- 6 mins
What Is a Panic Attack? Tips for Parents
A panic attack is a feeling of intense fear or anxiety that can come on suddenly and without warning. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) defines a panic attack as “an abrupt surge of intense fear or discomfort” reaching a peak within minutes. Panic attacks can be very frightening and can cause a person to feel as though they are losing control, or even in some cases “going crazy.” Panic attacks are not dangerous, but they can feel very real and debilitating.
Many things can set off a panic attack, such as stress, anxiety, or a traumatic event. Sometimes there may not be any obvious causes at all. These attacks can happen to anyone at any age, but they are most common in young adults and adults. As a parent, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a panic attack so that you can help your child if they experience one. Panic attacks themselves usually peak within 10 minutes, but the symptoms can last for hours or even days.
The most common symptoms of a panic attack include:
- Heart palpitations or a racing heart
- Trembling or shaking
- Shortness of breath or feeling like you can’t breathe
- Choking sensation
- Chest pain
- Nausea or stomach pain
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Tingling or numbness in the hands or feet
- Hot or cold flashes
- Fear of losing control or going crazy
- Fear of dying
According to Cackovic et al. (2022), four or more of these symptoms should be present to classify the occurrence as a panic attack.
Here are some tips for helping someone with a panic attack:
If you are with someone who is experiencing feelings of panic, it is essential to stay calm
- Have the person sit down and try to focus on their breathing
- Give them some water to drink
- Place a cool cloth on their forehead or neck
- Try to distract them with conversation or a favorite activity
- If the person is willing, encourage them to try relaxation techniques such as deep breathing or visualization
- Reassure the person that they are safe and that the attack will eventually pass and try to help them relax.
If you or someone you know experiences panic attacks regularly, it is vital to seek professional help. Panic disorder is a real and treatable condition.
The Moshi app has some great resources for children dealing with anxiety and feelings of panic, which might even help adolescents and adults. Check out their newest Moshi Moment, Panic be Gone with Pops.
American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorders (5th ed.). Arlington, VA: Author.
Cackovic, C., Nazir, S., & Marwaha, R. Panic disorder. (2022). In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing.