Panic Disorder in Teens and Young Adults

Typically, there are no clear patterns for how and when a panic attack happens, and teens with panic disorder often develop or already struggle with other anxiety disorders. Thankfully, a panic disorder is very treatable, and there are several different approaches.

Teen panic disorder is a condition in which a young person consistently suffers from sudden, severe onsets of anxiety and physical shock, commonly known as “panic attacks.” This differs from other anxiety disorders in that the episodes are more intense and short-lived. Panic attacks only last a few minutes, but their effects can reverberate throughout the rest of the day in the form of shakiness and worry.

What Does a Panic Disorder Look Like?

  • A panic disorder is characterized by several panic attacks, sometimes occurring with no discernable reason.
  • Panic disorders may also increase a person’s likelihood of reacting strongly to external pressure and stress.
  • Panic attacks from a panic disorder can even occur in moments of perfect calm, including right after waking up from sleep.

What Causes a Panic Disorder?

There isn’t one answer to what causes a panic disorder but there are several different factors that contribute to causing one.

Hereditary causes – a panic disorder can arise following a traumatic experience or big life change, such as a death, divorce, move, or career change.

Other anxiety disorders – a person with PTSD or agoraphobia is much more likely to develop a panic disorder.

Medication – a panic disorder can arise following the taking of, or withdrawal from, prescription medication.

Mental health – A person already suffering from another form of anxiety disorder can be vulnerable to developing a panic disorder, especially if the person uses stimulants, which can increase the severity of symptoms.

How Can I Help My Teen with a Panic Disorder?

Remain calm – panic feeds panic, and if your teen’s panic attack happens to make you feel unsure and scared, that can reflect off of you and make the problem worse. Don’t let a panic attack or outburst of anxiety freak you out or send you into an emotional state – remain perfectly calm, breathe through it, and encourage your teen to breathe as well. By keeping your mood steady and calm, you can encourage your friend or loved one to remain calm as well and look towards you as a form of emotional security.

Be there for them – the most important thing for you to do as a parent or friend is to be there. Sometimes they may need some space, but that doesn’t mean you should disappear. Always be within reach, there to help support them either with your presence, or with some words. There are many resources online to help you better understand what to say and what not to say to someone going through an anxiety disorder or a panic attack, but it’s important that you always try to show up and stick around.

Learn more about anxiety – anxiety disorders can be difficult to understand, because they often look like irrational fear and make little sense from an outside perspective. There are many invisible thoughts and factors that contribute to the worsening feeling surrounding a panic attack, and the panic attack itself can feel like a heart attack or something similarly severe. It’s a very scary time, and what’s even scarier is not knowing what’s going on. Take your time to learn more about your teen’s condition and other anxiety disorders in general, to try and contextualize their experience and better understand what they’re going through.Video Player

What Types of Teen Panic Disorder Treatment Are Available?

Struggling with a panic disorder can be very scary, because there’s no sure-fire way to know when the next panic attack may occur. Typically, there are no clear patterns for how and when a panic attack happens, and teens with panic disorder often develop or already struggle with other anxiety disorders. Thankfully, a panic disorder is very treatable, and there are several different approaches.

Talk Therapy – Talk therapy or psychotherapy is often the first line of treatment for panic disorder and can be used to help diagnose the disorder to begin with. Through behavioral therapy, teens are taught to better understand how and why panic attacks occur, better picking up on cues and triggers that contribute to feelings of unease and anxiety, before panic strikes. Cognitive therapy is especially useful for reducing panic attacks, and a skilled therapist in a calming environment can help a teen achieve a completely panic free life post treatment.

Relaxation Therapy – Relaxation therapy is more successful in reducing general anxiety than panic attacks, but in conjunction with behavioral and cognitive therapy, relaxation therapy can help teens better learn to cope with their disorder and avoid severe symptoms. Relaxation therapy may include aromatherapy, music therapy, hydrotherapy, and hypnotherapy to help calm anxieties, improve sleep, and more.

Medication – Approved medication for panic disorders includes SSRIs and benzodiazepines, which are also used to treat anxiety disorders. These medications target the brain’s neurotransmitters and improves the regulation of an individual’s mood. SSRIs are typically prescribed over sedatives like benzodiazepines, because benzodiazepines can be addictive and dangerous in cases where teens have previously had problems with alcohol or drug use. Therapy is generally the primary treatment for panic disorders, with medication helping in the management of certain symptoms.

Teen Panic Disorder Treatment at Paradigm Treatment

At Paradigm Treatment, it’s a priority to provide the right environment for mental healing. To begin with, a panic disorder must be treated with the understanding that panic attacks can be triggered in seemingly innocuous ways, and it’s up to the patient and the therapist to figure out why and what causes them to begin with. It can be frustrating and stressful, but a calming and encouraging environment sets the stage for progress.

A Calm Environment – Paradigm Treatment’s locations are all built in areas surrounded by nature, with privacy from the outside world and a sense of quiet to facilitate introspection and improve the treatment process, inside and outside the therapy room. Teens are encouraged to take classes together, to learn more about treatment and their conditions, and to better learn how to address their own problems, and deal with others socially.

Many people with panic disorders also struggle with agoraphobia, making larger crowds and many social interactions very difficult. But by keeping groups small and by encouraging social interaction on a person-to-person level, therapists at Paradigm Treatment help kids with agoraphobia slowly learn to function in society at-large.

A Step at a Time – Exposure therapy for agoraphobia and CBT for panic disorder relies on taking small bites and chewing thoroughly – teens are never made to jump headfirst into something they can’t handle, and therapy caters specifically to individuals, rather than pushing teens to stick to a curriculum or schedule.

With panic disorders, the goal is to help patients calm down rather than accelerate their stress, and the therapists at Paradigm Treatment are well-equipped to deal with foreseeable complications and setbacks, such as recurring symptoms.


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I always had a lot of anxiety growing up. I can’t blame my parents or my home life because I pretty much always had everything I wanted. It was hard going from 8th grade into 9th grade and that year I ended up hanging out with people a few grades older than me because I wasn’t getting along with my other friends. I knew that I shouldn’t smoke weed but I liked it and I started smoking every day. When my parents found out I was “addicted” they sent me to Paradigm and I was pissed. I didn’t realize I had a problem until I stopped smoking. Everyone at Paradigm is understanding and it helped that I could still surf every day and eat good food. I am grateful that I had this happen to me because I could have ended up in a bad place. Paradigm helped me realize I needed help and how to accept it.

Joey M., a former Paradigm client

Frequently Asked Questions About Teen Panic Disorder

Panic attacks as a part of a panic disorder are very often treatable with therapeutic intervention and a dedicated treatment plan. Most (up to 85%) of patients engaging in and completing a program of cognitive therapy end up panic-free. Other forms of therapy can also soothe generalized anxiety symptoms.

If the problem or cause is another form of anxiety, such as a phobia (agoraphobia) or a severe stress disorder (such as post-traumatic stress disorder), then treatment will involve tackling that disorder first, to eliminate the cause. It is very likely that if you get help, you will be able to live a life without random panic attacks.

There are practices a therapist can teach you to help you become aware of an oncoming attack, and give you resources to help you respond in different, more controlled ways, when in situations that tend to trigger them. Stress management techniques and relaxation techniques can help you keep your fears and anxieties in check and avoid an outburst of emotion in response to stimuli.

In short: yes, there are several ways to avoid having panic attacks. It may take some time to learn how to deal with them, but once your eyes are opened to the fact that you can be in control of your attacks after all, you can deflate some of the fear and anxiety associated with the anticipation of the next attack.

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