Anxiety in college: “I felt like I was going to die.”

Abigail McCarter, Features Writer

Hannah Sjolund was 10 years old when she dialed 911 in a frantic search to find her parents. Sjolund said when she did not hear the usual sound of her parents outside her window, she lost control of her body: her legs went numb, her chest tightened, and her hands began to shake.

“I could feel the very blood in my veins,” she said.  What she was experiencing was a panic attack.

“I felt like I was going to die,” Sjolund said. “I didn’t know what was going on. They were just outside, and I couldn’t see them,” she said.

Sjolund, now a 20-year-old junior at Samford, says that it did not take her family long to realize that the multiple episodes she had were not childish fits — they were evidence of a larger issue. Soon after, Sjolund began therapy and received a formal diagnosis: separation anxiety disorder and bipolar disorder.

Sjolund’s story represents just one of the 41.6 percent of college students in the U.S. that struggle with anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

This disorder includes panic, social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorders as well as phobias.

Research shows that due to the combination of new environments and academic stressors, mental illnesses tend to “flare up” in the college setting. These “flare ups” result in a panic attack, according to the American Psychological Association. According to the ADAA, “A panic attack is the abrupt onset of intense fear or discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes.”

Abigail Thomason, a Samford graduate, recalls how devastating having panic attacks in college can be. “Even just walking to class, I would have so much anxiety,” said Thomason. “I would feel like everyone was watching me, looking at me, or judging me.”

Pausing to take a breath, Thomason described what a typical attack feels like.

“It starts with a thought,” said Thomason. “I can’t breathe. It’s like an out-of-body experience, and sometimes, I even black out. An attack would throw off my whole day; it can happen anywhere at any time: in class, driving, walking, doing homework, just anywhere.”

Thomason said she believes that the main issue is not within her own body, but the physical student body and the cultural bias surrounding mental health.

“There is this massive pressure to appear like the perfect Samford student, and we really don’t have to be. We need to rally together in acceptance; this school is so for us and doing everything they can to help us, so we should help each other.”

For students like Abigail Thomason, Hannah Sjolund, and many others, Samford offers many resources, all for free.

 

*For more information regarding Samford’s Counseling Services and Wellness Programs, please contact Richard Yoakum, M.S., LPC at ryoakum@samford.edu, 205-726-4083, or on their website at www.samford.edu/departments/counseling/. *

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