This article was developed via a partnership with BetterHelp.
As if panic attacks weren’t frightening enough, getting one while your kids are around can be particularly distressing. But the truth is that whether you’ve experienced them since before you were a mom or they are a result of recent trauma, panic attacks don’t magically disappear after you’ve had children.
Witnessing a parent in distress can be incredibly upsetting for kids, especially younger children who look to their parents when trying to understand how to interpret certain situations. But if you’ve ever experienced a panic attack, you know that there’s no such thing as putting it on pause to explain it or comfort someone else, even if that someone is your child. This is why having a plan in place and being prepared for when one hits is key to getting through panic attacks when the kids are present.
Here’s what to do to cope with panic attacks in front of your kids.
Explain what panic attacks are
Watching mom have a panic attack can be a scary experience for any child. As such, explaining what panic attacks are and why they occur can bring some sense of relief and help them feel safer if it happens again. You don’t have to go into a lot of detail or use words that can end up upsetting or confusing them even more – for example, there’s no need to mention that you feel like you’re going to ‘die’ when you’re in the middle of a panic attack, even if that’s how you truly feel.
When talking to your children about mental health, it is really important to be mindful of their age and developmental stage so they can understand what you’re trying to say. For younger children, be sure to use language they’re familiar with, like nervous, worried, sad, or upset. You might want to avoid big words like panic attack, trauma, depression, and anxiety.
Then, let your child know that you’re receiving help to improve this situation, like taking medication, seeing a doctor, eating healthy, or exercising more. This might also be a great opportunity to explain that there are ways to feel better when you’re sad or upset, like taking deep breaths, talking to someone you trust, or going out for a walk.
Finally, be sure to keep the conversation going and assure them that this is not their fault and that it is okay to feel worried, confused, and sad at times. Remind them that you’re open to answering any questions and that you’ll continue to explain difficult situations that occur.
Identify your warning signs so you can be as prepared as you can
Panic attacks typically begin suddenly and without warning, so it’s hard to know when one it’s going to hit. However, you can be prepared by identifying the warning signs of a coming panic attack and having a plan for what to do when one strikes while your kids are present.
While panic attacks have many variations and everybody experiences them differently, they typically include one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- Severe anxiety
- A sense of impending doom or danger
- Sweating or cold palms
- Trembling or shaking
- A tightness in your throat
- Shortness of breath
- Fear of losing control or dying
- A physical sensation of fear that you cannot control
- Chest pain
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- An out-of-body experience, detachment from reality
- An intense fear of getting a panic attack
Get to know your triggers
It’s not always possible to know when or why a panic attack is going to happen, but you can try to get to know your triggers so you can avoid certain situations and potentially reduce their frequency or severity. Many people find that keeping a diary is an easy and effective way to track their triggers and manage their symptoms. Some things that might be helpful to include in a trigger tracker diary include:
- Your daily thoughts, emotions, and fears
- Physical symptoms and when they occurred (i.e., shortness of breath, hot flashes, tingling sensations, sweating, etc.)
- Any significant events that happened throughout the day
- Whether you had any panic attacks, what you did to manage it (medication, breathwork, relaxation exercises, etc.), what worked, and what didn’t
A trigger diary doesn’t have to be anything fancy: you can use any notebook or calendar to record your daily symptoms (or lack thereof), or you can use your phone’s notes app to type away anything that you want to include. The key is to do it consistently so you can identify patterns and look for strategies to help you cope.
Know that you have nothing to be embarrassed about
If there’s one thing that all mental health disorders have in common is that they make you feel alone and ashamed. Experiencing a panic attack in public can be humiliating, especially when your kids are present. But you should know that you’re not alone. Panic attacks are incredibly common: it is estimated that over 35% of the population will experience a panic attack at least once in their lifetime. And in the United States, at least one in ten adults has a panic attack each year.
Don’t hesitate to reach out for help if you’re struggling with your mental health. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, and with the proper support, you can make a full recovery and stop panic attacks from impairing your daily life. Visit here https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/panic-attacks/ if you want to learn more about panic attacks and their potential treatments.