How Parents Can Help Teens With Panic Disorder

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At times, parenting a teenager can be both very difficult and very rewarding. As a parent, you're probably well aware of the social pressures, physical and mental changes, and academic issues that your teen faces—and these are just a few of the challenges. Life as a teenager can be made even more complicated if the teen has panic disorder, and as a parent, it can be hard to know how to help your teen deal with this mental health disorder. Following are some tips to help in the parenting of your teen with panic disorder.

Read up on Their Condition

It's important to know what to expect in terms of symptoms, diagnosis, and course of treatment for your teen with panic disorder. One of the main issues that parents run into is not being informed about their teen's condition. The more you know about panic disorder, the more prepared and supportive you can be.

The doctor or other mental health specialist treating your teen can provide you with valuable resources and information. Read through any materials you receive and stay up-to-date regarding your teen's treatment plan. Learning about the symptoms, panic attacks, and agoraphobia can help you understand more about panic disorder.

Be Extra Patient

Being patient with a teenager is not always easy. You may find it hard to relate to your teen’s experiences with this condition; for example, you may believe that your teen is just overreacting or being rebellious. Such thoughts are understandable, given how demanding and melodramatic teens can be.

When it comes to your teen’s struggle with panic and anxiety, it's important to remain patient and supportive.

Panic attacks, the main symptom of panic disorder, can be very difficult for a teenager to manage. Your teen may experience a range of physical sensations that can be frightening, such as chest pain, shaking, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and excessive sweating. A teen with panic disorder may also say that they feel “unreal” or they are losing touch with reality—both common symptoms of panic attacks known as depersonalization and derealization.

Additionally, your teen may say that they are frightened by their panic attacks, and fear that they are going to die. Panic attacks can become so fear-filled that your teen may even start avoiding places and situations that they attribute to these attacks. Understand that this is all a part of their condition and that they didn't choose to feel this way. Your patience and understanding may help them feel less stress and embarrassment about their condition.

Be an Advocate

Teenagers typically want to fit into a peer group, and they greatly value their social lives. Having panic disorder can make it hard for your teen to assimilate to social groups, and the symptoms of panic attacks can lead to avoidance behaviors, potentially making them feel lonely and isolated. There are many myths about panic disorder that can make outsiders—including peers, teachers, and other adults—discredit your teen’s struggle.

As the parent, you play a valuable role in your teen's support system. It's important to be an advocate for your teen with panic disorder, and to believe in his ability to achieve, and make it to, recovery.

Try to remain encouraging and show unconditional support, letting him know that you are there for him should he need to talk to you about his condition.

Model Self-Care

Supporting your teen with panic disorder can be overwhelming for a parent. Caretaker stress is a typical issue for those caring for a loved one with a mental health condition. Aside from tending to the needs of your teenager, you'll also need to designate time to take care of yourself.

Self-care involves proactive engagement in activities that enhance your personal health and wellness. These activities may encompass physical, creative, spiritual, social, and emotional aspects of your life. For example, it may be helpful to join a group, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which offers support groups for families of those with mental health conditions.

And perhaps you'll find it relaxing to spend some quiet time alone, taking a long walk, or engaging in a hobby. Regardless of which self-care activities you choose, by putting energy into your own self-care, you are also modeling positive behaviors to your teenager.

1 Source
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  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Anxiety Disorders.

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.