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How Can I Stop a Panic Attack? Coping Skills For Panic Attacks in Teens

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you’re probably familiar with the symptoms: Your heart is pounding, hard. Your body starts shaking; your thighs might be trembling, and you can’t stop. The blood is rushing to your head, and you’re getting hot flashes or chills. Your mind feels like it’s swimming. Your breath comes out in shallow gasps, and your chest is tight and heavy. Everything is scary. You feel like danger is closing in on you, or you’re dying.

If you commonly experience these symptoms, or if you’ve been diagnosed with panic disorder, you may be wondering how to stop these attacks.  While long-term treatment may include therapy and medication, below are a few short-term ways to stop a panic attack while you’re in the midst of one.

Panic Attack Coping Skills For Teens

1. Breathe deeply

One well-researched way to calm down is to breathe deeply and slowly. Start from your abdomen, and try to breathe out more slowly than you breathe in. The best ratio is ideally 4 seconds in and 6 seconds out, but if you don’t remember this during the attack, just remember: breathe out for longer than you breathe in. You can keep your hand on your abdomen and feel it expand and contract to make sure you’re breathing correctly. Because a primary symptom of panic attacks is shortness of breath, focusing on your breathing will help reduce your anxiety symptoms. Do this for a minute or two, and you’ll see how much better you feel.

2. Relax your muscles

Start with your face. Tighten all your facial muscles one by one, for a few seconds each, and then let go. Progressively work your way down to your chest, hands, fingers, buttocks, legs, and toes. Curl your fists, and then release. Clench, relax, clench, relax. When you get all the way down to your feet, you’ll see that your entire body feels more loose and relaxed—as if you’ve just given yourself a mini massage.

3. Dunk your face in water

This, like the above two strategies, is also used in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (see TIPP skills) to help teens who are emotionally dysregulated calm down. Lean forward into a bowl of ice-cold water and quickly place your face in it. Or, if you don’t have a bowl handy, just go to the sink or grab a water bottle and splash your face with the coldest water you can get. This is one way to dramatically and suddenly change your body temperature so that your heart rate quickly comes up and goes back down naturally. Surprisingly, this may stop your panic attack from progressing.

4. Engage your five senses

In the middle of a panic attack, you can try to ground yourself using your five senses. Try to think about what you can see, smell, hear, feel and taste. You can focus on a concrete object near you—whether it’s the blue zipper on your jacket or your shoes. If you’re near a chair, hold on to it and focus on the feel of the wood beneath your palms. Clutch your backpack strap, if you’re at school, to ground yourself with its familiar feel. If you have essential oils handy (and it’s good to always have these handy), take them out and sniff them. Lavender and chamomile have particularly soothing effects. (If you’re taking sedative medications like benzos, however, just ask your doctor before you use lavender.) If you have a piece of gum handy, pop one in your mouth. Focus on its taste and texture as you chew it. Taking note of what you see, hear, smell, touch and taste at any given moment is a mindfulness exercise that anyone can practice on a daily basis, whether or not you have anxiety.  This helps make you a calmer, more self-aware and reality-focused person overall.

5. Use guided imagery

Imagine you’re lying on the sand in a tropical beach, with the quiet sound of the waves lapping at the shore and the heat of the sun warming their face. Known as guided imagery/visualization, this is one way to calm yourself when you’re in the throes of a panic attack. If a beach doesn’t do the trick for you, think of a relaxing place that does. It might be a certain hiking trail, or a thicket of woods near your house, or even the public library if you enjoy going there for the peace and quiet. Whatever it is, imagine you’ve suddenly been transported there. Guided imagery, a meditation technique, works best if you practice it regularly, even when you’re not having an anxiety attack.

6. Get a cheerleader

If you have a best friend or classmate who is soothing and supportive, call them over (or just phone them) whenever you’re having a panic attack. They can help ground you and cheer you on so that you don’t have to go through the attack alone. They can also give you reassurance. Just saying the words “it will be okay” or “this too shall pass” helps immensely, because many teens feel like they are dying when they are having a true panic attack. You can even prep your friend beforehand to say these things to you later on. (Even though you told her to say it, you’ll probably still feel better.) If you can’t get a point-person for some reason or another, say these encouraging statements to yourself.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack in a Teenager

Panic attacks in teens have a variety of symptoms that are easy to spot. If you’re going through a panic attack, you might feel the following sensations:

  • Rapid heartbeat 
  • Shakes
  • Sweating 
  • Dizziness and nausea 
  • A dryness in your mouth and throat

These symptoms can be scary, but rest assured that they are all normal parts of a panic attack. These symptoms are parts of your body’s stress response, which manifests both mentally and physically. 

How Common Are Panic Attacks in Teens?

