How to handle a panic attack at work (How to)

How to handle a panic attack at work

In this guide, we will discuss “how to handle a panic attack at work” and a few tips on how to handle this type of situation in your workplace.

How to handle a panic attack at work

How to handle a panic attack at work may be a persistent question in your mind, especially if you know already you suffer from an anxiety disorder.

Having a panic attack at work is not ideal but it is likely to happen at any moment since they seem unprovoked and tend to come without a warning.

This may involve:

  • Leaving your workplace and heading to the bathroom or a place you have identified as a “safe place”.
  • Practice your breathing taking deep breaths.
  • Use progressive muscle relaxation techniques to reduce your anxiety.
  • Call a friend, relative or your therapist if you are being treated.
  • Inform your boss or supervisor about what has happened.
  • Ask if it is possible to go home and telework while you recover from the panic attack.
How to handle a panic attack at work (How to)

A panic attack at work in front of your boss can become a reason for feeling ashamed or embarrassed, especially if you have started a new job and you are terrified about the idea of how your boss may react to this situation.

Panic attacks are awful and come with a lot of discomforts and a feeling of vulnerability by feeling unsafe, exposed, judged, criticized, labeled or even undermined.

However, it doesn’t have to be a horrible experience to have a panic attack when you are in your workplace or office, especially in front of your boss and if it is the first time.

Not knowing how they will take it or how they will react after it can make you even more anxious and stressed, but there is no need to feel like an alien since anxiety disorders in the workplace are more common than you think. 

In addition, always remember that having an anxiety disorder does not necessarily mean you will be a bad employee.

How to handle a panic attack at work (How to)

Panic attacks are characterized by intense fear and overwhelming anxiety that manifests through symptoms such as shortness of breath,  chest pain, heart palpitations, sweating, shaking/trembling, lightheadedness, among others, that can make you feel as if you are having a heart attack, you are dying or going crazy.

However, if you start experiencing frequent panic attacks at work it is recommended to seek help or advice from a mental health professional. 

Many people who suffer from anxiety disorders know that stress can make their anxiety spike or get worse, but they do not necessarily mean how to cope with it or prevent it.

Someone working at customer service roles having customers yell at them all day or having your boss yelling at you most of the time can make your anxiety get worse by the minute increasing the chance of a panic attack. 

Consequently, the workplace can be perceived as an inevitable source of stress and it is not surprising you may experience panic attacks there, but we can actually apply some techniques or tips when having a panic attack at work. 

Recognize and anticipate when you are having a panic attack

Panic attacks may seem as unprovoked and sudden but if you pay close attention, you could notice how your anxiety starts building up even hours before having one.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms is fundamental.

For instance, if you start feeling light healight-headed, shortness of breath, numbness or tingling sensation, nausea, feeling like choking, feeling like having a heart attack, among other symptoms, can help you anticipate and set a plan in motion.

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Panic attacks (Know the signs) video
How to handle a panic attack at work (How to)

Focus on breathing slowly

Being told to breathe when you are having a panic attack at work is not really helpful but if you attempt to try long, slow breaths as you feel your anxiety building up then you can slow your down your heart rate and breathing, which in turn will make you feel more in control and relaxed.

Acceptance of your symptoms

As Torres from The Huff Post explains “These symptoms can be scary, but instead of shying away from the body’s discomfort, people should accept their circumstances to make the panic attack shorter.”

Avoidant behavior is the main source of our anxiety, especially if we are in denial avoiding feeling what we are feeling at that specific moment.

Confronting our feelings is the fastest way to recover from a panic attack, since intentionally confronting or exposing yourself to the thing you fear will undoubtedly fill you with anxiety but reprogramming your brain to surrender instead of controlling or fighting it may eventually help you tremendously.

How to handle a panic attack at work (How to)

Challenge your thoughts, be rational

When having a panic attack our primal brain regions get hyper activated to help us fight or run away from the potential threat concentrating all the blood flow to those areas so you can respond accordingly.

However, you can make a conscious effort to involve your pre-frontal cortex. Here is how you can do it by narrating your experience:

“Narration can include talking yourself through an attack in multiple ways. You can become curious about your feelings instead of afraid of them. Noticing the world outside yourself or writing down how you feel can help accomplish that.”

Identify your triggers

Identifying your triggers is certainly not an easy task but it is also not impossible.

Having awareness of what makes your anxiety build up and spike can help you prepare, take action and cope with it more effectively.

For instance, if you feel it is very likely to have a panic attack at work while you are in the middle of a presentation because there are millions of thoughts that go through your mind of how it is likely you will say something stupid or “blank out” then you can anticipate a week or a few days to the presentation preparing yourself, doing some research, practising or rehearsing in front of friends or a loved one. 

