Nicola Morgan

Author, Speaker, Supporter

Understanding and Supporting Your Teenagers – the video

Dealing with panic attacks

First, a quick shout-out to students, staff and parents of The High School of Glasgow

Last night I spoke to the parents of the High School of Glasgow and this morning to the whole student body. I can’t tell you how it went, as I wrote this before leaving home but a big thank you to the school for inviting me to speak at their Health and Well-Being Week!

I’m writing about panic attacks not because doing events for lovely schools makes me panic – it doesn’t! – but because it’s Children’s Mental Health Week and there are a lot of horrible stories in the news at the moment, so I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling panicky.

This, however, is not about just “feeling panicky” or anxious. I wrote about that in my previous post. do g there first, if you like.

What is a panic attack?

A panic attack is more than “feeling a bit panicky”. Anyone can feel a bit panicky or even very panicky in the face of a frightening or stressful event. But a panic attack involves an extreme level of anxiety and panic, far more than is “reasonable” for the situation. It is a horrible experience and you may even believe you are dying. (You’re not. Your racing heart is just caused by the adrenalin which your body is over-producing. Adrenalin is what some people with allergies carry with them to save their lives when they have a severe allergic reaction. It’s life-saving!)

During a panic attack, you will experience several (but maybe not all) of the following:

  • Racing heart and pulse – you might feel palpitations or hear pounding
  • Dizziness or faintness
  • Feeling you can’t breathe
  • Feeling of choking
  • Nausea
  • Thinking you’re dying or something terrible is happening
  • Extreme fear and discomfort
  • Feeling very cold or hot
  • A desperate need to escape

It might disappear very quickly or last for a few minutes. It won’t last longer than that. Your body can’t keep producing adrenalin.

Panic is just an exaggerated stress response. Your brain has made an annoying mistake in releasing so much adrenalin for so little reason. The symptoms of panic are temporary: your body has to stop making adrenalin so very soon your heart rate and breathing will return to normal. Even if you don’t do anything about it.

You’re not dying.

Panic doesn’t feel nice but it’s just an exaggerated version of the healthy stress response that is there to protect you from danger. It will not harm you, just upset you.

This will not harm me’ is something to say to yourself any time anxiety feels too much.

Teenage brains and risk, why risk is importantManaging a panic attack

Before you read on, make sure you have practised one of the breathing techniques I teach, such as belly-breathing. You need to have practised this before you have an attack so you can use it straightaway.

Now you’re ready to deal with a panic attack – or any feeling of panic:

  1. First, remind yourself that a panic attack cannot harm you. It is just your body over-producing adrenalin. It will stop soon. Say, firmly, This will not harm me – it feels nasty but it isn’t doing me any harm at all.
  2. Then, focus on your body. Place the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth, behind your teeth. Keep it there. (This helps relax your jaw.)
  3. Begin your breathing technique.
  4. Feel your breathing slow, deepen and relax and your heart rate settle. For now, think only of this breathing.
  5. Then start to notice ordinary things in your personal space: you can smell your skin, hear sounds around you, feel objects that you touch. Everything is OK, normal. You are safe.
  6. You did it! Well done!

Show this advice to family and friends, so that they know how to help you. Ask them to remind you that nothing bad will happen and help you focus on your breathing.

Although panic attacks are harmless, they stop you enjoying life or and achieving all that you could. If they are a big problem, seek professional help. Although the professional help is likely to focus on similar advice to mine, sometimes you need actual guidance to help you put it into practice.

When No Worries comes out later this year, you’ll find lots more advice on dealing with anxiety, whether the panicking or the low-level but distressing variety. We can beat it!


NEW

Next week, I have some great insights into teenage brain differences for you, to celebrate the new edition of Blame My Brain – The Amazing Teenage Brain Revealed, which will be available in “all good bookshops” and online. Make sure you buy the one with THAT cover on the left – anything else is not the new edition! It’s my mission that you AND teenagers understand their brains, which I believe is empowering for all of us.

Don’t forget to enter the giveaway for a signed copy: https://nicolamorgan.com/news/win-a-signed-copy-of-the-new-blame-my-brain/

Do comment but please remember that this site is for all ages.

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