What drives panic attacks is fear. In fact, if you’re frequently experiencing panic attacks and you have a persistent fear about having additional attacks, you’re likely eligible for being diagnosed with Panic Disorder. Typically, teens with this disorder are extremely anxious and fearful, primarily because of the inability to predict when the next attack will occur. But if you can find a way to befriend your fear, perhaps eventually, it won’t disrupt your life as much as it does now.
What Is Panic Disorder?
Panic Disorder is a mental health condition in which a teen experiences sudden and repeated attacks of fear, which are often accompanied by a feeling of being out of control. Uncomfortable physical sensations, such as a pounding heart, sweating, weakness, dizziness, and numbness makes up the experience a panic attack. An intense worry about the next attack is a common symptom.
How to Manage Fear
If you can find a way to make fear, worry, and panic your friend, you might notice the intensity of fear go down. One way to do this is to get to know the feelings you’re experiencing, and get to know them well. Study them as best you can. Rather than allowing those feelings to run you, befriending your feelings can help you stay in control of them. Here are some ways to begin to make fear your friend and not your enemy:
- Begin to identify when a panic attack is about to occur. Although it might be challenging, you might be able to identify signs that an attack is imminent. If you’re able to identify an oncoming attack, you can take steps to make it less severe.
- At the onset of an attack, change the environment you’re in. Often, it is something in your surroundings that is causing an anxiety attack – a person, a noise, or a place. Eliminate the anxiety trigger as best you can.
- Focus on your breathing. Take long, slow, and deep breaths. Inhale and exhale to the count of four seconds. This extended breathing does two things. It relaxes the body and it directs your attention on your body and instead of the thoughts in your mind that will likely only exacerbate the attack.
- Recite a prayer, mantra, or even the alphabet in your mind. The point here is that you want to change your thinking. Commonly, it is a thought or a thinking pattern that began the attack in the first place. If you can, pinpoint the thought that might have triggered the panic attack and write it down.
If you are suffering from panic attacks, you probably know that it can be incredibly debilitating. Psychotherapists Laurel Hulley and Bruce Ecker have found that the most effective treatment for anxiety is finding the purpose that it has. According to Hulley and Ecker, once someone directly experiences and accepts this previously unrecognized purpose; there is an opening in which insight can be experienced, often eliminating symptoms of panic.
For instance, in an imaginative game of “what if”, one teen recognized that her panic attacks were the result of believing that if she didn’t have the intense anxiety then another bad thing would happen. Having the panic attacks were a way for her to experience something “bad”, or without them another bad thing would happen that would not be under her control.
Of course, this technique may or may not work with everyone. Typically treatment includes both medication and psychotherapy, or a combination of the two. They have been used successfully to reduce the intensity of anxiety as well as the frequency of panic attacks. The medication will help relieve some of those devastating symptoms and the therapy will help you work through the underlying causes of those panic attacks, such as the work of Hulley and Ecker.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 2.3% of 13 to 18 year olds have been diagnosed with Panic Disorder. And teens who suffer from this disorder are more likely to also suffer from depression, suicidal thoughts, and addiction. But fortunately, those teens who suffer from Panic Disorder and other disorders can be treated and they can experience a panic-free life.
If you’re looking for a way to facilitate your freedom from panic attacks, try befriending your feelings and accepting them as you’re feeling them – right in the moment. It’s easier said than done, but it’s possible!
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.