Recently, several gap year students experienced sudden onset panic attacks and they reached out to EMA Care.
Panic attacks can be frightening and disorienting to any adult! When an 18-19 year old is far from home, living in a dormitory with lots of other people, it’s even more frightening. Especially when it is the first time having a panic attack.
When a person has a real phobia, such as fear of flying or fear of heights, the brain perceives a real danger. The brain is designed with a flight or fight response when the brain perceives danger. The brain triggers adrenaline and other hormones to begin pumping into the body. This creates more strength and energy to fight off the perceived danger.
But what happens when the body is triggered and there is no physical danger? There is no conscious fear or phobia? This results in a panic attack. The body behaves as if you are in danger and begins producing all sorts of physical and mental symptoms. Some of the signs of a panic attack are:
1. heart palpitations
3. shortness of breath
4. chest pain
5. nausea or abdominal pain
6. fear of losing control or going crazy
7. feeling dizzy or light-headed
8. unable to breathe
Upcoming exams, being in a new environment, roommate problems, new social issues can all contribute to having a panic attack. Similar to adults, teens that experience a panic attack, tend to avoid whatever they were doing, or wherever they were when they had the panic attack. This can curtail normal day to day behavior. “I’m not going into that classroom, because the last time I was there I felt like I couldn’t breathe.” A student may start to feel unsafe traveling, or sitting in a cafeteria for meals.
The good news is there is proven treatment available in Israel to help students overcome panic attacks. More importantly, this treatment will help overcome the fear of having another panic attack!! The fear of another panic attack can be even more debilitating then the panic attack itself.
The most important treatment is psychotherapy. An experienced therapist will work on deep emotions and develop working strategies. The most common method uses CBT (cognitive behavior therapy). This will help the student develop healthier ways of thinking and behaving. Mindfulness and meditation are also valuable resources.
There are also medications which will help. EMA Care strongly recommends therapy first.
Parents can support their child by being extra patient, understanding, and by providing a model on healthy ways to react to stress. It’s important for your child to understand how common panic attacks are. This is the time for reassurance that he/she is not going crazy!! A quick search on the internet will give you a few basic tools to help you calm down anyone experiencing a panic attack.
If your gap year student is experiencing panic attacks, EMA Care is here to do a thorough intake. Our job is to make a good match between the student and the therapist.