Anxiety troublesome to ‘socially developing time’

By Christopher Blake
September 11, 2008

Shannon Keough

Ring, ring, ring! “Good evening. Cabrini College Public Safety speaking,” the officer said over the phone.

“Oh my God! Oh my God! Jill is on the floor unconscious! Come quick,” screamed the girl’s roommate.

Three years ago public safety officers, resident assistants and the area coordinator of Cabrini College sprinted up the stairs of Woodcrest dorm, as the then freshman, Jillian Smith, laid on the floor suffering a panic attack.

“When I yelled help but no one came at first, I knew I should have told them,” Smith said. “I was on the ground passed out and not one person could understand why.”

An EMT crew followed by an ambulance sped onto campus taking Smith from her dormitory room to the nearest hospital.

“The minute before you have an anxiety attack you feel like your head’s in a fish bowl,” Smith said.

Eyes go blurry, sounds are muffled and teeth feel numb.

Smith, like more than 20 million other Americans, suffers from generalized anxiety disorder.

Dr. James Herbert, professor of psychology and the director of anxiety treatment center at Drexel University, said everyone has anxiety.

“Anxiety only crosses the line of being a clinical disease when it affects your overall functioning,” Herbert said.

Smith has lived a worry-filled life from an early age. During adolescence, her mother observed her obsessive habit of lining her shoes in a perfectly descending line.

Yet her compulsion to have an organized closet was not close to crossing the continuum of a full-out anxiety diagnosis.

Smith never sensed feeling different than her classmates until high school.

While she sat in class, her mind would unfocus from the presented material to an unclear zone out. Dizziness would cover the room. And the next moment, she either passed out or endured a panic attack.

“I felt like an elephant was sitting on my chest,” Smith said describing her panic attacks.

Not only would Smith have difficulty concentrating in class but she remembered walking around school having “thoughts a person of sanity should not have.”

After her mother noticed her first signs of anxiety, Smith vetoed a visit to the doctor. Finally in her senior year she gave in to the advice after multiple hardships had increased her anxiety significantly.

The doctor diagnosed her with GAD and prescribed Lexapro, an anxiety and depression medicine.

When her anxiety acts in a stage, Smith refers to as a “big slip up,” she takes Clonazepam and Lexapro together daily.

“A big slip up is when I am anxious everyday and I can not control my anxiety,” Smith said. “Being anxious is being nervous times 100.”

Herbert stressed the significance of college as a time of drastic life change.

Although many high school students live with anxious tendencies prior to college, it is not until they face the daily stresses of living away from home, breaking up with a boyfriend or girlfriend on campus or having a heavy class load will actual anxiety enter the picture.

Anxiety is extremely troublesome to the growth of 18 to 24 year olds, in what Herbert calls an important socially developing time.

“College is the last opportunity to face certain social challenges before the so-called real world,” Herbert said.

Herbert specializes in cognitive-behavior therapy or exposure therapy. The psychology method is well recognized in the Philadelphia area. Former University of Pennsylvania professor of psychology, Aaron T. Beck, popularized the therapy method.

Although cognitive-behavior therapy proves to be extremely effective other anxiety medications and therapies are available upon examination by a physician.

Anxiety patients may prefer insight-oriented therapy as Herbert describes, “gaining insight into your problems is therapeutic.”

Other students facing anxiety like Smith favor medication to decrease their anxiety.

Whatever the case, anxiety affects people around the world. The described treatments each reach to relieve and diminish anxiety.

“You learn how to live with it,” Smith said. “I have had anxiety my entire life. You cope with it, you stay away from problem areas and you survive one day at a time.”

Christopher Blake

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