The pre-exam shuffle has enough hype to leave virtually every college student rattled. Perhaps you are noticing your nervous energy manifesting as stress or anxiety. Maybe things have escalated as far as panic or anxiety attacks. 

We want to take a moment to validate those feelings. Stress and anxiety are often a part of the human experience, yet we understand that normalizing the experiences of stress and anxiety doesn’t make it any easier to live it out. 

We want to invite you to press pause, notice the sensations of stress and anxiety in your body, and acknowledge that this is a hard season of life. Take this moment to educate yourself about your emotions and acquire some resources to use as coping skills during this difficult time. 

Stress vs. Anxiety

Mental Health First Aid informs us that “although stress and anxiety share many of the same emotional and physical symptoms – uneasiness, tension, headaches, high blood pressure and loss of sleep – they have very different origins.”

“Generally, stress is a response to an external cause, such as a tight deadline at work or having an argument with a friend, and subsides once the situation has been resolved. Because stress is caused by external factors, tackling these head-on can help. If you’re experiencing prolonged, chronic stress, there are many ways to manage and reduce your symptoms, including physical activity, breathing exercises, adequate sleep and taking time to connect with others.

“Anxiety is a person’s specific reaction to stress; its origin is internal. Anxiety is typically characterized by a “persistent feeling of apprehension or dread” in situations that are not actually threatening. Unlike stress, anxiety persists even after a concern has passed. In more severe cases, anxiety can escalate into an anxiety disorder, the most common mental health issue in the U.S. Anxiety disorders are classified in a variety of ways: generalized anxiety, panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).”

Being able to label your experience as “stress” or “anxiety” is a great way to show yourself compassion and grace. Furthermore, having the self-awareness to know whether you are feeling stress or anxiety may help put you on the right path to getting the help you need to be the healthiest version of yourself. 

Panic Attack vs. Anxiety Attack

According to Medical News Today, “the terms panic attack and anxiety attack are used interchangeably, but they are not the same. Key characteristics distinguish one from the other, though they have several symptoms in common. These types of attack have different intensities and durations. Panic attacks are generally more intense than anxiety attacks. They also come on out of the blue, while anxiety attacks are often associated with a trigger.”

Medical News Today offers the following strategies for coping with a panic or anxiety attack:

Acknowledge what is happening

“The symptoms of a panic or anxiety attack can be extremely frightening. Acknowledging the situation and remembering that symptoms will soon pass can reduce anxiety and fear.”

Breathe slowly and deeply

“Difficulty breathing is among the most common and alarming symptoms of these types of attack. To slow breathing down, focus the attention on the breath. Inhale and exhale at a slow and steady rate until symptoms subside. Count to four during each inhalation and exhalation.”

Try relaxation techniques

“Methods of relaxation, such as progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery, can reduce feelings of panic and anxiety. A person can learn these techniques online or by working with a qualified therapist.”

Practice mindfulness

“Mindfulness helps people to stay grounded in the present moment. It can be especially beneficial for people with anxiety, who tend to worry about perceived and potential stressors. Practice mindfulness by actively noticing thoughts, emotions, and sensations without judging or reacting to them.”

Thank you for pressing pause with us as we explored stress, anxiety, panic attacks, and anxiety attacks. We hope that you continue to practice self-compassion in this busy time and find some peace by being kind to yourself in this moment of suffering. 

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