Having a panic attack means that you’re in a state of fear. You’re likely afraid of what’s going to happen. A panic attack often includes fearful thoughts about what’s going to happen next. You might be afraid that you’re going to get robbed or assaulted. Perhaps you’re afraid that you’re going to get into a car accident. Or maybe you’re afraid that you’re going to get bit by a dog. Whatever your thoughts and feelings are telling you, that’s what keeps feeding the panic.
But it’s not only your thoughts and feelings that are at fault. Likely there was a trigger, some kind of person, place, or thing that got you going in the first place. If you’ve experienced a car accident and it involved a semi-truck, then maybe your panic attacks happen every time you’re on the road with a semi-truck. In other words, your attacks of anxiety happen when they’ve been set off by something in your environment. Although you might be perfectly safe now, you begin to believe that you’re not because of an imagined fear based upon your past.
If you want to start putting an end to your attacks, one of the first steps is start to look for patterns surrounding your attacks. What time of day do they happen, where, and with whom? Are you alone with others? Or are the attacks related to particular a stream of thoughts?
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. For instance, you can stop what you’re doing and breathe. Or you can go somewhere to avoid embarrassment that might come from being in a group. If you’re having an attack, here are a few suggestions to do right in the moment:
Change your environment
The environment might be the actual trigger for an attack. This is another reason to change your environment when you feel an attack coming on. Often, it is something in your surroundings that may be causing an anxiety attack, such as a person, a noise, or a place. Eliminate the anxiety trigger as best you can. You can do this between attacks by trying to identify what your triggers are.
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.
Once you’re calm, see if you can identify what triggered the attack
It’s easier to identify triggers of an experience right after it happened versus later in the day.
Talk to an adult or school counselor
If the attacks keep happening, talk to an adult you trust about your experiences. It’s important to get the help you need, especially if your panic attacks are getting worse.
Teens, these are suggestions for managing a panic attack. As mentioned above, reach out for help if your attacks get worse or if you want to feel more supported in managing them.