There are many ways a person can cope with a panic attack at work. Whether it was caused by giving an important presentation or having a tough discussion with a boss, a person can make efforts to reduce their symptoms by utilizing relaxation techniques, practicing grounding techniques, or taking a break.
What Are Panic Attacks?
Ever have the feeling like your heart is racing? Maybe you are suddenly unable to breathe or concentrate? These are common signs of a panic attack. A panic attack may result in dizziness, chest pain, or sweating. Panic attack symptoms may be similar to those of an anxiety disorder, but will vary from person to person. A typical panic attack lasts for less than twenty minutes, but this too depends on the individual.1 When a person experiences panic attacks frequently, they may have a panic disorder.
Symptoms of a panic attack may include:
- Racing heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
What Can Cause Panic Attacks at Work?
Panic attacks at work can occur for a number of reasons. For example, a person with situational anxiety might experience an attack based merely on their workplace or office environment. Or, someone may become incredibly overwhelmed by a myriad of deadlines or expectations. Work anxiety may further the risk of panic attacks, as a person feels they cannot function under increased pressure from bosses or coworkers.
Panic attacks at work may be caused by:
- Giving an important presentation
- New job anxiety
- Asking for a raise
- Tension between coworkers
- Meeting deadlines
8 Ways to Handle a Panic Attack at Work
While a panic attack can be scary, there are many ways to handle one. If a person experiences one at work, they can adopt coping skills to better navigate an attack as it occurs. These same skills can also help them prepare for their workday ahead of time, helping to ease anxieties that contribute to an attack. It is important to practice healthy coping mechanisms so one can recover from intense symptoms in a quicker manner.2
Here are eight ways to deal with panic attacks at work:
1. Focus on Your Breath
Taking the time to focus on your breath can help you feel more in control during moments of panic. Utilizing breathwork at work includes stepping back to bring attention to your breath and ground you mentally and emotionally. During a panic attack, breathing can become labored. Breathwork can help reduce this symptom as it works on calming your nervous system, allowing you to feel more balanced and relaxed.
2. Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness for anxiety and grounding techniques can be used on a daily basis. When a person develops these skills, they are able to implement them during times of distress and overwhelm. One way to do this is to think of mindfulness as a sandwich–a morning practice constitutes your first layer of bread, mindfulness throughout the day substitutes the fillings, and the bottom piece of bread comes from one last session before bed. Prolonged practice can help you be prepared for tough situations that may induce anxiety at work.
In the event of a panic attack at work, try stepping outside and feeling the ground beneath your feet. Or, take a break to perform mindful breathing by using the 333 Rule or 54321 Method.3
3. Utilize Relaxation Techniques
You can take a step back to utilize relaxation techniques at any time, not just during moments of distress. In fact, it’s often best to practice these outside of high-pressure situations so that when stress does arise, your body knows how to react.
Try practicing progressive muscle relaxation on a regular basis. This builds muscle memory so you can apply this technique during times of increased anxiety and tension, hopefully preventing a panic attack entirely. Another way to practice relaxation is through autogenic training, which includes using autosuggestion in difficult moments.
4. Write Down Your Thoughts
Taking time to journal daily is a helpful tool when handling overwhelm commonly associated with work obligations and pressures. Journaling for mental health allows you to get your thoughts out on paper, rather than let them flood your mind. If you do not know what to write about, using journal prompts for anxiety can help you get started. Taking the time to start sifting through your negative thoughts can help decrease the likelihood of experiencing further panic attacks at work.
5. Consider Talking With Your Boss
Feeling anxious at work might stem from an overwhelm of responsibilities. If this is the case, it is helpful for you to share how you are feeling with your boss and discuss changes that need to be made. Speak honestly about what you have been experiencing. Be sure to cover what has happened in the workplace recently that may be causing your anxiety.
Additionally, it may be beneficial to let your boss know the efforts you’ve made in order to decrease your overwhelm on your own. Exploring this can help you both come to a decision about what factors related to your workload or environment need to be addressed. If you do not feel comfortable speaking with your boss, reach out to human resources for support.
