Panic disorder is characterized by recurrent panic attacks. These panic attacks cannot be explained by any other means (like PTSD, drugs, etc.) and are follow by a period of at least a month where the individual performs behaviors to prevent panic attacks or is generally intensely afraid of having another panic attack. Panic attacks consist of sudden feelings of fear or dread, an overactive fight or flight response when there is no reasonable risk. Panic attacks, along with the intense emotions, have many physical symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain, shaking, feelings of numbness, or sensations of unreality. Because panic attacks do not typically have a specific cause, they can happen at any time. This simply perpetuates the fear around even having a panic attack or having someone see you have a panic attack. Intensity and frequency can vary by person. About 2-3% of the US population has panic disorder, and it is 2x more prevalent in women than men. Treatments include psychotherapy, like cognitive behavioral therapy, and medications, like antidepressants and beta-blockers.
As stated previously, panic attacks can happen at any time. This makes life very difficult for a college student with panic disorder. They live in constant fear of having another attack or having someone witness an attack. This avoidance gets in the way of what you’re really supposed to be doing: school. Many school environments cause lots of anxiety for any student, but a student with panic disorder is more likely to have a panic attack when already anxious or stressed. Avoiding that stress can simply look like avoiding school in general. Sometimes it can be so debilitating that sufferers prefer to stay locked inside rather than go out. Students miss out on college experiences. Those with panic disorder have a higher risk for drug or alcohol abuse. It’s hard to achieve when you are afraid of something you have no control over. But therapy and medications can help dramatically. Medications can lessen the load while going through therapy, or may be used long term. Therapy works by training your brain to react to stress in healthy ways, recognize panic attacks and stop them before they can fully develop, and be able to enter into situations where panic attacks have previously happened. It can become completely manageable with treatment.