Attending college is a fun and exciting time for students. For many it’s not only a time to learn about the things that interest you the most, but it’s also a time where you learn a lot about yourself.
However, college students also must cope with a wide range of stresses and challenges – largely because so much in their lives is changing. Old relationships change, new ones form, old responsibilities are out the door while new ones place themselves front and center. Add it all up – and your average student has a lot to grapple with. For many, it can lead to panic attacks. One of the core underlying triggers for the onset of panic is concerns about separation from family and fears of coping alone.
A blossoming problem
A few years ago (2014, to be exact) – Penn State University released a study that had found that anxiety had surpassed depression as the leading mental health issue facing college students. The study found that more than half of the students visiting a campus health center listed anxiety as a concern of theirs.
A year later, the American College Health Association confirmed the bad news – reporting that nearly 16% of college students were either diagnosed with or had been treated from some sort of anxiety disorder. What’s more – is that nearly 22% of respondents said that their anxiety negatively affected their performance academically.
So if you are a student or know of a student who is suffering from panic attacks, know that you are not alone. You might feel embarrassed or try to hide them from other students. Maybe you’re worried about having an attack in class, at practice or in a social setting. In spite of all this, people who do suffer from panic attacks can have a truly rewarding experience in college when they learn how to manage their attacks.
What you can do
One of the best developments of the past 10-20 years at colleges and universities across the country has been the growth and access to on-campus counseling services. What once was a supervised service offered by clinical programs at a given school has now blossomed into full-time positions – with counselors there to help students cope with a wide range of issues, including how to deal with panic attacks.
Our advice is to take advantage of them. Even in the unlikely event that your campus doesn’t provide these services, the local health center will be able to provide you with information of nearby clinics and therapists. Yes – going online can find similar information – but particularly when it comes to panic attacks, we recommend you stay away. A lot of information that’s out there can sometimes lead to self-imposed misdiagnosis – meaning you’ll find certain symptoms of other health issues and confuse them with panic attack symptoms. Simply put, it can lead to a lot of false information. Pursue a recommended professional.
Developing a coping plan
Once you’ve received professional help and received a proper diagnosis, it’s time to come up with your own coping plan. For example – you may start to deal with your symptoms by attending a regularly scheduled therapy session. Or perhaps you’ll experiment with an anxiety support group. Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT) has been shown to be highly effective in teaching techniques to block panic attacks. Seeking out an expert in Cognitive Behavioral Treatment for panic attacks can be very rewarding.
While putting your plan together – it’s always important to consider what are the most problematic issues and identify ways in which you can work through those issues. Ultimately, progress in therapy is measured in helping you come closer to identifying the underlying, core triggers that are causing you to have panic attacks. As you learn what those issues are – being able to manage them will become easier. Panic attacks will not seem out of the blue when you link them to their emotional source.
Stressful life events associated with conflict, confrontation and loss of relationships can be triggers of panic attacks – especially when painted up against the backdrop of unpredictability and uncontrollability. In many ways the two phenomena are inherently built into the college experience. At the point where your emotions are interfering with your life or are causing significant distress is when it’s time to reach out and seek assistance.
At it’s most fundamental level – your coping plan should be built around your ability to manage your emotional reaction to stress, rather than trying to change the stressful situation, itself.
Looking after #1
With all that’s going on in college – and in your life – it’s important to make sure that you carve out time for yourself and your own personal needs. Individuals who are prone to panic tend to be people pleasers and have a difficult time saying no without excessive guilt. It’s not just for the sake of managing your panic attacks, but rather an opportunity to take care not to overextend yourself – and learn more about yourself and teaching yourself self-care. If you are a college student reading this article, from the adults writing this – this is one of the single most important things you must learn how to do as you mature. As more demands are placed on your plate, more expectations, people to take care of and spend time with – separating time for you and yourself is necessary – whether panic attacks are involved or not!
These self-care routines can include things like taking a course in assertiveness training, strengthening yourself physically, creatively, spiritually – or just working on building better relationships. Pouring energy into these pursuits – pouring energy into you – can help reduce much of the stress and anxiety you feel and reduce the risk of panic attacks becoming self-perpetuating.
While so much might feel like it’s changing – or that you might not have control over what’s happening around you; the reality is that college is a time where you have more control over your own story than at any point in your life. You can write the terms, you can set the stage, set and achieve goals and determine who you want to be. Practicing self-care and seeking the help of others isn’t simply just a way to help you manage your panic attacks, they are essential, life-changing habits that you’ll be better off for as you grow and mature.