Panic attacks and anxiety disorders are becoming increasingly common, especially among students
It was during class midday when it happened. Everything up until that point had been normal and routine. The professor was lecturing, and nursing students were taking notes when suddenly one junior nursing major had an anxiety attack.
“Everything tuned out, but everything made me hypersensitive,” the student said. “Anyone whispering, I could hear it. Anyone rustling papers, I could hear it, and it freaked me out. I was in my own little world, and all of these noises were making me crazy.”
This experience is just one example of how quickly an anxiety or panic attack can strike and how anyone, any age or occupation can have one.
“It happens very frequently in college students,” said Dr. Vasco D. Kidd, associate professor and program director of physician assistant studies.
Anxiety disorders and panic attacks are both similar in symptoms.
They can be hard to differentiate, and they are sometimes interchangeable, Kidd said.
While panic and anxiety attacks are comparable in that they create a similar sensation of worry and distress, there are several small characteristics that differentiate the two.
“A panic disorder has manifestations that are different than say, from a generalized anxiety disorder … with panic attacks, you can have chest pains,” Kidd said.
A panic attack will also manifest itself for an extended time, about 20 minutes.
“I started sweating pro- fusely, and I started shaking,” said the nursing student. “I started rubbing my face and getting clammy, and I started hyperventilating. I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t getting oxygen.”
Signs and symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks will usually include feelings of apprehension or dread, trouble concentrating, irritability, restlessness, a shortness of breath, sweating and insomnia.
Much like the manner in which these attacks manifest themselves, the causes for each of them are dependent on the stressors that the individual experiences.
According to Kidd, a stressor can be a precipitating event, negative emotion or a negative experience.
“One, I work the night-shift clinicals, I have a 10- hour span of being in the hospital outside of town,” the
nursing student added. “So I get home at 5 a.m. … (it was) just the thought of having so much to do.”
How does one avoid something so serious? Kidd suggests peer or support groups as an outlet so building stresses of daily life are vented and managed with a group of people with a similar mindset.
“If you just push things down, they’re not going anywhere … there’s nothing wrong with seeking help,” Kidd said.
Taking preventative mea- sures, such as developing good study techniques or habits can also relieve college students’ unnecessary stress.
When “students do not possess adequate study techniques and time-management skills, that causes anxiety, and it starts to pile up,” Kidd said.
“You want to rule out whether or not this is truly from stressors, or if it is an organic cause such as a heart problem that needs to be evaluated by your health care provider,” Kidd said.
If panic or anxiety attacks are something that have occurred more than once throughout a person’s life, then it becomes imperative that individual seeks a primary care physician in order to rule out a more serious underlying cause.