The medical and psychological fields have made great strides toward understanding how panic attacks affect adults; however, panic attacks in children are far less understood. Adults, even medical and psychological professionals, have a marked tendency to dismiss claims of anxiety in children, so they often do not get the help they need to effectively manage the debilitating effects of panic attacks.
Because panic attacks in children often go undiagnosed, their effects often continue into adulthood – and thus, they are typically much harder to treat than if they were addressed while the patients were children.
The causes of panic attacks in children are often much the same as in adults – in many cases, sever perceived trauma facilitates the onset of symptoms in a child’s formative years. These traumatic events vary considerably – a child who becomes lost in a store, for example, may develop panic attacks out of a fear of abandonment. Likewise, if a child is forced to endure the ordeal of his or her parents’ divorce, feelings of anxiety may arise because the child perceives life as being unsecure and unpredictable.
Diet can also be a key factor in the child’s emotional health related to panic attacks. It has been established that there is a strong link between the brain and the gut. If the child is being fed the wrong kinds of foods, a chemical imbalance can build up resulting in emotional instability leading to panic attacks. A connection between diet and autism has been investigated as well, and a strong case can be made linking the two.
Regardless of the cause, panic attacks in children can cause severe, lifelong distress if left unchecked. Children who suffer from anxiety often have difficulty forming meaningful friendships, and will often have difficulty relating to others. Small wonder, since a child dealing with panic attacks is often uncomfortable with social situations, because he or she never knows when the feelings of panic and dread will surface. As a result, the child frequently feels isolated and unlikeable – a feeling that can continue well into adulthood.
In some cases, a child who suffers from panic attacks will develop agoraphobia as well. He or she may feel unsafe when not in the company of his or her parents, and may find it difficult to engage in social activities, attend field trips, or even go to school. Even when not having a panic attack, the child can feel a pervasive sense of anxiety that will prevent him or her from enjoying day to day activities.
If the anxiety is not properly addressed, panic attacks in children can lead to even worse problems in adolescence. Teens who began experiencing panic attacks as children will sometimes become suicidal, or will turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to numb the effects of stress and anxiety. This makes it even more difficult for the teen to learn how to experience positive social interactions – thus, a downward spiral develops. The more loneliness and isolation a teen feels, the more withdrawn he or she will become – driving the teen further from the very interactions which could otherwise provide freedom from pervasive feelings of panic and anxiety.
For these reasons, it is critical for adults to take panic attacks in children seriously. It may seem that a child is being overly dramatic, or is just seeking attention; however, in many cases, the panic that the child feels is real, and should be afforded the same attention as adult panic attacks. Acknowledging the validity of the child’s feelings can go a long way toward ensuring that he or she does not grow up with a stubborn, deep rooted disorder that will require many years of therapy and medication.