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Most people have experienced a sense of panic at some time in their life. It is a normal reaction to a life-threatening situation, for example a house fire or road accident. Panic usually takes the form of an extreme feeling of fear and dread and the overwhelming desire to escape the situation.
Feelings of panic are an instinctive reaction to prepare our minds and bodies to react to a life-threatening situation. The feelings usually disappear gradually after the frightening event has passed. However, some people experience panic when there is no threat or frightening event - this can lead to a panic attack.
The symptoms of a panic attack are very distressing and can include:
In trying to understand why a child or young person may be having panic attacks, ask yourself whether they:
It is important to realise that the child or young person may not know why they are having panic attacks.
If a child or young person has panic attacks regularly, this can interfere with their normal daily activities like school and social life.
As well as dealing with the panic attacks, the child or young person often has to deal with the fear of having further attacks, feelings of embarrassment about their behaviour during an attack and teasing from other young people.
Having panic attacks can lead children and young people to avoid certain situations. It is also stressful for a child or young person to explain seemingly irrational fears and behaviours to parents, teachers and other young people.
This BBC video tells the stories of two young people who have experienced panic attacks:
Panic attacks are very frightening to those experiencing them and to those around them. By their nature, the child or young person has lost control of their emotions and can be very unpredictable. Remaining in control yourself is extremely important in helping a child or young person who is having a panic attack.
Anxiety Canada, self-help website:
Mindshift App, to help young people manage anxiety:
Contact a health professional if you, or the child or young person, are concerned about any of the physical symptoms around their panic attacks.
Please contact your health visitor, school, GP or other professional involved with your family.
Please consult with other professionals involved or the named person, and to help identify the most appropriate support, go to: www.nhsfife.org/camhs-choosingtherightsupport