Feeling anxious in the privacy of your own home is one thing, but having a panic attack while at work is something else entirely. Not only are you essentially stuck there — manning the cash register, or the meeting, or the store — but you have to somehow remain professional in the process.
This is, of course, way easier said than done. As someone who has had panic attacks in the past, I can tell you firsthand they aren't exactly easy to hide. They can cause shaking, sweating, upset stomach, and often come with shooting pains and an awful feeling of dread. "They can be so intense that many people mistake them for heart attacks and go to the ER," says psychologist Dr. Nikki Martinez, in an email to Bustle.
If one overtakes you at work, it can be tough not to feel embarrassed by your less-than-subtle symptoms. So please remember — it's nothing to be ashamed about. Martinez tells me about 2.5 percent of women have panic attacks, so it's likely someone will understand. (And the rest will probably just feel sympathetic.) If you want this thing to pass as quickly as possible, read on for a few ways to deal with a panic attack at work, so you can get back to your day.
1. Keep Repeating "This Will Pass"
Even though a panic attack isn't life-threatening, it sure can feel that way. So to get yourself through it without compounding your worry, keep reminding yourself that you will be OK. One great phrase to repeat is "this will pass," psychologist Shaun Wehle tells Bustle. Say it over and over until you feel better.
2. Get Up From Your Desk
If you feel an attack coming on, then "the best thing to do is remove yourself from the stressful situation," Martinez says. If you drove to work, go sit in your car. Lean that seat back and listen to some relaxing music. Or, go for a walk. The fresh air and moment of peace may help bring your brain back to reality.
3. Remember To Breathe
Panic attacks have a way of totally messing with your breathing, which is why it can really help to slow everything down. "Place both feet on the floor and hands on your desk, and breathe in for four, hold for seven, and exhale for eight count," says licensed marriage and family therapist Michelene M. Wasil, LMFT, in an email to Bustle. This technique can really help stop panic right in its tracks.
4. Tell Your Work BFF
If you've ever had a panic attack, then you know it can be a very lonely experience. So if you feel comfy enough to do so, it can help to tell your work best friend what's up. "Let them know what it looks like when you have an attack and what helps you to calm down," says licensed clinical social worker Alixandra Foisy. They can help you, text you, come with you to the bathroom, etc.
5. Find Some Privacy
There's absolutely nothing wrong with retreating for a few minutes, if that's what you'd like to do. Getting a little privacy, as Foisey tells me, will not only help calm you down, but it'll save you from the prying eyes of a supervisor or toxic co-worker — two very good things when all you need is a little peace.
6. Try A Grounding Exercise
A grounding exercise is something people with anxiety use to bring themselves back to reality, which is entirely helpful when dealing with panic. And since it doesn't have to involve getting up, "it is the best tool at your desk," Martinez says. To start, try looking at a picture and noting each individual color, digging your heels into the floor and noticing the sensation, or listening to a soothing song. "All three will pull you out of the moment and have an immediate impact on your anxiety level," says Martinez.
7. Be Honest About It
It often feels like the more you try to hide a panic attack, the worse it gets. So go head and admit it to your co-workers. Not only will they probably understand — like I said above — but you'll feel so much better with a sense of camaraderie. In fact, "the more people suffering from panic attacks can remain connected to others, the better," says licensed professional counselor Michael Hilgers, M.MFT, in an email to Bustle.
8. Splash Cold Water On Your Face
Hey, while you're in the bathroom, do yourself a favor and splash some cold water on your face. "Sometimes we have a biological reaction that is ingrained in ourselves that creates an automatic panic state," says therapist Brian Pollack, LCSW, CEDS. "You can reverse this by holding putting cold water on your hands and face. If that doesn't work, try some ice packs on your forehead." I know it sounds strange, but it really does work.
9. Watch The Clock
Panic attacks may be intense, but they tend to peak and subside in only a few minutes, licensed counselor Corinne Zupko tells me. So keep an eye on the clock and know that when it hits that next minute hand, you'll be well on your way to feeling better.
10. Tap It Out
Another helpful thing to try right at your desk (or in the bathroom, or in your car) is tapping. This technique is a great way to bring some balance back to the moment, Pollack tells me. Go to YouTube and search "tapping for panic," then follow along. You might also consider bookmarking it for next time, so you'll have a bit of relief ready to go.
11. Breathe Along With This GIF
I know, you aren't supposed to browse the internet at work. But if you're feeling panicky, don't hesitate to sneak away and breathe along with this GIF. "When you are having a moment of panic, creating air flow to your brain is key," Pollack says. So breathe in as the GIF expands, and out as it collapses.
Hopefully, you'll feel better soon.
Images: Pexels (12)