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My first panic attack terrified me. I didn’t know what was going on with my body. Although I felt fine, my breathing quickened, and my chest tightened up. I thought I was dying. Of course that just made my panic attack worse. I went to my parents and they explained what was really going on with my body. I wasn’t dying: I was having a panic attack.

I am 16 years old but I’ve already been living with anxiety for a long time. Panic attacks have become one of my biggest challenges. A panic attack is a sudden surge of overwhelming anxiety or fear. They are different for everyone, but the physical symptoms can be scary making you feel pressure in your chest, dizziness, numbness, and other symptoms.

I get panic attacks at school, but simply having a plan makes them less overwhelming. Over the years, I’ve learned different ways to help myself and I’m proud of how far I’ve come. Medication has helped tremendously, in combination with support from my family and from my therapist.

It may be helpful for you to make a “kit” of things or methods that decrease your anxiety. For me, it’s playing piano and singing. Try out different things and find what’s best for you. Here are the steps I usually take when having a panic attack:

Recognize that you are having a panic attack. Tell yourself, mentally or verbally, “I am going to be okay. This will go away.”

Identify anything stressful. Modify your thinking: “If I don’t finish this project tonight, I will not fail the class.”

Slow down your breathing. This can be difficult, especially if your physical symptoms are overwhelming. Try not to think about the breathing itself, but the fact that it is the goal to decrease the stress in your body. It may help to think of a square. Fill up each side of the square and breathe out.

If you can’t, visualize something calming. I’ve found that drawing something repeatedly helps, such as overlapping circles and coloring them in. Mandalasare a great way to de-stress. They are structured, geometric shapes that you can color and help me alleviate anxiety.

After physical symptoms have subsided, give yourself a break. You may feel exhausted. Take care of yourself.

Talk to someone about what happened and/or how you feel. Panic attacks may not be apparent to the people around you. If you are struggling right now, are having thoughts of suicide, or need emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available online or by calling 1-800-273-8255.


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