Skip to main content
Sage Alliance Blog Post



Panic Attacks and School Refusal


By Yael Adler

Anyone who has suffered from one knows, panic attacks are much more than just feeling nervous or scared. Unlike typical fear and anxiety, panic attacks cause emotional and physical reactions that are so strong they become debilitating and interfere with a person’s ability to go about their daily lives. People often think of panic attacks as something that affects adults, but teenagers can suffer from them just as easily. When a teenager has a panic attack over the thought of attending school or a school activity, it can be a sign that they are suffering from school phobia or school refusal. 

What Are the Symptoms of Panic Attacks? 

Panic attacks are severe onsets of fright, anxiety, nervousness, and other similar emotions that lead to an extreme emotional state, often without warning. Many times, panic attacks do not happen for any clear or obvious reason but are caused by unresolved psychological issues and emotions. 

Symptoms of panic attacks include: 

  • Hyperventilation or shortness of breath 

  • A sudden increase in heart rate or heart palpitations (irregular heartbeat) 

  • Sudden shaking or trembling 

  • Throat constriction or a feeling of choking 

  • Sweating 

  • Dizziness, light-headedness, or nausea 

  • Chest pain 

  • Numbness or tingling in the extremities 

  • Hot flashes or cold flashes 

  • Fear of losing control, going crazy, or dying, or feeling unreal/detached from your surroundings 

Panic attacks usually involve four or more of these symptoms simultaneously, or one right after the other. Symptoms usually last between ten and thirty minutes. It is incredibly rare for a panic attack to last more than an hour, though in rare cases this does happen. 

How School Phobia Causes Panic Attacks 

As mentioned above, panic attacks are almost always a sign of deeper psychological trauma or unprocessed negative emotions. They can be caused by things as simple as going to the grocery store, public speaking, or going to class or having to complete a school assignment. When teenagers suffer from panic attacks because of school-related activities, it may be a sign that they are suffering from school phobia. 

Unlike regular fear or nervousness over attending school, school phobia is a fear of school and related activities that is both irrational and overwhelming, to the point that it is damaging to a student’s academic performance and mental health. There are several issues that can give rise to school phobia. Some of these issues include: bullying, social anxiety, learning disorders and separation anxiety. These issues can make it hard for a student to keep up academically and can cause him or her to experience a panic attack. 

If a student is suffering from panic attacks because of school phobia, treating the underlying fear is the best way to stop the panic attacks from happening. Treating school phobia is an ongoing process that may require several treatment steps, including counseling, medication, or even transferring to a therapeutic school. 

Want to be notified of new articles and resources from Sage Alliance? Click here to submit your email and opt into our newsletter.