“I’m having a panic attack at work. What do I do?” If you’ve ever felt this way or have been dealing with anxiety for a while, then you’re familiar with how suddenly these moments of panic can hit. You’re at work, doing your thing, and suddenly an intense feeling of dread hits. Your heart pounds, you’re drenched in sweat, and you can’t breathe. So what do you do? Here are a few tips you can try for handling a panic attack at work.
Causes of Panic Attacks at Work
A panic attack is a sense of overwhelming fear that occurs suddenly and without an obvious reason. While panic attacks aren’t deadly, they can have a severe impact on your life if they occur frequently and severely enough.
In addition to a heavy workload, some things that can trigger panic attacks in the workplace include public speaking, conflict, an important meeting, big promotions, and work-related events.
When you have a panic attack, you might experience symptoms like:
- Rapid heart rate
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Choking or chest pains
- Trembling or shaking
- Excessive sweating
- Hot flashes or sudden chills
- Tingling or a pins-and-needles sensation in your fingers and toes
- Fear of dying
Panic attacks are usually singular events, and many people only have one or two in their entire lives. However, if you experience frequent panic attacks, whether at work or anywhere else, then you should seek out professional support for diagnosis and treatment. Our Massachusetts treatment center offers mental health treatment, including therapy modalities like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), that can help you learn how to cope with your symptoms properly.
Tips for Handling a Panic Attack at Work
Often triggered by stress, having a panic attack at work is justifiable. You’re behind on deliverables, the boss keeps adding to your list, and you’ve already worked overtime three days this week. The fact that you’re at work and not at home where you can lie down on the couch or get comfortable in bed can make it worse.
When you feel a panic attack happening, it’s important to find a quiet and comfortable place to rest. If you’re in a meeting or any other high-pressure situation, try to kindly remove yourself and step outside for some air or head to the bathroom for some time alone.
If you’re worried that your absence will raise any alarms, text a colleague to let them know you aren’t feeling well and you’ll return soon. Once you’re alone in a quiet place, use the following tips to handle a panic attack at work.
1. Control Your Breathing
Close your eyes to prevent stimulation and focus on taking deep, slow breaths. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, then exhale through your mouth. This slows your heart rate and helps you relax. Do this until you feel calmer.
Rapid breathing also further contributes to a sense of panic and fear, so it’s important to work on your breathing first thing. If you can’t control your breathing, sit down and put your head between your legs until the dizziness passes.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Panic attacks put you in an agitated emotional state, so it’s important to remind yourself to take deep breaths and challenge your thoughts. Panic and anxiety often stem from ruminations about the past or future and take away your focus from the present. Mindfulness does the opposite.
If you find yourself suddenly panicking at work, control your breathing and ask yourself why you’re feeling this way. Did something cause it? Is the world really ending? Are you in any danger?
If you can challenge thoughts linked to fear, you can nip the panic attack in the bud. Mindfulness can also be physical and visual. You can also focus on your sensations and things you can hear or feel to bring you back to the present.
3. Visualize a Peaceful and Happy Place
Let’s be honest. Work isn’t usually our idea of a happy and peaceful place. With this in mind, a great way of coping with panic attacks at work is to visualize a place that relaxes you, such as the beach, a hike, a lake, mountains, you name it. Picture yourself there and think about as many details of the scenery as possible. What would it smell like? How would the wind feel? Is it cold or hot?
You can also think of being with a person who makes you happy. Imagine hugging your spouse or your children. Imagine laughing with a close friend.
4. Take a Break
If you can, tell your boss you’re not feeling well and take a 10 to 15-minute break. Don’t look at your phone and get a cup of tea or spend some time outside. If you can’t remove yourself from the situation or step away for 15 minutes, close your eyes and take a five-minute break at your desk.
You could also head to the bathroom and take some time to rest there. If you’re struggling to feel better, go home and rest for the remainder of the day if you can.
5. Call a Loved One
Sometimes we just need to hear a familiar voice, so calling a loved one can be another great way of dealing with a panic attack in the workplace. Tell them how you’re feeling and ask them to talk about their day if there’s time. By the end of the conversation, you’ll have calmed down without realizing it.
How to Avoid a Panic Attack at Work
If you have panic disorder, there are also some things you can do to prevent a panic attack at work:
- Keep yourself organized to avoid feeling overwhelmed
- Wake up with plenty of time to get ready in the morning, so you aren’t rushing yourself
- Avoid caffeine
- Drink lots of water
- Don’t skip meals
- Take regular breaks (if you can)
- Do some light exercise (this can include pacing or moving your arms up and down)
- Try a muscle relaxation technique (hold the tension for five seconds, then say “relax” as you relax your muscles for 10 seconds)
- Learn your triggers
- Don’t skip your medication
Help for Anxiety and Panic Disorders
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 6 million adults, or 2.7% of the U.S. population, have a panic disorder. In this group, women are twice as likely to be affected as men.1 The onset of a panic disorder usually begins in adolescence or early adulthood, and common causes include major life transitions or changes and stressful social or economic situations.
People with a family history of anxiety or panic disorders are also more likely to develop one. If you find yourself having occasional or frequent panic attacks, know that they can be treated. Clearbrook Massachusetts offers residential mental health care for all kinds of mental disorders.
Our team utilizes evidence-based modalities and practices to ensure that patients are receiving the most effective treatment possible. With our help, you or a loved one can learn how to properly manage their mental health disorder and get the most out of life.