The struggle is real: Battling Anxiety and Panic Attacks

anxietyBy Cassie Stanley |

On average, about 40 million adults suffer from anxiety disorder. On college campuses, anxiety is particularly prevalent.

“Anxiety and panic attacks that meet criteria for a diagnosis comprise about 20 percent of the students we see,” said Dr. Glenn Goldberg, director of counseling for the Flagler College Counseling Center. “However, many more have levels of anxiety and worry, that while significant, don’t meet diagnostic criteria for one of the anxiety diagnoses.”

The everyday stresses of being a college student can become overwhelming. Goldberg estimates about 100 students per year go to get help on dealing with anxiety and panic attacks – but many more don’t seek help.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, only about a third of those suffering from an anxiety disorder get treatment, even though it is available. Many students think they can handle stress on their own, not realizing that it’s no longer just a little stress, but a diagnosable problem.

Goldberg describes the physical symptoms of having panic attacks as rapid heart-rate, sweating and difficulty with breathing. The emotional symptoms can, however, be more intense and include uncontrollable anxiety or fearfulness, thoughts of dying, humiliation and embarrassment (e.g., from passing out). Sometimes, people can experience a panic attack without realizing it.

College students can easily get overwhelmed from the piling on of everyday stress. Worse yet, they can feel like they are the only one going through it. Most students who do not regularly have bad anxiety or suffer from panic attacks fail to realize what it feels like for someone who has them.

Sophomore Cassandra Honour regularly experience panic attacks.

“It feels like I’m alone in a small space and like the room is zeroing in on me and closing me in. I feel like I’m trapped and overwhelmed. My heart begins to race, my hands become cold and sweaty. I feel very faint and sometimes I even faint,” Honour said.

Honour said there is a clear correlation between her panic attacks and her school work and social life.

“If I have a test I get really anxious and nervous, almost nauseous even if I know I will do well or am prepared. It can be really bad if it is material I am not comfortable with, a pop quiz or if a teacher is particularly angry or upset one day or if a project presentation is due,” Honour said.

Honour is not alone. Anxiety affects more students now than ever. Senior Brianna Scerenscko also struggles with anxiety on a regular basis.

“I’m on anxiety meds and recently started going to the counseling center at Flagler to help me better manage my anxiety,” Scerenscko said. “I feel anxious and nervous on a daily basis. Sometimes even rushing to get ready in the morning makes me uptight. I think I’ve had anxiety for a long time, but I was not aware of it until I got to college.”

Millennials are known for multitasking, mainly because of virtually unlimited access to digital technology and smartphones. This can attribute for added stress on college students, which can lead to anxiety and panic attack disorder. According to Goldberg, some helpful tips to alleviate and manage college stress include:

Tip 1. Prevent avoidable stress.  Plan and manage time based on clear priorities. Don’t put yourself in situations that will create problems or unnecessary drama.

Tip 2. Develop and make use of supportive social groups, friends and family, particularly ones you can spend positive recreational time with.

Tip 3. Get proper exercise, sleep and nutrition, and don’t compromise your body and mind with excessive substance use.

Tip 4. Manage your thinking.  Keep things in perspective, especially if you start to blow things out of proportion.  Keep in mind that developing new skills and learning complex concepts can be hard, and sometimes can be hard for growth.  Be consciously appreciative of what is easy to take for granted.  See the humor when possible.

Tip 5. Learn some form of relaxation training for your mind, body and spirit (e.g. meditation, mindfulness training, yoga, relaxation breathing).

Tip 6. Seek a balance when possible between work, relaxation and recreation.  Participate in things you enjoy,  including non-frantic down time.

Tip 7. Seek out assistance before a challenge goes from stress to distress.

Tip 8. If you have time, give back and “pay it forward.”

If you or someone you know is struggling with anxiety or panic attacks, visit the Palm Cottage Counseling Center.

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