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Panic Disorder and the Workplace

Ways to Manage Your Symptoms While on the Job

By

Updated April 09, 2014

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

Panic disorder can be a challenging condition to cope with. You may have found that your symptoms can be especially difficult to manage while you are at work. You may feel worried coworkers will recognize your anxiety or that your panic secret will be revealed. You may be very concerned about having a panic attack in front of your coworkers or, worse, your boss or supervisor.

Panic disorder with agoraphobia can contribute to many work-related issues. For example, avoidance behaviors can make your commute to work difficult. Worrying about specific fears and phobias that trigger panic attacks can add a lot of stress to the workday. You may feel ashamed about your condition or feel concerned that you will lose your job over it.

For these reasons, dealing with panic disorder at the workplace can be extremely challenging. However, there are many ways you can learn to manage your panic disorder symptoms while at work. Listed below are some tips to help you keep your job and your peace of mind.

Identify Your Triggers

Part of the criteria of being diagnosed with a panic disorder requires that the person experience recurrent, sudden and unexpected panic attacks. However, there are many situations that may trigger anxiety and other panic disorder symptoms. Having an awareness of your triggers, fears and phobias can help you better cope with them. Knowing what your triggers are can help you have a better plan for what to do when they come up. For example, you may find that you have a great deal of anxiety in the morning. It can be helpful then to take steps to reduce morning anxiety, such as developing better sleep habits, maintaining an organized morning routine or practicing meditation before work.

Recognize Your Symptoms

The symptoms of panic disorder can be very frightening. A person may feel he or she is choking, suffocating or having a heart attack. The physical symptoms of panic and anxiety can heighten your fears and lead to full-blown panic attacks. Having a clear understanding of your symptoms involves knowing how your body feels and recognizing your thought processes as your anxiety begins to build. For example, you may notice that when you are starting to feel anxious, you start shaking or getting butterflies in your stomach. Your thoughts may consist of different cognitive distortions that are adding to your nervousness. It is only by recognizing our symptoms that we can begin to more effectively manage them.

Develop Your Coping Techniques

In order for coping strategies to work, you need to practice them when you are in a relaxed state. Set aside time each day to practice different relaxation techniques. Some common coping skills include: thought stopping, progressive muscle relaxation and breathing exercises. Through regular practice, you will notice which strategies help you relax the most, and you will be prepared to use them when you are anxious on the job.

Always Plan Ahead

Now that you have identified your triggers, understand your symptoms and have practiced your relaxation skills, it is time to create a plan that you can use while you are at work. Having a plan for how you will manage panic at work can ease your worry about experiencing an attack on the job. Your plan can consist of ways to reduce your stress, such as listening to relaxing music on your way to work, practicing meditation on your lunch break or simply pausing to practice abdominal breathing throughout the day. Keep a list of coping strategies readily available so you will know what to do when feeling anxious.

Build a Support Network

You may keep your panic secret from coworkers. However, you may want to confide in trusted family, friends and healthcare professionals. The people who make up your support network have an impact on your journey to wellness and recovery. Having social support can help relieve the stress you may feel about your job and ease the loneliness you may feel when hiding your symptoms at work.

Talk to Your Doctor

If symptoms persist and you need extra support, it can be helpful to talk to your doctor about treatment options. Your doctor will be able to discuss medication options or refer you to a mental health specialist. Talk to your doctor about your struggle with symptoms at work and try to be open to your doctor’s advice and recommendations. Many times people with panic disorder feel resistant to the idea of prescribed medication. However, medication can help significantly reduce your feelings of anxiety and improve your mood. Medication may not be a permanent solution, but it can help you get through your workday as you build on your other coping techniques.

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