Panic attacks are horrible. If you’ve ever experienced one, you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t had one yourself, perhaps you’ve seen someone go through it. Or, perhaps you haven’t at all experienced a panic attack, in which case, consider yourself very lucky.
Panic attacks look different for everyone. Some people feel like they’re about to die. That is not an exaggeration. Their heart rate increases, breathing rate increases, they feel hot, nauseous. Often times, if they’ve never had an attack before, they’ll end up in the hospital. They honestly feel like they are about to take the Big Dirt Nap.
Other panic attacks present in anger, rage and physical outbursts. Others in crying, sobbing and “overly emotional” outbursts.
There is no one-size-fits-all for a panic attack, so if you feel like your child may be experiencing anxiety or panic, please reach out for help.
My son battles massive panic attacks. When he was officially diagnosed with panic disorder, I thought “No shit”. Counseling is helping and the “great” thing is that my son experiences panic attacks with the counselor and she has validated the extent of his attacks for me.
“Linds, his attacks are massive. These are not small on any scale, these are incredibly large”.
Why did that validate? Because there is no guide to panic. I felt like his attacks were huge and terrible and awful, but when a professional says that to you, you simply feel…validated. Like, yeah…okay…I thought so, but I don’t know what others go through, so I thought they were terrible and now it’s confirmed, they’re fucking awful.
And no, it doesn’t matter. My son’s attacks are his and comparison is useless. But validation, for me as a parent, was huge.
Why? Because during his attacks I feel useless, helpless and terrible. I often lose my temper and my patience and I get super frustrated. When I see one coming on, I feel the need to suit up in full armour and get ready to battle. Again. No exaggeration. I honestly feel the need to protect myself, mentally and emotionally, every time I see an attack coming on.
Knowing that these attacks are atypical and “extreme” somehow validates that this is HARD. Not only for him, but also for me as his Support Warrior. I’ve learned about what to do during a panic attack from my son, and I wanted to share my experiences with you.
This may or may not help you, but I can at least share what works for me and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find even a little tidbit to help you feel a little more supported in the lonely role this is Support Warrior.
The #1 thing I want you to remember is:
Your child is battling dragons during a panic attack and they have NO TIME to reason with you. I repeat, they have NO TIME to reason with you. No time to breathe and “calm down”. NO TIME to talk things out with you. No. Time.
THEY ARE BUSY BATTLING DRAGONS AND COULD DIE IF THEY DON’T FOCUS ON BATTLING DRAGONS.
So…they make very little sense. THEY ARE BUSY.
Don’t tell them to breathe. Don’t tell them to calm down. Don’t tell them that they’re being ridiculous.
Be there. Tell them they’re safe. Tell them you’re with them. Tell them you love them.
Try super hard to not lose your shit because THEY WILL MAKE ZERO SENSE during a panic attack and often times that is 100% infuriating.
My son battles for hours. And in that time he makes no sense. His elbow pad will feel off and awaaaaaaay we go. Panic city. How can an elbow pad set off a panic attack? It can’t…it’s something tangible his worry can focus on and blame. But trying to reason that it’s the same elbow pad he’s put on for a year doesn’t help him.
Frustration WILL set in because panic can’t be explained or reasoned.
Here’s what you need to remember and here’s how to stay calm during your child’s panic attack:
#1 – As mentioned – remember that all reason is out the window. Think of their mind as having two zones – reason and panic. If panic is switched on, reason is eclipsed. If reason is switched on, panic – hovers (I wish it were eclipsed, but mental illness doesn’t work like that). But, if you can remember that when in a panic, your child is very busy battling…it helps. There is zero reasoning. I cannot stress this enough. Zero.
#2 – Remember that the words said aren’t personal. As hard as this may be, your child is going to say things you don’t want to hear. DO NOT OVERANALYZE what they say. Leave that to the counselors. Let the words float over you and do not grab hold of one sentence and cling to that with worry. It’s useless. Let the words float over you and leave them in the panic once it’s over.
#3 – Breathe. I know I told you to not tell your kids to breathe, but that’s because they’re in a panic. They physically cannot take time to breathe during an attack, they’re busy (remember – DRAGONS!!). But, you can breathe. And, if your child practices breathing exercises (NOT IN A PANIC) they will mirror your behavior and not even know it.
You know how you yawn when someone else yawns? Breathing is the same. So, if you start taking big deep breaths, eventually your child will mirror the breathing (if they’ve practiced) without even knowing it.
So breathe. For you. For them. Breathe.
#4 – Step away for a few minutes if you need to. If you feel like your patience is about to break, you need to step away. Even just a few feet if they won’t let you leave the room to gather yourself. Tell yourself your can do this. Breathe. Roll your shoulders. Have a wee cry. Then, stand tall, be brave and face the panic with a fresh outlook. It takes about 30 seconds, but it’s worth it. Meet panic with love. Meet panic with acceptance.
#5 – Try the strategies taught to you. Try them all. All the time. My son used to get so mad at me when I tried to distract him (one of the strategies taught to battle panic attacks). He’d say “MOM…I KNOW what you’re doing and stop it. It’s not working and I hate it. Just STOP IT!”. Smart little shit.
But, another time it would work. So, I always tried. Then I’d try the next. Then the next. Then the next. Sometime he’d get so mad at me, but at least it distracted him a bit from the panic. Not only do the strategies help your child, but it also helps calm you down. It gives you something to do.
Think about all the things you have in your toolbox. Use every tool. Mentally go through what else you can do. It’s a great way to distract yourself and focus on helping. It will make you feel better and calmer because at least you have some control about what you can do and say. Control helps. Trust me.
At the end of the day, the best thing you can do to remain calm during a panic attack is to remember: that’s not your kiddo, that’s the panic. Your job is to bring your kiddo back. Your job is love and support and let them know they’re safe and that you’re there.
You’re going to get frustrated. You’re going to get pissed. You’re going to want to reason. You’re going to HATE anxiety. And, that’s okay. Go on and hate it. But not during an attack. Your child is too busy battling dragons to also battle you. So breathe. Know that this panic won’t last forever and your child will come back to you. Support, love and support again.
If you lose your temper – please don’t beat yourself up. If you snap or yell or throw your hands up in frustration – you’re not the first person in a support role to do so. It’s a tough, tough position. It’s exhausting and disheartening. So, if you lose it every now and then – hey – holy shit – you’re human. It’s okay. You’re a rockstar and your child’s safe place…an honor and a curse, I swear.
So lose you mind. Rage, get frustrated…then calm the heck down and get back to breathing and distracting and loving. It all helps. Be kind to yourself. This is tough stuff. But, you can do it. Trust me. I’ve done it so many times and every time I think “Shit…I really fucked that up”…but every time my son tells me how grateful he is for me. Every time we get through it. Every time it ends.
Be their safe place.
BONUS TIP #2:
My last piece of advice is this: If you have a child that has panic attacks and you are their safe place, you need to go to counseling yourself. You cannot handle all that happens during a panic attack on your own. You cannot listen to the words your child says without an outlet to talk to and some strategies to help you “let the words float by you”. You’re going to need help, strategies and support.
Just like your child needs you, you need someone to help you. You need to lean and learn how to process the attacks. So, please find help. I don’t say this lightly, I mean it with every cell in my body.
To sustain the strength required to help your child through a panic attack, you need professional help, counseling and your own strategies.
Good luck out there, Support Warriors. I’m with you. Day in and day out. We will breathe and not reason with our children during the attacks. And we will hug and love them up after they’re through it. And those hugs? They’re the best hugs ever. E.V.E.R.
Reason comes later…with counseling and help. Trust me. You’ll get there. I think.