What to do when having a panic attack at work (7 steps)

what to do when having a panic attack at work

In this blog post, we answer the following question: What to do when having a panic attack at work? 

What to do when having a panic attack at work (7 steps)

What to do when you are having a panic attack at work 

Panic disorder is one of the most complicated conditions because it makes you feel extremely nervous and anxious.

The symptoms are even more difficult to manage when you are not at home because there is concern that those around you will notice that you may have Generalised anxiety disorder.

There is also the fear that you may have a panic attack in front of colleagues, or even worse, in front of your boss.

How to handle a panic attack 

Step 1 – Breathe 

Hyperventilation is a symptom of panic attacks that can increase fear, so one solution to calm you down is deep breathing.

Learning to breathe properly will help you a lot in reducing the other symptoms of panic attacks.

Focus on it! Count to four when you inhale, hold the air in your lungs for a second, then exhale, counting to four again.

Step 2 – Close your eyes

Most of the time, panic attacks originate from triggers that overwhelm you, this is why identifying your triggers beforehand can help you.

Being at your workplace, for example in your office, it is most likely that there are many stimuli that can worsen the symptoms of a panic attack.

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[ Panic attacks (Know the signs) ] video

It is recommended that in such moments, you simply close your eyes and focus on your breathing. You will notice that you’ll start to feel better almost immediately. 

Step 3 – Focus on what is real

Because panic attacks can cause a sense of detachment or separation from reality, one solution is to focus on the physical sensations you are familiar with.

For example, touching the ground with your bare feet or feeling the texture of your jeans.

These specific sensations keep you focused on reality and give you a reason to focus.

What to do when having a panic attack at work (7 steps)

Step 4 – Focus on One object 

Some people find it helpful to find an object to focus on when they have a panic attack, so I advise you to do the same.

Choose an object near you and do not move your gaze elsewhere. Try to ignore the sensations you feel when the panic attack sets in. For example, you may notice how the thing moves or its shape.

All you have to do is study the object in front of you, focus all your energy on it, look at its shape, colour, size, and the symptoms of the panic attack will start to disappear easily.

Step 5 – Use muscle relaxation techniques 

Like deep breathing, muscle relaxation techniques can help you stop the panic attack by controlling your body’s response as much as possible.

Consciously relax at some point a muscle, starting with something as simple as your fingers and then continuing with the rest of your body.

Step 6 – Engage in simple activities 

Endorphins or the molecules of happiness created when you engage in a pleasant activity can improve your mood.

Due to the fact that you are stressed and under the influence of a panic attack, choose, for example, to go for a short walk.

All the while trying to control your breathing as mentioned above.

Step 7 – Talk to someone

It is understandable that you may feel ashamed because you had a panic attack at work, however, talking to someone is always a good idea.

A panic attack can exhaust you, so someone else’s help is more than welcomed in such situations.

It is best to say exactly what you need: ask a colleague to make a cup of tea for you, to help you distract your thoughts, or even to drive you home.

The good news is that there are many ways you can learn to manage these symptoms so that you can stay calm and not worry that you will panic in front of strangers or, worse, office colleagues.

What to do when having a panic attack at work (7 steps)

Find out what triggers your panic attacks 

Panic disorder is manifested by sudden and unexpected panic attacks. In addition, the symptoms of anxiety and panic disorder can be triggered by many other situations.

When you know and understand why you feel bad, you can help yourself to deal with them more easily and create a plan for the next time something unpleasant happens.

For example, if the morning is the most difficult time for you, you can try to change your sleep schedule, better organize your habits, or meditate before you go to work.

Understand your symptoms

The symptoms of panic disorder are quite frightening. From suffocation and drowning to a heart attack.

All these sensations aggravate your fears and lead to severe panic attacks.

Understanding your symptoms means knowing how your body is feeling and recognizing the thought process when anxiety begins to build up.

For example, the tremor or butterflies in your stomach that you feel when anxiety occurs.

Generally, a panic attack includes some of the following signs or symptoms: 

  • Feeling of imminent danger
  • Fear of losing control or fear of death
  • Palpitations, fast heart rate (heart beats fast, or with an altered rhythm)
  • Sweating
  • Hyperventilation
  • Chest pain (angina pectoris)
  • Tremor
  • Agoraphobia (fear of open spaces)
  • Difficulty breathing (dyspnea) or a lump in the throat
  • Chills
  • Hot flashes (feeling of “cold and hot waves”)
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramps
  • Headache
  • Vertigo (dizziness), feeling light-headed or fainting
  • Paresthesias (tingling) in the extremities of the limbs
  • The feeling of detachment from reality

What to do when having a panic attack at work (7 steps)

Strategies to control panic attacks

Such strategies are only effective if you practice them when you are in a relaxed state. 

There are specific techniques you can learn in virtual exposure therapy sessions.

