Panic attacks among teens and young adults has increased over the last two years. A good number of teens and young adults are in treatment for panic attacks.
Panic attacks can be very frightening when experiencing one. They can also be very frustrating and paralyzing. Our logical brain knows that there is nothing we should be "panicked" about.
Yet it doesn't stop the fear network of the brain putting the mind, brain, and body on high alert. Panic attacks can be very paralyzing and significantly interfere with our happiness and success in life as a result.
Why Do We Have This Type of Response & Where Does it Come From?
In very broad and general way of describing the mechanism in the brain that triggers panic attacks, we look at our early, EARLY, ancestors. Let's take two groups of early ancestors who are hunting and gathering for food:
Hunter/Gather Group One
This group is out hunting and gathering for their food. Their brains are wired to be alerted to life threatening danger around them.
Because they have this alert mechanism in their brain, when the saber tooth tiger is spotted, the brain starts a chain reaction through the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA Axis). The HPA Axis does the following:
Floods their body with stress hormones,
Releases epinephrine and nor-epinephrin that increases heart rate and perspiration,
Their blood flows from their core of the body to the larger muscle groups, and
Pupils dilate to be able to see better in the dark
Because of this response, group one is in a much better physiological state to fight, run, or freeze. These are survival mechanisms.
Those in group one are primed to fight of any danger, run away and escape, or freeze and not be noticed. As a result, they had a higher chance of survival. These genes were then passed down to their children and on down the line.
Hunter/Gather Group Two
This group may not have the same reaction or a very limited reaction. As a result, their bodies may not be primed to fight off, run away from, or freeze.
The survival rate of this group would be much lower than that of group one. Kinda hard to pass down your genes when you're no longer alive.
4 Tips to Help Teens & Young Adults Who Experience Panic Attacks
We have this fight, flight, or freeze response for very good reasons. It helps us survive. Yet, for some, this fear network can work in overdrive signaling "life threatening" cues to the brain that are not life threatening.
This is what makes it so frustrating. Our logical brain can see that there is no threat or danger, yet our emotional brain and the fear network kick off the HPA Axis resulting in a panic attack.
The following are tips that can help teens and young adults who experience anxiety or panic attacks.
Tips One: P5
P5 stands for "Prior Preparation Prevents Panic-attack Performance". A teen or young adult may find themselves needing to give a presentation in class. This is nerve racking for anyone let alone a teen or young adult who struggles with panic attacks.
A teen or young adult may have the tendency to procrastinate preparing for the presentation as it triggers feelings of fear, anticipatory anxiety, or that panicky feeling.
Yet taking the time to review the material over and over again until they have it down pat can help reduce the feeling of anxiety and can help prevent a panic attack.
Tips Two: Deep Breathing
When a panic attack begins, it is the sympathetic nervous system that kicks this process off. This is the alerting/activating part of our autonomic nervous system.
We also have another part of our autonomic nervous system called the parasympathetic nervous system. This is the calming/deactivating part of our nervous system.
Deep breathing triggers the parasympathetic nervous system. While it may not prevent a panic attack, it can help decrease the intensity and duration of the panic attack.
You can do deep breathing anywhere. A teen or young adult can ask to use the restroom if at school, a party, dance, sporting event, etc.
Tip Three: Exercise, Yoga, Mindfulness Meditation
Exercise, yoga, and mindfulness meditation have all be shown to help decrease levels of stress and anxiety. Often, panic attacks are triggered by an anxious feeling.
Both exercise and yoga have been shown to decrease stress and anxiety. Exercise and yoga both release endorphins in the brain. Endorphins are a feel-good chemical in the brain that can help reduce the effects of stress and anxiety.
Mindfulness meditation, when practiced regularly, releases not only endorphins but also increases dopamine, serotonin, and melatonin. These brain chemicals also help increase feelings of being calm and happy.
In fact, many of the psychotropic medications prescribed for panic attacks for teens and young adults work on the same receptors in the brain.
