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Stress may be anxiety disorder, researchers say

March 26, 1997

By Tamara Waite

Lariat Reporter

Juggling classes, jobs, extracurricular activities and a variety of other time commitments can make the college years stressful times.

The overwhelming feelings of anxiety, fear, and loss of control some college students experience may be signs of something much more serious than just normal stress, according to research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Recent NIMH research shows that more than 23 million Americans, many of them between the ages of 18 and 24, suffer from anxiety disorders including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias and generalized anxiety disorders.

The most common type of disorder among college students is phobias, said Dr. Jack Maser, chief of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, D.C. Tuesday.

More than 11 percent of men and more than 16 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 29 suffer from some sort of phobia. This may be a specific phobia in which a person experiences 'extreme, disabling, and irrational fear of something that poses little or no actual danger' or a social phobia, which causes a fear of scrutiny, embarrassment or humiliation in social situations, according to NIMH.

Generalized anxiety disorders are the second most prevalent disorder among 18 to 29-year-olds. They involve 'chronic, exaggerated worry about everyday routine life events and activities' which lasts at least six months and may be accompanied by physical symptoms such as fatigue, trembling, muscle tension, headaches or nausea.

Panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder can also impact smaller segments of the college population, Maser said.

'Panic disorder is characterized by sudden panic attacks which strike for no apparent reason,' Maser said. The physical symptoms include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, dizziness or abdominal discomfort, feelings of unreality and fear of dying, according to NIMH.

Obsessive-compulsive disorders are defined as repeated, compulsive thoughts and behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control.

Finally, post-traumatic stress disorder may develop after an individual has undergone a particular traumatic experience such as rape, abuse or an automobile accident.

The NIMH cites nightmares, flashbacks, numbing of emotions, depression and feelings of anger as a few symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Through its various information services including the National College Anxiety Disorders Screening program, NIMH plans to educate and help college students on approximately 350 campuses across the country this month--including Baylor.

'Many people do not know that they have a disorder or are not aware that there are treatments out there that can help them,' Maser said. 'They let social stigmas keep them from showing up for a screening and getting the help they need to lead much improved lives.'

To offer information and help raise awareness of anxiety disorders and stress-related problems, the University Wellness Office and Counseling Center are sponsoring a discussion and screening session from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. today in the White Beckham Room on the second floor of the Bill Daniel Student Center.

Dr. Glenn Pack, director of counseling services, will speak about anxiety disorders. Screening including a video presentation, a questionnaire and one-on-one consultation will be offered. Also, representatives from the Peer Educators program will give a presentation on stress management.

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