Six Steps On How To Calm An Anxiety Attack
By Sarah Fader
Updated January 18, 2019
Reviewer Kristen Hardin
Even though summer has just started, the truth of the matter is, the next school year is just around the corner. For many kids, this is exciting. For some, especially high school students, this time is highly stressful.
It seems there is too much on the shoulders of high school students today. Parents and teachers alike agree that students at all age levels are being over-tested. High-stakes testing in high school takes hours and sometimes days out of valuable class time. These tests, while standards-oriented, sometimes have little to do with the content and context of the classroom.
Add this to the increasing social demands brought on by social media, as well as the more traditional demands of extra-curricular activities and sports, and even students who are not prone to anxiety or panic attacks can feel the pressure. With many schools requiring summer reading, plus math and science packets, the summer vacation, is not much of one and it keeps the lingering threat of anxiety ongoing.
More and more adolescents are entering therapy and they are usually presenting with anxiety. Kids feel a lot of pressure and some need the help of a counselor to help them gain coping skills and tools to reduce anxiety. Summer can be a really good time to get some therapy sessions completed to prepare for the upcoming school year.
Parents want the best for their children; they want them to succeed academically. Part of this success may well rely on taking a healthy break from the demands of 180 days of school. In many states, summer break has gone from three full months to less than two. So, the need for summer reading and keeping up with math and science skills may not be as critical as they once were. Students need a break from school just like their teachers do, and just like their parents do when they take vacations. It is okay to take a brain break. In reality, the brain is not really on break, it is still learning, and it is possible to expose children and teens to learning opportunities without making them anxiety-riddled activities.
For those teens and children who are prone to anxiety, the month of July with back to school ads playing on television and displayed on their computers, it is enough to bring on the anxiety. If there has not been much of a break from television, computers, or video games, these kids could experience a panic attack because they realize they have not experienced summer! As the parent, there are things you can do to prevent this or at least reduce it.
Experiencing Summer to Reduce Anxiety
It is important for kids to have a summer break, even if it does not include a big vacation trip. Everything kids do for the summer, even video games, can be an important part of summer if taken in moderation. It is important to get outside, it is even important to sleep late sometimes. Most teens especially love to sleep. And while some people associate this with "laziness" in reality adolescents need a lot of sleep to support their growing brains and changing bodies. Getting a summer job is also a good way to spend the summer, and to make some money to spend on summer fun. To help kids ease anxiety related to the start of the school year… make sure they are experiencing a summer break.
Some easy reminders:
- Don't sleep the summer away. Kids can stay up late and sleep in a little later in order to celebrate the summer without sleeping until 2:00 p.m.
- Don't game the summer away. Video games are fun! And can be a good way to connect with friends and reduce stress, but limits are good to allow for physical activities as well.
- Get a part-time job - even if that is a volunteer job or chores around the house. As mentioned above, this gives kids some of their own money to spend on fun summer activities or save for back to school clothes.
- Spend time outside every day. Sunshine can help reduce anxiety and some of the most fun summer activities take place outside.
- Spend time with family. The school year is so busy; the summer is a great time to slow down and connect with family.
- Recognize that the start of the school year is a positive thing, a fresh start. Remember that it does not have to be full of anxiety and angst with the right coping skills and tools.
That sounds great, but what about anxiety attacks?
- Accept that you are experiencing a panic attack. This may sound strange, but accepting what is happening to your body and reduce the out of control feelings and help you get through it faster because you can move to action rather than continuing to panic.
- The next step is to regulate breathing. In the midst of an anxiety attack, it's not uncommon to forget to breathe. It is important to take a breath in, hold for four seconds, and let out slowly for four seconds and repeat until you can feel you can maintain it.
- After control of breathing has resumed, a grounding exercise can be very helpful. Grounding is a technique that brings us back to the here and now and moves away from the anxiety. A helpful grounding exercise is called the 5 Senses in where you use all five senses to notice your surroundings. You name five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
- Once you have become grounded, take some time to regroup. If possible, walk around the block and let yourself recover. If you would rather, you can lie down for a few minutes somewhere quiet. It can take a few minutes to recover so do not rush yourself.
- Remind yourself that you are safe and that you are okay. Anxiety attacks can be very scary with your heart racing, ringing in your ears, feeling shaky and dizzy- it is important once it is over to work to remind yourself that you are okay.
- Reflect back to what brought on the attack. Occasionally, clients say they really do not know, but there is usually a reason. If it is something you are worried about, focus on what is in your control and what is not in your control. Considering what is in your control, see if there is something you can do. Maybe you need to return a phone call or make an appointment. If you can take action, it can further reduce the anxiety.
If your child or teen is prone to anxiety he or she may need to talk to someone. The qualified licensed therapists and counselors at Betterhelp.com can provide resources, ideas for summer fun, and an outlet for your teen to talk. Summer should not be spent feeling anxious about its end, but for kids who are prone to anxiety, especially if there are academic expectations placed on them for the break, having someone available to talk to through the familiar medium of the internet can be very helpful.