6. Take a Break
Seriously! Set aside some time for yourself. This may mean taking a day off or planning a mini getaway. Either way, make sure that you rest both your body and mind. Additionally, be mindful about taking daily breaks throughout the workday.
If you find that you have tunnel vision at work and barely pick your head up from tasks, you may be pushing yourself too hard. Make an effort to step away from your work for a few minutes here and there, so you can come back to it with a fresh mind. This can help reduce the anxieties that can build up before a panic attack.
7. Set Your Boundaries
When at the office, it’s important to know your limits regarding what you can and cannot do. Have you been asked to take on more work than you can handle? Are you being assigned more projects before you have time to finish previous ones? Be honest about what your threshold is and speak with your superiors about this. Say no to tasks if you are not able to take on new responsibilities. If you are asked to work more hours, be sure to stick to your boundaries and know when to speak up.
8. Stay Hydrated
Take time to hydrate! A nice cool glass of water can calm your nerves in a moment of panic. This can help you gain a sense of control when you are feeling entirely overwhelmed by your surroundings or workload. Also, this helps ground you and bring you back to a regulated state.
How to Avoid Having a Panic Attack at Work
It’s helpful to implement healthy lifestyle changes outside of the office as this leads to long-term positive impacts. By being proactive and developing protective coping skills, you are less likely to experience frequent panic attacks. Having a healthy routine and mindset can help you better manage and address stress.4
Below are some ways to prevent panic attacks at work:
- Learn your triggers: If you know and recognize your triggers, you can stay away from them when possible. Be mindful of these as you navigate your workday.
- Stay physically active: There are many mental health benefits of exercise as staying physically active releases endorphins, which can help you feel calmer and more relaxed. Regular exercise may help decrease the chance of having frequent panic attacks.
- Don’t overexert yourself: Saying yes to everything can cause excessive stress, leading to a downward spiral of overwhelm and anxiety. Only agree to taking on new responsibilities if you are comfortable doing so.
- Talk to a support system: Seeking the support of friends and family can provide you with the space to share your thoughts and feelings.
- Find a hobby: Be sure to cultivate hobbies outside of your workplace. If you do not have other outlets, you may start to resent your job.
- Spend time alone: When you are at work, you are often surrounded by many people. If you don’t set aside time for yourself, you may begin to feel stressed or overwhelmed.
- Listen to anxiety podcasts: Listening to an anxiety podcast can provide you with helpful information for how to navigate panic attacks at work.
When to Seek Professional Help
If you suffer from panic attacks or a panic disorder, you may benefit from seeking professional help. While treatment may not cure certain conditions, symptoms can be better managed. Depending on the person, a treatment plan may include both therapy and medication. There are many treatments for panic disorder to consider, so it is important to explore and find the options that work best for you.
Those who regularly have panic attacks at work might benefit from SSRIs* or benzodiazepines**. These medications target the negative symptoms associated with anxiety that can contribute to overwhelm and panic. If you have a busy schedule, using an online psychiatrist service to find a psychiatrist who can prescribe medications for panic disorder may be helpful.
*These medications have a black box warning, the most severe kind of warning from the FDA for the risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors in certain people. You should talk with your doctor about these risks before starting these medications
**These medications have a black box warning, the most severe kind of warnings from the FDA for abuse or misuse, risk of physical dependence, and risk of severe side effects, including death, when combined with an opioid.
Panic attacks can be extremely scary, especially at work. You may feel reluctant to tell your boss or coworkers about what you are experiencing, but it is important to do so when possible. While you may be having these attacks for a number of reasons, this does not mean that you need to just deal with them. Start by developing healthy coping and relaxation skills that can help you both prevent anxiety before it occurs, as well as handle overwhelm in the moment. Consider seeking the support of a professional for treatment–whether through therapy or medication–if you are unable to cope with your symptoms.