them into their daily routines.
Panic attacks can be incredibly challenging for teens, but with the right coping skills and support, they can learn to manage their symptoms and regain control of their lives. Get in touch with us at the Massachusetts Center for Adolescent Wellness to learn how we assist teenagers who have anxiety and panic disorders.