Anxious About Panic Attacks at Work

Updated: Mar 1, 2019


Panic attack

Nobody likes to have a panic attack but being in a work situation is particularly distressing as it’s embarrassing to be seen in such a vulnerable state by co-workers. If you suffer from panic attacks or think you might have a panic attack at work, here are some steps you can take to help you feel less worried if it does happen.


1. Chatting with Supervisors and Co-Workers. To minimise any damage to your professional relationships, consider telling your supervisors and human resource staff members you suffer from panic attacks. You can inform co-workers, too, if you feel comfortable doing so and think it will help the situation. Remember, it is illegal for anyone to discriminate against you because of a mental illness, including a panic disorder


2. Recognise Triggers Around the Office. If your panic attacks start in the workplace, there might be situations, people or objects that trigger them. Try to recognise these. It will help you further prepare. You should not, however, avoid these triggers to the point where it affects your performance at work. If presentations are a trigger, it might be hard to skip them and keep your job. So once you identify a specific fear that can potentially lead to a panic attack, start to research techniques for addressing the fear. That may mean speaking to a therapist or learning some visualisation skills.


3. Carry or Use Counter Triggers: Objects or Actions That Calm You Down. In the same way there are triggers that will start panic attacks, there are objects, people and situations that might calm you before or during an attack. Here are some examples:

• Calling a family member or friend you are close to

• Calling or texting a therapist

• Holding a calming personal belonging with sentimental value such as a stuffed animal

• Smelling salts (useful for people who are feeling faint)


4. Make a List of Optimal Places You Can Head To.

Being in a place you are comfortable in will help with panic attacks. Here are some examples of environments you can use:

• The passenger seat of your car (more room than the driver’s seat)

• Use a private office if you have one. Draw blinds or curtains if you have them.

• A single-person bathroom

• A stall in a multi-person bathroom

• Home (if it is close enough to quickly return to work)


5. Making Your Game Plan for Handling Panic Attacks at Work.

Now that you have the list of tactics, it’s time to customise and make your game plan for handling panic attacks at work. Here is an example of what that should look like:

1. Leave the situation

2. Head to the single-person bathroom

3. Take deep breaths

4. Use PMR

5. Call my therapist

6. Text my supervisor and inform her of what has happened

7. Go running

8. Head home


Once you make this plan, put it somewhere easily accessible on your phone or a piece of paper you carry. Modify it as many times as needed. If you need help practicing or forming the plan, consider working with a therapist, someone who can act as a coach.

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