The kid’s checklist for managing anxiety or panic attacks
Has your child or teen ever gotten really worked up about something? Maybe they became overwhelmed by a school project or extremely upset after a friend said something hurtful. Have they ever shared that they struggle with anxiety or have had a panic attack? These moments can be scary for both kids and parents, but there are things you can do to help in the moment.
What is an anxiety attack?
Anxiety can be a feature of many situations and conditions. An “anxiety attack” is something that usually occurs in response to certain stressors and can be a severe feeling of apprehension, worry, distress, or restlessness. It may build gradually and last for an extended period of time.
In actuality, it is less of an “attack” and more of a “state of feeling” that can last hours or days. Other symptoms that one might feel are shortness of breath, chest pain, heart palpitations, dry mouth, sweating, trouble sleeping, shaking or feeling dizzy.
A “panic attack” is a sudden or intense feeling of overwhelming fear. Someone having a panic attack may feel like their heart is racing and they may become short of breath or feel like they are choking. Dizziness or nausea may also be side effects. These attacks can happen without a cause or can be caused by an external stressor (think a person who is afraid of flying and is trying to get on an airplane).
If you or your child is trying to figure out which one is happening, the strongest indicator is how it comes on: Is it sudden or does it build slowly over time? Now that we determined if it’s an anxiety or panic attack, let’s talk about how to help.
Preventative steps to take
To prevent or to lessen the severity of anxiety attacks, you or your child can try the following:
- Take good care of yourself by getting sleep and exercise.
- Drink water. A lack of hydration can affect your body’s function and put you at risk for anxiety.
- Tap into relaxation practices. Breathing exercises can calm both your body and mind when you’re starting to feel panicked. You can use a guided breathing exercise online or try “box breathing” on your own:
- Breathe out slowly and release all of the air in your lungs.
- Breathe in through your nose, slowly counting to four.
- Hold your breath for a count of four.
- Exhale for a count of four.
- Hold your breath again for a count of four.
- Repeat for three to four rounds.
- Schedule downtime to do something fun. Being anxious about something in the future can be very overwhelming. Try to take a break from things that are stressful and go for a walk in nature, take a bath, or call a friend. Anything that is just for you.
- Make a list of the things you can control. Try your best to pull your focus away from things that happened in the past or something that may occur in the future and get grounded in the present moment. Tell yourself that you are okay in this moment and that you’ll be capable of handling anything that comes your way.
What to do during a panic attack
- Close your eyes. Typically there is an external cause of what is causing the panic and if you close your eyes, chances are you will not see what is causing the stress and this will give you time to figure out what to do next.
- If you don’t want to close your eyes, find a focus object. It might be looking at a tree or a piece of art on the wall. If panic attacks happen often, carry a smooth rock or an object in your pocket that you can take out and focus on when you need it.
- Have something that smells like lavender on hand and use it to practice deep breathing. This is a natural remedy that has been shown to reduce stress and help people relax.
- To slow rapid breathing, focus on slowing the breath or just trying to breathe normally. Try belly breathing: breathe in for 4 counts, hold for 4 counts, and let it out for 4 counts. Do this 4 times and see how you are feeling.
- Picture your happy place. Think of a place that is quiet, calm and relaxing. Imagine yourself there and focus on the details. How would it feel, what would you see, what would you smell, and what would you hear?
Once you have done all of this, or you can’t do any of these steps, try this final one: “This will pass” or another mantra. Though an attack may feel endless, it will pass. Remember that Bend is here to support you and your family when you need us.