Dealing With a Panic Attack at Work.

Dealing With a Panic Attack at Work.

By: Karin Eldor


You know the feeling when a panic attack strikes: your heart races, you have difficulty breathing, and you feel dizzy and incredibly hot. The problem is you’re at work, and you need to shake this off.

Panic attacks can occur suddenly and without warning, and for the most part, occasional panic attacks are fairly common. The most common triggers of a panic attack in the workplace include deadlines, interpersonal relationships with coworkers, staff management, public speaking, and dealing with unpredictable situations.

The truth is, whether you’re about to lead a presentation in front of top execs or you have a looming deadline that feels unmanageable, you can’t hide and wish it all away.

So we rounded up a team of experts for some tips on managing a panic attack in the workplace: licensed psychologist Dr. Lauren Hazzouri, PsyD, founder of the online community for women called #HeyLauren, and life coach and author of Designed With Purpose, Andrea Crisp. Spoiler alert: the solution doesn’t involve a fidget spinner.


Preventing a panic attack


Make time for breathing

Taking breaks to breathe makes it easier to attend to the task at hand. Dr. Hazzouri suggests taking two minutes to breathe: “Focus on your breath, be still, feel that you’re alive before you pass go. In addition, leave several minutes at the end of every meeting to unwind from task one and ready yourself to dive into task two. Breathe, dive in, do, repeat!”


Recognize the triggers

A panic attack can feel as though the world is closing in around you, and that itself can be very scary to experience. Crisp says: “One of the best ways to decrease the onset of a panic attack is to be aware of any potential triggers that may result in the feelings of overwhelm and stress.”

Oh and by the way, according to Dr. Hazzouri, we have up to 70,000 thoughts per day!

And if you change how you think, you can change how you feel and how you behave. Boom.


Dealing with a panic attack


Relax your muscles

Dr. Hazzouri recommends a coping technique that can help you overcome the panic attack. Since your body cannot be anxious and relaxed at the same time, you need to consciously relax your muscles.

So if you’re experiencing symptoms of an oncoming panic attack, jump into the following relaxation exercise.


Again, make time for breathing.

Here’s how: “Taking a couple of minutes to stop, breathe and get present can reduce stress, increase mood and decrease anxiety in an instant. Focus your attention on your breathing, exhale slowly. Scan your body for tension. Loosen the cramped body parts, letting go of anything you’re holding too tightly. Recall a good memory, favorite place or event. Continue to breathe, exhaling slowly. Repeat, as needed.”


Focus on the present

Another coping technique is to use your senses — sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell — to get present.

Dr. Hazzouri explains how: “Look at the project at hand — the black and white words, the icons across the bottom of the screen. Listen to the buzzing of the hard-drive, the conversation between coworkers at the desk beside you. Feel the keyboard as you type, taste the mint in your mouth, really taste it, savor it. And, smell the coffee permeating from the staff lounge. Being in this very moment, instead of worrying about how you’re possibly going to complete your work on time, will decrease stress and increase productivity. Get present — and awaken to now.”

And the “now” is that you have an important deadline to meet — so accept the situation and move toward your deadline.

Hazzouri adds: “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”


Make time for mindfulness

According to Crisp, the best way to combat panic is to set aside time each day for mindfulness. She explains: “Even 15 minutes of meditation at the beginning of the day will allow your mind to process with clarity.” If actually meditating isn’t your speed, then try practicing writing in a gratitude journal in the morning. 


Be kind to yourself

For some people, the stress of a big deadline can help get them in gear and work towards it. Crisp reminds us of the following: “One thing that we need to be aware of is that not all stress is bad for us. In fact, the stress response in the body is actually designed to help us become more aware of our choices and perceptions… But often times the moment we begin to feel the physical effects of stress on the body we begin to tense up and our heart rate increases, which can have devastating results, especially when we are in the workplace.”

And experiencing a panic attack in a public place and/or in front of your colleagues, can bring about feelings of embarrassment and shame.

Crisp offers this reminder: “Don’t allow yourself to go down the path of shame. Instead, realize that the stress you are feeling might be indicative of a greater issue that you should deal with in your life. A therapist or a coach will be able to help you identify what that is so that you can work through it.”


And most importantly, she adds: “Go easy on yourself.”


(A note about panic attacks: there is a difference between the occasional panic attack and a panic disorder; a panic disorder is an anxiety disorder that is characterized by unexpected and recurrent panic attacks. If you believe you might be suffering from a panic disorder, do seek the help of a medical professional).


If you want to learn more about Andrea Crisp and her book Designed With Purpose click here.   We also want to thank licensed psychologist Dr. Lauren Hazzouri, PsyD for her insight; to see more about the online community for women she launched, visit  #HeyLauren