It’s a great way to start your mornings, energize your afternoons or relax at the end of a day before going to sleep.

So, set a time of day to practice the different relaxation and calming techniques:

1 ) stopping thoughts

2)  progressive muscle relaxation

3)  breathing exercises

Consistency is the key to how these strategies will work best and help you relax the most when a panic attack strikes.

You  need a plan

After you have checked the first 3 steps, you need a plan for the moments when you are at work.

If you know how to handle a panic attack, you won’t have to worry when you really have one in your office.

For example, take into consideration listening to relaxing music on the way to work, practice meditation during the lunch break or take frequent short breaks throughout the day – your plan can be made up of anything that helps you reduce stress.

Make a list of such strategies and keep them close so you know what to do when you have severe anxiety.

You need a support network

Even if you keep it a secret from co-workers, you should still talk to someone about your panic disorder, whether it’s family or friends.

Such people you can trust are your companions on the road to recovery and well-being. They form a support network that helps you get rid of stress and relieves the loneliness you may feel when you hide from co-workers.

Consult a psychotherapist

A psychotherapist can help you find the right treatment if your symptoms persist and you need more support.

Discuss the symptoms that occur when you are at work and try to stay open to any suggestions or advice you receive.

Strategic short therapy is a method that has proven to be effective and with great results in treating panic attacks, helping you to manage your anxiety disorder step by step and gradually face the fears associated with managing panic disorder in public.

Other ways to stay  calm during a panic attack

  • Squeeze a rubber ball very hard.
  • Listen to music very loudly.
  •  Hold ice in your hand or mouth.
  •  Touch something fine or soft (a pillow, a plush toy)
  •  Get out in the rain or snow.
  • Take a hot or cold shower.
  •   Listen to relaxing music.
  • Eat something good.
  •  Have a hot drink/tea.

Encourage yourself. Keep telling yourself, “I can do it,” “It won’t last forever,” “I’ll get through this,” “I am doing my best,” “Nothing bad will happen,” “It’s just a false alarm. “,” I can’t faint/lose my mind “.

What to do when having a panic attack at work (7 steps)

Conclusions

In this blog post, we answered the following question: What do to when having a panic attack at work? 

We came up with a few suggestions that hopefully will help you manage better your symptoms. 

Try some of the methods mentioned above that you think are best for you. The secret is to be able to relax in that moment so as not to let things get worse. It’s that simple. 

It is recommended to practice these methods even when you do not have a panic attack. Thus, over time they will be more and more effective. 

FAQ about What to do when having a panic attack at work

How do I deal with a panic attack at work?

To deal with a panic attack at work you first have to focus on your breathing.

Sometimes closing your eyes may help you get back to normal breathing. Focus on one object and try to relax.

Consider asking for professional help if are experiencing frequent panic attacks. 

Can you be fired for having a panic attack?

No, you cannot be fired for having a panic attack, but you may be asked what triggered it and what are you doing to handle your anxiety disorder.

A few recommendations or a referral to HR may be made by your employer.

How do you calm a panic attack?

In order to calm a panic attack, you have to first, acknowledge that you are having a panic attack, and focus on your breathing.

Contract your muscles, close your eyes and try to imagine a place where you are safe and calm. You can also use relaxing music or drink a cup o calming tea. 

What should you do after a panic attack?

After a panic attack, you should take things one step at a time. Make yourself comfortable, drink a cup of tea, eat something and try to relax your body.

Speaking to someone about what just happened is always recommended. Reflect on what happened, but don’t beat yourself up for it.

Can you die from a panic attack?

You cannot die from a panic attack, although it may feel like it. However, panic disorder is a serious condition, and should not be overlooked.

It may be useful to try to identify what are your triggers and then talk with someone, such as a psychotherapist or your physician, to receive further help. 

Can my employer fire me for having anxiety?

Under the law, your employer can not fire you for having anxiety, depression, or other mental health impairment.

You can always discuss this matter with the HR department. 

Further reading

  1. Anxiety: Panicking about Panic: A powerful, self-help guide for those suffering from an Anxiety or Panic Disorder
  2. When Panic Attacks: The New, Drug-Free Anxiety Therapy That Can Change Your Life
  3. Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks Fast
  4. The Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Workbook for Panic Attacks 
  5. Badass Ways to End Anxiety & Stop Panic Attacks!: A counterintuitive approach to recover and regain control of your life 
  6. Panic Attacks Workbook: A Guided Program for Beating the Panic Trick

References

Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks – University of Michigan

Panic Disorder In Children And Adolescents – AACAP

What to do when having a panic attack at work (7 steps)

Nadejda Romanciuc

Nadejda Romanciuc holds a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and a diploma in Addiction studies. She is part of the Romanian Association of Integrative Psychotherapy as a psychotherapist under supervision. She's practicing online counselling for over two years and is a strong advocate for mental health.