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Coping With Panic Attacks at Work

Tips for Dealing with Panic Symptoms While on the Job

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Updated September 30, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

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Work stress may be triggering your panic and anxiety symptoms.

Photo © Microsoft

Panic attack sufferers often describe their symptoms as a difficult and frightening ordeal. During a panic attack, a person is typically faced with upsetting emotions, fearful thoughts, and very uncomfortable physical sensations. Imagine being taken over by somatic symptoms, such as shaking, chest pain, and nausea. Feelings of dread set in as you become afraid of losing control of your body and mind. Such symptoms are the unfortunate experience of many people who have panic attacks.

As most panic attack sufferers can attest to, these symptoms can greatly impact all areas of one’s life. These attacks can be a burden on one’s relationships, aspirations, and creativity. One’s career my also suffer, as panic attacks can be especially hard to manage while at work. The symptoms of panic attacks can interfere with job performance, relationships with coworkers, and confidence in one’s abilities at the workplace.

Do you worry about your panic attacks and other anxiety symptoms while on the job? Do feelings of fear and dread interfere with your work performance? Do you find yourself trying to hide your symptoms from coworkers? If you answered yes to any of these questions, read ahead to get some useful tips to help you cope with panic attacks at work.

Understand and Accept Your Symptoms

In order to successfully manage your panic attacks at work, it can be helpful to gain a clearer understanding about your symptoms. Many panic sufferers fear their symptoms, which can often lead to elevated feelings of anxiety. For instance, it’s not uncommon to experience breathing difficulties during panic attacks. When hyperventilation sets in, you may become increasingly afraid, uncertain as to what is happening and fearing how coworkers will react. Learning more about your symptoms can help you overcome fears of panic attacks.

Recognizing that your symptoms cannot hurt you may also help you to more effectively regain control over your symptoms. When panic strikes, don’t try to fight. If you feel embarrassed that others will notice your symptoms, simply try to excuse yourself for a moment as your panic attack symptoms run their course. Accept your symptoms as they come and remind yourself that they will soon pass.

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Know Your Triggers

Work stress is an inevitable issue that most of us are forced to deal with from time to time. However, extended amounts of job stress can lead to anxiety and possibly trigger your panic attacks. Notice if you are susceptible to certain triggers at the workplace, such as strict deadlines, a particular coworker, or other work-related issues. If work issues are contributing to your symptoms, resolve to brainstorm ideas to overcome these obstacles, such as carefully scheduling assignments, learning conflict resolution skills, or simply talking to a supportive friend outside of work. It can also be useful to mentally prepare yourself for a tough week beforehand, such as taking extra time for self-care or down time enjoying your hobbies, so that a demanding week won't catch you too off guard.

Aside from the workplace, consider how other aspects of your life are influencing your symptoms. For instance, your diet and lifestyle choices may be impacting your anxiety levels. Studies have shown that inadequate amounts of rest and exercise can contribute to stress and anxiety. Additionally, diet and nutrition can play a role. For example, research has shown that consuming too much caffeine may lead to increased anxiety. Take note of your lifestyle and determine if any of your habits are impacting your panic and anxiety levels.

If you are uncertain about what your triggers are, it may be helpful to begin tracking them. Consider using a journal or mood and anxiety chart to keep a record of your symptoms and triggers across a period of time. Tracking your symptoms, mood, and triggers over time can assist you in determining your strengths, setbacks, and overall progress. This information will be useful in helping you determine how to better manage your panic attacks at work.

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Breathe and Affirm

The next time you experience a panic attack, try to take note of your breathing. You may become aware that your breathing has changed. Rapid and shallow breathing are common during a panic attack and times of high anxiety. By slowing your breath down, you may be able to help yourself feel calmer. The next time panic sets in and your breathing changes, try taking a deep breath in through your nose, hold your breath for a moment, and then let all the air out through your mouth. Repeat for several cycles and notice if it helps lower your anxiety.

Besides changing your breath, panic attacks can also shift your thoughts and perceptions. Panic attacks can bring about fear-based and negative thinking. For instance, you may think to yourself, “What would my coworkers think if they knew how anxious I felt, “I am so embarrassed of myself,” or “My anxiety is a barrier to my success.” One way to turn pessimistic thoughts around is through the use of affirmations, or positive self-talk statements. The next time negative self-talk begins to spiral out of control, use affirmations to turn your thoughts around. Some healthier self-statements may include, “I am not my anxiety,” “Even though I have panic and anxiety, I love and accept myself,” or “I have a lot to offer as an employee.”

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Get Professional Help

Despite your best efforts, you may find that that your coping techniques are not effective while you’re at work. If you are unable to manage your symptoms on your own, it is best to seek out professional help. A qualified mental health provider can also review your symptoms to determine an accurate diagnosis. Even though panic attacks are often linked to panic disorder, they can be connected to other conditions, such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other conditions. Once your clinician has determined your proper diagnosis, she will be able to provide you with a treatment plan, which will include strategies for getting through panic attacks at work.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Bourne, E. J. (2011). The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook. 5th ed. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger.

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