Panic Disorder and College

How to Cope With Panic Attacks While in College

a young woman looking stressed out with her computer in her lap in bed

PeopleImages/Getty Images 

Attending college is usually a fun and exciting time for most students. The college years often entail learning more about subjects you are interested in, expanding your social circle, and discovering who you are as you transition into adulthood. Of course, college students are also met with many stressors and challenges. Classes can be difficult, relationships can change, and keeping up with your new responsibilities can lead to a lot of stress.

The college experience can be even more stressful if you are struggling with the symptoms of panic disorder. You may feel embarrassed about your anxiety symptoms and try to hide them from other students. Perhaps you are worried about having a full-blown panic attack while in class or at a social event.

Despite this extra stress, people with panic disorder can have a rewarding time while in college. The following offers some tips to manage panic disorder while attending college:

Getting Help at College

Most colleges and universities offer on-campus counseling services. Such help may be provided through certain higher education programs. For instance, the doctoral programs in clinical psychology and counseling often have supervised trainees who provide free or low-cost services. Additionally, many colleges and universities have health centers that may provide psychological services.

Most colleges and universities provide a range of mental health services that are available to students and are both high quality and budget-friendly.

Even if counseling services are not available on campus, the university health center should be able to provide you with information on nearby clinics and therapists.

Local mental health professionals can also be found by searching online or in a phonebook. It may take some time to get an appointment, so try to contact one as soon as symptoms occur. The sooner you get help, the quicker you can expect to start coping with your panic attacks.

Determine a Coping Plan

Once you have found professional help and received a proper diagnosis, it is time to determine a coping plan. For example, you may start to deal with your symptoms by attending regularly scheduled therapy sessions, going to anxiety support groups, and following your prescription medication plan.

When determining your coping plan, consider what is most problematic and decide on ways you can start working through these issues.

For instance, you may worry the most about having a panic attack in class. Coping skills to get through your classes may include sitting close to the door so you can leave for a few minutes as you get through your panic attack. You may want to try breathing exercises, as these are easy to practice, can be done without anyone noticing, and can help lessen your anxiety.

As you try different ways to cope with panic disorder, you will experience some setbacks and progress along the way. That should be expected and will only help you better understand yourself and how to manage your condition.

It can be beneficial to track your progress using a journal or a panic attack diary. Keeping a record of your experiences can assist you in determining your triggers, most helpful coping strategies, and overall progress.

Relationships and Panic Disorder

From professors, fellow classmates, co-workers, friends, and romantic interests, relationships often play a big role in the life of a college student.

Dealing with the symptoms of panic disorder can potentially interfere with your various relationships. However, it is possible to have healthy relationships while coping with panic disorder in college.

Many people with panic disorder chose to keep their symptoms a secret, afraid of what others will harshly judge them for their condition. In many ways, it can be best not to tell others about your panic disorder until you have gotten to know them. Unfortunately, there are many myths about panic disorder that may cloud the views of others. Only explain your condition to those you have developed a close relationship with.

Taking Care of Yourself

With all the busyness and potential stress of college, be sure to carve out some time for your own personal needs.

Your self-care routine can include activities that strengthen and nurture the physical, creative, spiritual, and social aspects of your life. Here are some examples:

  • Physical: getting enough rest, participating in regular exercise, and practicing proper nutrition
  • Creative: art class, journal writing, or playing an instrument
  • Spiritual: meditation, reading inspirational material, or attending religious services
  • Social: joining campus clubs, participating in college events, and volunteering

Regardless of what activities you chose, be sure to put time aside for your personal health and wellbeing.

Taking care of yourself can help reduce your stress and anxiety. Additionally, practicing self-care can help you better cope with panic disorder while in college.

Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

By Katharina Star, PhD
Katharina Star, PhD, is an expert on anxiety and panic disorder. Dr. Star is a professional counselor, and she is trained in creative art therapies and mindfulness.