A guide to helping your child with a panic attack as it's happening.
If your child or teenager has regular panic attacks, you will know how debilitating and scary they can be, not just for them but for you. If you're trying to help them with a panic episode, you are both often left exhausted, in tears, and wondering when the next one will come. Hopefully this post will bring some relief, and some effective ways to cope when the next one comes along.
If you have happened upon this whilst frantically Googling for answers at 3am during a panic attack, my advice would be the following:
As the parent, take a deep breath in, hold it for the count of 3, then slowly breathe out. Do this 3 times. You need to stay calm, and know that however scary this feels for your child, they are safe, it isn't life threatening (although it feels like it), and it WILL PASS.
Your job right now is to get them through this with kindness, the calmness of a lake on a warm summers day, and the understanding and patience of a saint. Be their rock, even if you're as shaken by it as them.
Avoid phrases like "get over it", "just breathe" or anything remotely dismissive.
Don't try to push them to do things. This will elevate their panic.
Try to keep your voice calm, but understanding of their concern. Be aware of your body language. If you're rushing about frantically, this will be passed on to them.
Don't be too fixated on breathing exercises if you haven't practiced them with them beforehand. It can be too hard to follow instructions during a panic attack, and is often more distressing. Their reptilian instinct brain is calling the shots right now, not the rational human side.
Try phrases like "I know this feels scary. I promise it will pass, and I'm here with you until it does". Tell them they are loved, make them feel like this isn't a burden to you. Often during a panic attack anxious people start feeling bad about themselves. They may also get angry at you.
Wait for it to pass. It will pass.
Recover when it's over. You'll both feel exhausted. Rest, eat, drink water, sleep. Model good self-care.
If they feel well enough afterwards, get them to continue their day. Avoidance is anxiety's best friend. Don't push them to do things though, little manageable steps are best.
Prepare for next time. If you know a panic trigger, don't let them avoid it but help them manage the fear. It could be something they have to do like going to school, so avoidance is not only bad for anxiety, it isn't a long term option. Instead, research breathing techniques, mindfullness and other tips to practice beforehand to reduce the impact of the triggers. Also listen to them fully about what is making them panic. Don't dismiss what they say, even if it sounds silly to you. Often feeling heard and understood is enough.
I hope the above tips helped. For longer term advice on panic attacks and anxiety treatment please get in touch for an appointment.