Panic attacks in teens are more common than you might think. In fact, around 35 percent of the population has experienced a panic attack. About one percent of teenagers deal with panic disorder, a condition characterized by chronic panic attacks. While that might sound like a small number, that stat means that millions of teens are going through what you’re going through. 

Triggers of Panic Attacks in Teens

Panic attacks in teens often have an underlying cause like a traumatic experience or a major life change. However, each individual panic attack typically occurs without warning or an apparent cause. The surprise factor can make a panic attack even more scary. However, it’s easier to respond to panic attacks when you know that they may come seemingly out of nowhere.

How Parents or Guardians Can Support Their Teen During a Panic Attack

If you’re wondering how to help a teenager with anxiety and panic attacks, you’ve come to the right place. As one of the top residential adolescent treatment centers in the US, we work tirelessly to help teens find freedom from mental health issues like anxiety and panic disorder. We’re also passionate about getting parents, guardians, and caregivers involved in a teen’s recovery.

When your teenager is experiencing a panic attack, your presence is often the most helpful resource you can provide. Staying close by, staying calm, and helping your teen focus on the basics — their breathing, their surroundings — can be immensely helpful.

You might also be wondering how to stop a panic attack, as it can be hard to watch your teen go through one. Unfortunately, panic attacks take time to subside; the best thing you can do is be there for your teen rather than looking for an easy fix.

Long-term Help for Panic Attacks in Teens

While the above tips are some ways to help you get through a panic attack, keep in mind that they aren’t long-term solutions. If you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety or panic disorder, you may need the following interventions:

  • Therapy

    For panic disorder, two of the most effective types of therapy for adolescents are Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). DBT’s Emotion Regulation skills teach teens how to reduce the overwhelming feelings that disrupt their daily functioning, whether it’s anxiety, depression, or any other extreme emotion. In CBT, Exposure and response prevention (ERP) will teach your teen how to overcome irrational fears (that trigger panic attacks) and how to manage the thoughts and feelings that play a role in overall anxiety.

  • Medication

    Sometimes, therapy isn’t enough. In these situations, a psychiatrist may recommend specific medications to limit your panic attacks. While there are no specific FDA-approved drugs for panic disorder, there are certain medications that will help. The most common ones prescribed are SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and Benzodiazepines (otherwise known as benzos). SSRIs are antidepressants, but they are effective too for anxiety disorder since they regulate the levels of serotonin in the teen’s body, which helps regulate mood. For example, paroxetine (Paxil) and citalopram (Celexa) are commonly prescribed SSRIs for adolescents. On the other hand, benzos are minor tranquilizers. They are usually prescribed for short-term treatment, as they can lead to dependence and addiction fairly quickly. Thus, one must use extreme caution when taking benzos and should only take them as directed. Lorazepam (Ativan) and alprazolam (Xanax) are two examples of benzos.

  • Complementary Therapies

    Before prescribing medication, some psychiatrists will recommend trying complementary therapies. Meditation, yoga, mindfulness exercises, and physical fitness all fit in this category. For example, your psychiatrist or psychologist may teach you certain breathing and mindfulness exercises. Then, they may instruct you to practice these techniques every day. (As seen above, breathing and mindfulness exercises are also short-term solutions for acute instances of panic attacks.)

  • Teen Anxiety Treatment Center

    If your panic attacks are severe, frequent, and debilitating to your daily life, you may need more intensive treatment than therapy or medication. You may benefit from an adolescent mental health treatment center that specializes in anxiety. Depending on the level of your clinical acuity, you may need outpatient programs (intensive outpatient or partial hospitalization) or full-time residential care.

When Should a Teen Seek Professional Help for Panic Attacks?

How do you stop a panic attack? The answer is often, “Not by yourself.” 

If you’re dealing with frequent panic attacks and need support, we’re here for you. At Evolve Treatment, we work alongside teens, teaching valuable skills that can help you manage your panic attacks. With an emphasis on DBT skills for teens, we can help you build up the resources and support you need to overcome panic attacks. 

If you’re searching “panic attack teenager treatment” on Google, it might be a sign that it’s time to seek professional health for panic attacks. You don’t have to deal with them alone.

Don’t be Anxious About Your Anxiety

Sometimes anxiety is its own worst enemy. It creates a vicious cycle that’s hard to break. You may worry about an upcoming social situation, then get anxious about your inevitable anxiety or predicted panic attack. This can thus cause a vicious cycle. For this reason, try not to worry about your anxiety. Of course, we know that’s easier said than done, but it’s important to try.

Get Help With Anxiety or Panic Disorder at Evolve Treatment Centers

At Evolve Treatment Centers, we’re passionate about helping teens recover from anxiety and panic disorders. To learn more about how we can help you on your recovery journey, contact us today.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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