Nearly everyone experiences some degree of stress during their college years. However, an anxiety disorder differs from normal stress in that symptoms such as worry, panic and/or physical discomfort are more intense and frequent and persist even when the situational pressures of life lessen. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental health diagnosis in the U.S. Approximately 31% of U.S. adults suffer from an anxiety disorder at any given time. It is important to diagnose and treat an anxiety disorder that develops or worsens during the college years to help prevent the problem from becoming chronic and continuing into later life. There are several types of anxiety disorders, and each has its own set of common symptoms:
PANIC DISORDER: characterized by sudden, intense episodes of fear and anxiety that occur often and without warning. College students are in a high-risk age group for panic disorder, as it most frequently is diagnosed during young adulthood.
GENERALIZED ANXIETY DISORDER (GAD): characterized by excessive worry or fear about everyday life events that is difficult to control. About 3-5% of the population suffers from GAD.
PHOBIA: an exaggerated fear of a specific object or situation (e.g., spiders, enclosed spaces). Treatment is recommended if the fear of the object or situation causes frequent distress, or if it leads to significant disruption in routine, activities, or relationships.
OBSESSIVE COMPULSIVE DISORDER: obsessions are characterized by persistent thoughts, images or impulses that are distressing. Compulsions are characterized by the urgent need to do something to prevent or get rid of the anxiety associated with obsessive thoughts. Many people have occasional obsessive thoughts or compulsive behaviors. However, people who struggle with OCD spend significant time consumed with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors, and these symptoms greatly interfere with daily life.
POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER: PTSD may occur in the wake of a traumatic event, such as a serious accident, sexual or physical assault, or combat in war. Symptoms may include avoidance or distress at reminders of the trauma, recurring images of the event, feeling numb or detached, irritability, being easily startled, and having nightmares or other sleep difficulties. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will develop PTSD, and it is common for people to experience some of these symptoms in the weeks following a traumatic event. However, PTSD is diagnosed when the symptoms persist for more than a month after the event and cause significant distress or impairment in daily life.
SOCIAL ANXIETY DISORDER: a marked and persistent fear of social or performance situations in which there is exposure to unfamiliar people or the possibility of judgment by others. These situations are avoided because of the fear of acting in a way that might be humiliating. When the situation cannot be avoided, physical symptoms of anxiety often occur.
Many people experience some degree of nervousness or awkwardness in relating with unfamiliar people such as professors, classmates, students in the dorm and other acquaintances. They may consider themselves to be "shy." We now know that many "shy" people actually have social anxiety disorder (SAD). Individuals who struggle with SAD experience a level of anxiety and fear about social situations that goes beyond minor or temporary feelings of discomfort.
HOW TO GET HELP
Free, confidential counseling is available at the University Counseling Center, 206 Health Services Building, 610-519-4050.
For informational purposes only, the University Counseling Center offers access to online, anonymous Self-Assessment Tools. These resources are provided by third-parties unaffiliated with Villanova and the results are not shared with the University. These screenings are not a substitute for a complete evaluation by a qualified mental health professional. For personal assistance, please call the Counseling Center at 610-519-4050 for an appointment.