Tip Four: Have an Escape Plan
As a teen therapist and young adult counselor who specializes in treatment for panic attacks, I strongly encourage the teens and young adults I work with to NOT avoid situations that may trigger a panic attack. It's important to not let panic attacks limit a teen or young adults' ability to succeed and be happy.
Also, once a teen or young adult begins avoiding situations that may provoke anxiety or panic attacks, generally, they only get worse. They can also generalize to other situations should avoidance be used.
But it doesn't mean we don't teach coping skills and have an escape plan when needed. Just knowing that you have an escape plan or backup plan can help ease the anxiety that may lead to a panic attack.
Examples of backup plans are:
A teen and their parents may talk to the school counselor and request that if their teen begins feeling a panic attack come on, that they can always go to the counselor's office until it passes.
They don't need to tell the teacher they are going to the counselor's office but can ask to use the restroom. Panic attacks generally don't last longer than 5-7 minutes in most cases.
A teen and parents can pre-plan an escape plan if their teen begins to feel a panic attack coming on while at a party or school activity. If the teen begins feeling a panic attack start, they can text their parents to come pick them up.
A young adult who is giving a presentation online can always have their finger on the exit button. Should they start to feel a panic attack coming on, they can exit, wait for a minute or two, reconnect and let them know that they had lost connection. They don't need to feel guilty about being dishonest as this is what happened.
Often is the case that when a teen or young adult who experiences panic attacks have an escape plan, it helps to decrease the anxiety and panic and they generally don't need to use it. But it's there if needed.
Other Suggestions for Teens & Young Adults Struggling with Panic Attacks
There are additional coping skills that are taught to teens and young adults who experience panic attacks. Treatment for panic attacks are varied and individualized to fit the person's unique needs.
There are also great treatment approaches out there for panic attacks such as:
Teen Therapy & Young Adult Counseling for Treatment for Panic Attacks
A therapist who specializes in teen therapy or young adult counseling can help your teen or young adult learn to manage panic attacks. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Eye Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing, and Neurofeedback are excellent, research-based approaches, that can help your teen or young adult.
Seeing a Psychiatrist or Family Doctor for Medication
There may be times where medication may be indicated. If your teen or young adult is finding their panic attacks severely limiting their ability to socialize, succeed in school, and be happy, medication can help.
Your teen or young adult does not need to suffer through and carry the heavy weight of experiencing panic attacks. And they don't need to be on medication for ever.
Often, medication and therapy are both approaches combined together. This way, as your teen or young adult learns the skills to manage panic attacks, they may be able to get off the medication under a psychiatrist or doctor's supervision.
Treatment for Panic Attacks for Teens & Young Adults: Katy Teen & Family Counseling
For teens and young adults who experience panic attacks, it can be debilitating. At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we have a combined 50+ years of experience in teen therapy, young adult counseling, and family therapy.
Your teen or young adult does not need to live with the crippling effects of panic attacks any longer. There are answers and there is help.
If you are ready to start your journey in overcoming panic attacks, all you need to do is follow these three simple steps:
Contact Katy Teen & Family Counseling
Talk with one of our therapists specializing in treatment for panic attacks
Take that first step in feeling the freedom and lightness that comes from living a life without panic attacks!
Other Therapy and Counseling Services Offered at Katy Teen & Family Counseling
We do have teen therapists and young adult counselors who can help your teen or young adult with panic attacks. At Katy Teen & Family Counseling, we also provide other therapy and counseling services such as:
Board Certified Neurofeedback Therapy
Peak performance (optimal academic brain performance)
Peak performance (optimal athletic brain performance)
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR Therapy)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Couples Therapy & Marriage Counseling
At times, supporting a teen or young adult who is struggling can create stress and strain on a marriage or relationship. Maybe it's not a child struggling but the hurt that comes when a spouse or partner violates your trust. Or it may be that you simply want to strengthen your communication and relationship in your marriage or relationship.
About the Author
Jason Drake is a Licensed Clinical Worker. He specializes in teen therapy, family counseling, and counseling young adults. He has provided therapy to teens and families since 2003.
Jason is also a regular contributor to various magazines and publications lending his expertise to various mental health related topics. You can check these articles out on our "Featured Articles" service page on our website.