Was That Really a Panic Attack?

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How to assess and support your stressed-out college student.

By definition, panic attacks strike suddenly and without warning. Many times panic attacks occur when we’re just hanging out with friends, we’re in class or even asleep in bed. Symptoms usually peak quickly and sufferers often report feeling worn out afterward.

Some common symptoms include:

  • Sense of dread
  • Fear of loss of control, not being able to breathe, or even dying
  • Pounding heart rate
  • Sweating
  • Slight shaking
  • Shortness of breath or tightness in your chest or throat
  • Chills/hot flashes
  • Nausea/abdominal cramping
  • Chest pain almost like heartburn
  • Headache
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, or faintness
  • Numbness or tingling sensation especially on extremities, face, or, head
  • Feeling disoriented

As important as it is to understand what a panic attack is, it’s also important to understand what it isn’t.

A panic attack doesn’t last more than an hour, with most lasting less than 20 minutes. Often, when I hear college students talk about having a panic attack, what most of them are actually saying is they feel overwhelmed and stressed out. They are not having a panic attack. There is no single, acute event. Feeling anxious about that paper due Sunday night is not a panic attack. Not getting an internship and stressing about it is not the same as a panic attack. Much of the language college students use isn’t nuanced enough to differentiate between anxiety, stress, and a panic attack. SOURCE

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On August 9, 2020
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