How To Cope With a Panic Attack At Work According To Science

My dad had just passed away, we were close. The hardest part for me was that my kids wouldn’t get to know him. It still bothers me every single day.

To that point in my life, I didn’t know what a panic attack was. Sure I’d had a few hard times, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I certainly had never been depressed or had a panic attack before.

However, when my dad died, it rocked me to my core and suddenly my go-to coping mechanisms in life weren’t working anymore. I had my first panic attack and then another. I began having a hard time sleeping and anxiety would build up through the night.

Anxiety began to hit me like Denver Broncos star linebacker, Von Miller, hits the quarterback on a blind-side blitz.

I was in a dark place and the panic attacks were getting worse and more frequent. My ego prevented me from talking to anyone about it. But they were mostly happening at night.

Somehow I was holding it together at work.

That is until one day when anxiety came on hard as soon as I got to the office. My heart was already racing as I walked in, I was jittery having been up most the night before unable to sleep. I sat in my cube for nearly two hours unable to focus on anything except my increasingly anxious feelings and thoughts of deep despair regarding getting through the day.

It all began to spiral toward downward quickly, I felt feelings of extreme panic that were far worse than just being nervous. My stomach felt upset, I was breathing heavy, and sweating profusely.

I had to get out of the office before somebody noticed there was something wrong with me. I grabbed my stuff as quickly as I could and headed towards the exit in a move that remotely resembled the Jamaican sprinters.

I got to my car, I was totally out of breath. I sat there for a minutes trying to calm down. Once I was able to, I sent off a quick email to my boss lying by telling him that I had gotten sick in the bathroom. At that point, I preferred to lie rather than admit I was having a panic attack.

Then, I called my doctors office and asked to be seen immediately. Luckily, they fit me in rather than sending me over to the emergency room.

And so began the treatment I needed to start healing. Even since then, I’ve spoken to doctors and a therapist as well as performed independent research on how to develop coping techniques in case I ever got another panic attack at the office.

After all, lying to my boss about it and leaving the office each time was not a sustainable strategy to stay gainfully employed.

Here’s What I’ve Learned Since That Day

Understand that you’re not alone in going through this. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, a whopping 18% of the population.

Even though the problem is widespread, there still seems to be a negative stigmatism in society surrounding mental health issues. Many people fear that if they seek help that they are somehow lesser of a person and that their friends and coworkers will think less of them if they find out. Thus, they end up self-medicating, which can often do more damage in the long run.

When it comes to a panic attack, I’ve found that many times the best defense is a good offense. You have to be able to recognize the feelings of anxiety in the initial stages and have a plan ready to stop it before it becomes a full-blown panic attack.

“When people feel stressed, their sympathetic nervous system typically revs up, releasing energy and preparing the body for action. Then the parasympathetic nervous system steps in, and the body stabilizes to a calmer state. If the parasympathetic nervous system is somehow unable to do its job, a person will remain fired up and may experience the heightened arousal characteristic of a panic attack.” – Scientific American

Some quick exercise helps me release negative energy and become at ease when the onset of anxiety hits. When I’m at the office, I will throw on my headphones with some relaxing tunes and head outside for a walk. During the walk, I try to take my mind off of what is bothering me and replace them with positive thoughts about how fortunate I am.

As I’m walking, I’m breathing in the fresh air. I’m conscious of each breath as I attempt to regain control over my breathing.

However, not every day is nice weather. In fact, in the winter when it’s cold, I find it can actually be harder to breathe and regain control. In that case, try finding a sanctuary somewhere within your office that is quiet and private away from your desk.

If I can regain control over my breathing and my thoughts, I’m usually in the clear. Then, I can return to work. This usually takes between 10-15 minutes.

Don’t Let It Get To That Point

If you begin to have panic attacks, seek treatment right away via your doctor as they can prescribe medicine that will help you feel better. Also, consider seeing a therapist to help you work through what’s causing your anxiety.

Getting help from a professional will help you adjust your lifestyle to minimize what is causing your anxiety, and give you the tools you need to manage it efficiently while at work.

Don’t let your ego get in the way like I did. I went through some really dark days that could have been avoided had I known what to do and that it was ok to ask for help.

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