Coping with Panic Attacks at Work

An experienced clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Susan Turner maintains a private practice in New York City’s Flatiron District. Dr. Susan Turner frequently treats patients with panic disorder, which she helps them manage through therapy, medication, and mindfulness.

When an individual with panic disorder experiences an attack, the brain activates the body to respond to a threat. The person can feel overheated, shaky, sweaty, or lightheaded. There may be tightness or pressure in the chest, as well as a sense of detachment from one’s surroundings.

Panic attacks do not confine themselves to convenient times and places. When they happen at work, where expectations dictate that one remain composed and professional, the associated out-of-control feeling can be even more distressing.

It can be tempting for a person with panic disorder to attempt to ignore an attack, but experts warn that doing so can actually worsen symptoms. A more adaptive response is to acknowledge what is happening and allow the sensations and feelings to exist, knowing that they will pass. Instead of trying to force an unnatural calm, the person experiencing the attack should simply notice the symptoms as they arise and abate.

Because this can be extremely challenging, especially in a high-pressure environment, many people feel more comfortable if they can ride out the attack in a private place. This can be an empty conference room, a closed office, or even one’s car, as long as the person feels safe and protected.

If the person is feeling alone and vulnerable, they can take a moment to call a supportive friend or family member. This contact can help the person remember coping strategies, while easing the feeling of isolation that comes with a panic attack.

Once the individual in question feels better, they can think about what caused the attack and see if there were any triggers present. This is the first step in developing a proactive prevention plan, which may include techniques like meditating before a stressful meeting or improving one’s sleep schedule during the work week.