Panic Attack At work: What to do?

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Health Assured team

26 April 2019

Thoroughly unpleasant and hard to deal with at the best of times, panic attacks at work are even worse.

The sense of obligation to your employer can magnify and multiply the sensation, causing the attack to get more and more intense.

Anxiety about work is a common cause of panic attacks. Communicating openly and tackling problems head-on is key.

Here is some guidance on what to do when having a panic attack at work, how to deal with them, and the warning signs to look out for.


What is a panic attack?

It’s a sudden, unexpected wave of debilitating fear. It often strikes with no warning whatsoever and doesn’t always have a clear reason for doing so. In the middle of a panic attack, you can feel like you’re choking, your heart is stopping and you’re going to die. But they’re usually harmless, and there are coping strategies and medication available to help with these panic attack symptoms.


What causes a panic attack?

It could be a one-off, and never happen again—but it’s common to experience them recurrently. They are often triggered by a certain situation. A fear of heights, anxiety about important deadlines, social situations—anything which makes you feel unable to escape. This is because a panic attack is a triggering of the body’s fight-or-flight response.

The triggers are different for everyone. And for some, they don’t have triggers at all—they can happen anywhere, at any time. Your body decides it needs oxygen and releases lots of adrenalin—this causes your breathing to quicken, your muscles to tense and your heart rate to skyrocket.


What are the signs of a panic attack?

Panic attacks come on swiftly, usually last under 20 minutes and end abruptly. It’s not always easy to spot when someone is in the grip of a panic attack. But if you feel any of the following—or see someone in your workplace suffering from these signs—then it’s likely that an attack is happening:


  • Fast, shallow breathing that’s difficult to control
  • A rapid heartbeat, tight chest and the sense that your heart could burst
  • Shaking, trembling hands
  • Tightness in the throat, difficulty swallowing and a sensation of choking
  • Dissociation, a feeling of ‘unreality’ and lightness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea
  • Hot or cold flashes, sometimes both at once
  • A fear of dying, loss of control or a sense that you’re losing your mind


How to stop a panic attack?

It’s not easy, but panic attacks can be brought under control. If someone you know is having a panic attack, help them by:

  • Staying by them, and remaining calm
  • Offering medication—only if it’s theirs, and you know why they take it
  • Speaking in short, clear sentences
  • Helping them to breathe slowly—count to 10 with them as they breathe in, and again as they breathe out


How will this affect my job?

If you’re experiencing panic attacks regularly, you may be suffering from panic disorder. Speak to your GP about this. They’ll make a diagnosis, and recommend therapy or medication as appropriate.

Talk to your employer. If you have certain triggers that you know about, reasonable adjustments to combat them can be made. Flexible working, a different seating arrangement or headphones to avoid sensory overload are good examples of this.


If you’d like to know about this topic, call Health Assured on 0844 892 2493.

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