Also, it helps to practice simultaneously breathing exercises, mindful meditation, yoga, exercising, eating healthy, staying hydrated, etc. which can contribute to preparing yourself for that moment.

Talk to your boss

Even though disclosing your private life to your boss and especially something as sensitive as your mental health is not ideal, it can actually be helpful.

We always think we are going to get discriminated, labelled or undermined for having a mental health condition, and in some cases it is true but in some other occasions can be the opportunity to express how you feel, your situation and how your employer can help you cope in the future (either by making arrangements or adjustments to your workplace). 

However, if you feel bullied or nothing has changed after speaking about it then consider taking it to human resources or someone that can help activate the appropriate route (according to the laws) to protect you as an employee. 

Why is this blog about how to handle a panic attack at work important?

How to handle a panic attack at work is important because it is necessary to be aware of the high probability of this event happening while you are at work and how to cope with it.

Developing your coping techniques requires practice and implementing those you feel the most comfortable with.

Here we presented some that are very helpful and easy to implement. 

However, remember that having a panic attack at work is completely normal since it is considered an immense source for anxiety to build up quickly.

Breathing techniques, identifying your triggers, finding and designating a place to calm down (when possible) are just some of the many strategies that can help you handle a panic attack at work.

Please feel free to comment in the comments section!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about how to handle a panic attack at work

How do you calm a panic attack at work?

To calm a panic attack at work it is key to be in control of your breathing, this will reduce the symptoms and relax your muscles.

In addition, if you feel too overwhelmed about having a panic attack in front of colleagues or your boss, try to find a place where you can actually take some time to calm down.

Can I be fired for having an anxiety attack at work?

Your employer shouldn’t fire you just because you are having an anxiety attack at work.

However, the fear of getting fired makes your anxiety worse and panic attacks more likely to happen.

Your employer should be involved in how comfortable and safe you get to feel in your workplace, and they could even help by making the necessary adjustments such as making changes to your workplace or even moving you from one role to another.

How can you stop a panic attack?

To stop a panic attack it is necessary to be aware of your breathing, so learning breathing exercises can help you calm down and reduce the physical symptoms.

In addition, challenge your thoughts and reactivate the decision-making areas in your brain by rationalizing your thoughts or being aware of the details/characteristics of your surroundings such as smell, colors, textures, etc. 

How do I stop panicking at work?

To stop panicking at work, you can:

Focus on your breathing and acknowledging the physical symptoms instead of trying to avoid them. 

Try not to leave your workspace but if necessary, have a designated “safe place” close to it.

Write down how you feel before and after the panic attack since it can help you identify triggers and handle the situation differently next time.

If you feel comfortable enough, attempt to talk to your boss about it.
If it gets too overwhelming, consider getting professional help.

Can you die from a panic attack?

A panic attack will not cause you to die, even though it certainly feels like you are having a heart attack.

However, panic attacks can become very serious if you find yourself experiencing persistent symptoms (or on a regular basis).

This is when you need to consider consulting a physician since it may be possible to have an underlying condition that hasn’t been properly addressed or treated.

Recommended reading

  • Panic Attacks: The Guide to Beat the Panic Trick and Workbook About All Therapies and Social Issues. Self Development program to Cure and Improve Good Relationships. (Anxiety and Depression 2)
  • Panic Attacks: What They Are, Why They Happen and What You Can Do About Them
  • Badass Ways to End Anxiety & Stop Panic Attacks!: A counterintuitive approach to recover and regain control of your life
  • Making Friends with Anxiety: A warm, supportive little book to ease worry and panic – 2019 edition
  • Panic Attacks Workbook: A Guided Program for Beating the Panic Trick

References 

Rauch, J. (2016, Jun.) How to Handle a Panic Attack at Work: The Complete Guide. Retrieved from Talkspace.com.

Torres, M. (2019. Mar.) How To Stop A Panic Attack At Work, From Someone Who Has Been There. Retrieved from Hufftingtonpost.co.uk.

Star, K. (2019, Sept.) Managing Your Panic Disorder at Work. Retrieved from Verywellmind.com.

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How to handle a panic attack at work (How to)

Daniela Paez

Daniela Paez is a Clinical Psychologist with an MSc. In Clinical Neuropsychology from Bangor University. She has vast experience in working with children with disabilities, adolescents and their families, in extreme conditions of poverty and vulnerability. Additionally, she owns a private practice where she provides neuropsychological evaluation for children and adults, and treatment for mood disorders, anxiety, couple therapy, among other conditions.