How to tell your boss you’re having a panic attack (How to)

How to tell your boss you're having a panic attack
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.

In this guide, we will discuss “how to tell your boss you’re having a panic attack” and some tips on what to say to your boss or even start a conversation that involves your mental health since it is definitely not an easy conversation to have. 

How to tell your boss you’re having a panic attack

You are thinking about how to tell your boss you’re having a panic attack or how to even start a conversation involving your mental health. Probably, this situation terrifies you and even seems a bit intimidating due to feeling exposed or vulnerable. However, it doesn’t have to be an awful experience in the end.

Having a panic attack at work is always a possibility and over worrying about it only makes you prone to it, however, being prepared for when it actually does happen (if it hasn’t already) is important. Sure, you may be thinking if you disclose such personal information and how you struggle either with anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, etc., you are just putting yourself at risk of being labelled or discriminated against. However, mental health should be a “must-have” conversation. 

How to tell your boss you're having a panic attack (How to)

Knowing when is the right time to disclose this type of information to your boss can be a very sensitive topic of conversation since it can actually make you feel more anxious. The answer to this is that there is no specified timing on any book or website. It will actually depend on your level of comfort and the type of relationship you have with your boss in order for you to talk about your mental health.   

Moreover, if we were to do a survey among colleagues we would find stress and anxiety on the top of our list of most frequently used terms in the workplace, so this will basically signal how we are not the only ones struggling to cope since it tends to be more common than we imagine.

According to Ludmila Leiva from refinery29, “Dealing with anxiety can be complicated enough on its own. While taboos around mental illness are slowly lessening, the reality is, it’s still hard — and kind of scary! — to talk to your boss about your mental health, particularly if you aren’t confident the conversation will be productive.”

She adds how, “As much as employers claim they need talented millennial workers, many haven’t yet implemented tangible policies that would really make Millennials more comfortable at work (free snacks are great, but what good about mental health resources?).”

Find the time to start the conversation

As discussed, it is not about the “right time” but to you making time to start the conversation with your boss, especially if your mental health is starting to interfere with your work and performance. You may want to consider at that point to consider talking to your boss as soon as possible especially if you are considering asking for some time off due to “personal issues or emergency”, where you may have to provide more details about the situation. This is when you may feel you need to explain the nature of your condition.  

At first and before having this conversation you will start feeling anxious, how the adrenaline starts to build up, worried about having a panic attack in front of your boss, however, it could be very useful to focus on your emotions and thoughts and write them down. This will give you a sense of feeling more “in control” of the situation when knowing what to say.  

How to tell your boss you're having a panic attack (How to)

Moreover, if you have developed a good relationship with your boss then you will feel more comfortable displaying some details about your situation and it is very likely your boss will try to make any adjustments or modifications to your workplace, schedule, duties, etc. to adapt tyour job to you and not the other way around.

According to Mind, some examples of adjustments you could ask for may include specifically:

  • changes to your working area
  • changes to your working hours
  • spending time working from home
  • being allowed to take time off work for treatment, assessment or rehabilitation
  • temporarily re-allocating tasks you find stressful and difficult
  • getting some mentoring.

Talking to your boss doesn’t mean losing your privacy

You may have disclosed to your boss about your anxiety and panic attacks, but you may or may have not disclosed everything about it. With this in mind, we are saying you are always allowed to maintain your privacy, your employer does not have to know everything unless you feel really confident and comfortable disclosing it. 

How to tell your boss you're having a panic attack (How to)

For instance, for someone that has ADHD disclosing it to their boss or supervisor might not get the expected kind of support but if you tell them something like “I have concentration issues that difficult my ability to work” then it sounds better than displaying bluntly “I have ADHD”. Disclosing mental health conditions are not received as they did a few years ago, we are immersed in a culture that seems to be more accepting and understanding. 

If possible, consult with others

In the scenario, you have already discussed your mental health with your boss (or you haven’t) and you are experiencing workplace bullying (or you are worried you might) from your co-workers or your boss then, try speaking with someone at your HR department. Every workplace is different, but they often have procedures and steps to take that will make you feel supported. 

How to tell your boss you're having a panic attack (How to)

However, depending on your personal circumstances, you can try speaking to a relative, a friend or even a co-worker about what they think of you approaching your boss and talking about the situation, this can bring a different perspective into the mix and valuable advice if you really are clueless about what to do.

Therefore, it can be useful to practice having this conversation with someone you trust (role-playing), helping you determine all the possible scenarios and how your boss could react so you feel more in control, calm and prepared when the time comes.

Know the laws of protection

Document yourself about the laws that protect you from discrimination at work, what you can do if you feel bullied or discriminated against, and where you could get support and advice. Having a mental health problem that is a disability will evoke the protection of the equality act and your employer needs to know about this. 

In addition, it is helpful to have a note from your doctor which explains your situation and always keep a copy with you just in case. However, if you decided not to talk about or disclose your mental health or disability with your employer at the beginning of your contract or work-related relationship then, it may be necessary now that you have decided to disclose your condition, is recommended to get specialized legal advice.  

Why is this blog about “How to tell your boss you’re having a panic attack”, important?

How to tell your boss you’re having a panic attack is not an easy thing to do and as discussed, you can choose whether to disclose or not (and how much information preserving your privacy) the nature of the situation. In addition, there is no “appropriate time” to start this type of conversation involving your mental health, what really makes it the right time is your level of confidence and if you feel comfortable enough. 

Subsequently, there are many ways you could go about telling your boss such as writing it down or practising (role-playing) with someone you trust, so this way you can feel more in control over the situation. 

Please feel free to comment in the comments section!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about “How to tell your boss you’re having a panic attack”

Can I be fired for having panic attacks?

No, you should not get fired for having panic attacks, or due to any other recognized mental or medical condition. There are many laws that protect employees against unfair treatment or being fired because of it. However, it is always recommended to see a mental health professional, take your medication (if you are being medicated) and follow the instructions.

Should I tell my boss I have anxiety disorder?

Telling your boss or your employer if you have an anxiety disorder is really up to you, you are not obligated to disclose this type of information. However, if you feel you have good communication and a good professional relationship with your boss then you could let them know, so they are aware or, if any adjustments need to be make to your workplace so you feel more comfortable. 

How do I tell my boss I have anxiety?

Telling your boss you have anxiety is not as different as reporting a medical condition or a physical problem. Be honest and be assertive when communicating with your boss, however, if you do not feel capable of expressing it personally then you could try writing down what you feel. In addition, it is up to you how much information you would like your boss to know and assure it won’t interfere with your productivity and ability to perform your duties. 

How do I deal with an anxiety attack at work?

Having an anxiety attack at work is something very normal. However, here are some tips on how to cope with it while you are at work:

  • Focus on your breathing, slowly breathing in through your nose and counting until four and then slowly let the air go out through your mouth again counting until four.
  • Go to your designated “safe place” and if you do not have one identified just try going to a quiet room or somewhere you feel comfortable.
  • Consider talking to your boss to get into an agreement on how you could get some assistance managing anxiety attacks in a more efficient way. 

Recommended reading

References 

Lastoe, S. “Here’s How to Have an Honest Talk With Your Boss About Your Mental Health”. Retrieved from Themuse.com. 

Leiva, L. (2018, Dec.) Anxious at work? When to talk to your boss about stress. Retrieved from refinery29.com.

Wright, B. (2018, Apr.) “How to Talk to Your Boss About Your Mental Health”. Retrieved from psycom.net.

“Discrimination at work”. Retrieved from Mind.org.uk.

How to tell your boss you're having a panic attack (How to)