Panic Attacks: What Are They And Why Do So Many Young People Have Them?

A third of young women and one in 10 young men in the UK suffer from panic attacks, so why are they still so commonly misunderstood and underreported?

Many young people who have panic attacks don't fully understand what they are experiencing, or where to seek help - and often feel stigmatised, according to charity YouthNet.

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Panic attacks are severe attacks of anxiety and fear that often come on without warning and can last up to 20 minutes. They cause a number of symptoms such as a pounding heart, sweating, shaking, elevated pulse, and an intense feeling of needing to catch a breath. They can even make you think you're about to die, even though you're not actually in any danger.

According to psychotherapist Terence Watts, young people are particularly prone to panic attacks because they have a lot of pressures.

"Coming to terms with things like their sexual urges, and worrying about if those are OK, for example, is one of the biggest causes. With young people, there’s always the worry that you’re the only one feeling this way. But trust me, you’re very definitely not."

A report released earlier this year by The Prince Trust found 40% of jobless young people had faced symptoms of mental illness, including panic attacks, while a #DontPanicButton campaign launched last week to raise awareness of anxiety and panic attacks in young people.

YouTube star Zoella, real name Zoe Sugg, spearheaded the movement, as she has previously spoken out about her experiences of panic attacks.

"I know just how isolating it can feel to experience severe anxiety," Sugg said at the launch. "However, the overwhelming response I’ve received every time I’ve spoken out online, shows just how many young people confront it every day."

Nobody knows exactly what causes panic attacks, but they usually happen when the brain perceives a danger and goes into "flight or fight" mode.

"Panic attacks are often triggered by a process of 'catastrophisation' – where you think everything’s bad and scary," says clinical psychologist Dr Justine McMahon. "With Cognitive Behavioural Therapy [CBT], it’s about rewiring your brain and changing the negative thoughts into positive thoughts."

In order to help young people manage panic attacks, YouthNet is releasing a series of videos via TheSite, which contain advice, tips and ways to stay calm.

Need help or advice? Contact AnxietyUK: 08444 775 774