Supporting Your Anxious Teen through a Panic Attack

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By Hailey Hagan, MSW – February 14, 2024

Anxious teens are vulnerable to experiencing panic attacks, which can be a frightening experience for both the child and the parent/caregiver. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, panic attacks are characterized by a sudden wave of fear or discomfort or a sense of losing control when there is no clear threat of danger.

Panic attacks are often accompanied by physical symptoms such as racing heart, dizziness, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Oftentimes these symptoms develop without warning, so what can you do to help your anxious teen cope with a panic attack at home?

  1. Stay Calm and Reassuring. Even though teens won’t show it, they look to their parents and other adults for stability and reassurance that everything is okay. If a parent reacts with great concern, it can unintentionally send a message that the panic attack is serious and potentially dangerous. So, when your teen is in the midst of a panic attack, stay calm, speak in a soothing tone and remind them you are there for them. Your relaxed demeanor can act as a guiding light in their storm of anxiety.
  1. Validate Their Feelings. Let your teen know that what they’re feeling is valid and okay. Avoid judgment or dismissive remarks. Reassure them that it’s a temporary situation and that you are there to support them unconditionally.
  1. Create a Safe Space. Find a quiet, comfortable place where your teen can sit or lie down. Eliminate any triggers, if possible, and offer them a comforting item, such as a soft blanket or a favorite stuffed animal.
  1. Help Distract Them. There are many tools and techniques to help distract an individual during a panic attack. Exercising, playing a game, eating a snack, using ice packs to cool down the body, breathing techniques, a shower or a bath, or watching a favorite show are all techniques that can be used to distract your teen during a panic attack.
  1. Help Them Avoid the Panic Attack Trap. Once a teenager has a panic attack, they may become fearful of having another one and may avoid activities and situations they feel could trigger another attack. As a result, your teen may try to avoid school, social activities, family events, or sports. While understandable, this avoidance only worsens anxiety and increases the chance for more panic attacks. It is important to encourage your teen to face these situations, while at the same time empathizing with how challenging it is to face a scary situation.

In these moments, your understanding, patience, and support can make a significant difference. By being a source of strength, you can help your teenager manage panic attacks and, in the process, strengthen your parent-child relationship.