If you’ve ever found yourself crying in a bathroom stall, trying desperately to stave off a panic attack at work, this article is for you. Anyone who has ever suffered one can tell you that even in the comfort of your own home, panic attacks are truly awful. However, when you’re at work, surrounded by people you don’t trust, a panic attack is downright terrifying. The thought of drawing attention to yourself or making a scene only serves to heighten the anxiety driving the situation in the first place.
So how can you get through an attack at work without making it worse?
Find a friend
Oftentimes, the comforting presence of a loved one can be immensely helpful when you’re having a panic attack. If you have a friend at work, alert them if you feel an attack coming on. If there’s no one at work you are close to, call someone. It’s perfectly acceptable to lean on those you love when you’re not feeling your best. Trust me – they’ll be happy to help any way they can. You can also call or text your therapist to help you through the attack.
If you have panic attacks often, it might be a good idea to educate your loved ones on how to help you through it. Sometimes, even when they mean well, they may end up exacerbating the situation. Consider giving them a small card to keep in their wallets with a list of steps to take that will help the episode pass more swiftly.
Find a quiet place and practice coping mechanisms
If you work in an open office like I do, the crowded room and high level of noise only make things worse. Head to the nearest, quiet place where you will have privacy — or at the very least avoid interactions that will worsen your attack. Private offices, bathrooms or your car will work fine. Next, you’ll want to engage in relaxation techniques in order to lower your heart rate and blood pressure, as well as to reduce the stress hormones flooding through your system.
When panicking, we tend to breathe rapidly and shallowly from our chests. This is why it often feels hard to breathe during a panic attack. To cancel out this response, you’ll want to practice deep, slow breathing. Start by placing one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Inhale through your nose for four seconds, making your belly expand with air, rather than your chest. It may help to picture your stomach as a balloon that you’re trying to inflate. Exhale for four seconds through pursed lips, as though you\’re whistling.
Continue this breathing cycle for several minutes. Focus on your breath. Focus on the hand that’s resting on your belly, on the air that enters your nose and fills your lungs. Not only will this will help to slow your breathing and heart rate, it will also give you something to fixate on besides your panic.
Mindfulness tip to ground yourself
Once your breathing is under control, you can shift your focus to grounding yourself. This can be done through mindfulness. One mindfulness practice I find particularly helpful is to concentrate on my senses by listing:
- Five things I can see
- Four things I can touch
- Three things I can hear
- Two things I can smell
- One thing I can taste
You can also us visualisation — wherein you picture a tranquil scene and focus on sensations within that visualisation.
Take a medication or supplement
If your doctor has prescribed medication for you to take during a panic attack — such as alprazolam, lorazepam, diazepam, or clonazepam — go ahead and take it. If you have not been prescribed a medication, or you simply don’t prefer to take them, supplements like kava kava may prove helpful.
Do your best to avoid alcohol and illicit drugs as they rarely help and can be addictive — especially to those with mood disorders. In fact, people with mood disorders are twice as likely to become addicted to drugs and alcohol as they often use them to self-medicate.
Panic attacks can be incredibly exhausting. The prolonged stress can wreak havoc on your body and leave you in need of some rest. If you find yourself too drained to continue working, head home. Your health is far more important than trying to hang tough and get more work done.
Though panic attacks are an excruciating experience, they always come to an end. It may seem like it will last forever, but it won’t, I promise. When it comes to anxiety and panic disorders, it’s incredibly important to be proactive. Seek assistance and learn as much as you can. Build a repertoire of coping mechanisms to help you when you need it most. All of these things will help you to quickly overcome your attacks and make them less distressing.