Dealing with panic attack in the workplace.

“I’m sitting at my desk, feeling overwhelmed with the amount of work I have to get done. I have been feeling this way for a few days now. I stare at the desktop for a bit, lost in thought...and then I sense it, I’m beginning to feel very warm and I feel breathless. Why is this happening to me? What do I do? I’m suffocating right now and can barely breathe, I feel my heart thumping, I have a feeling it’s going to explode. It has been 10 minutes and it doesn’t seem to be going away. Am I going crazy? Am I going to die? No, I don’t want to die, I don’t want to die…”
Panic attack can be described as a sudden wave of intense apprehension, a crescendo of fear or terror with physical symptoms such as palpitations, shortness of breath and chest pains. The experience of it can be very debilitating, the worst consequence being going any length to avoid the situation that caused it. Sometimes however, the onset can be very random leaving the individual perplexed. It feels like there is no escape from this.
When such an episode is experienced in a workplace, it can be extremely stressful and challenging because there’s very little scope to avoid going to work. Hence, it may feel like one is trapped in this situation and may therefore lead to overthinking or constant worry about the panic returning.
I must say, good news is no one is trapped. We all have a choice. Viktor Frankl said “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom”. And he didn’t say this for no reason.
Here are some things that my clients and I have found useful on our way to conquering this demon. What we can do can be divided at two fundamental levels.
  1. Thought level
  2. Action/ Behavior level

Thought level:

  • While experiencing an attack, your attitude towards it will determine the progress or withdraw of the attack. The attitude encompasses acknowledgment, compassion and the understanding that your mind and body need you now to throw the anchor to stay put till the storm passes. The only way past it, is through it. It is not expected that this attitude jumps in as soon as it starts. However, if you remind yourself now and then that “I pledge to delivering this attitude in moments of crisis” there’s a big chance that your brain prompts this. Practice can fail, but significantly lesser than when there isn’t any!
  • The other thing we need to be aware of is; the ‘Panic about the panic’. Often, we worry about it happening again so much, that the panic caused by the worry in itself becomes the source of another, a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is understandable that no one wants to go through what was once so dreadful and terrorizing however, resisting it only makes it persist.
  • And also, the panic attack is a false alarm raised by the brain making it look like as if the situation is a matter of life and death. In reality, it is not.

Action/Behavior level:

  • Employ a position similar to a crouch except you can be on a chair. Elbows touching the thighs with head between the thighs as much as your body allows. In this posture deep breathing would be highly beneficial.
  • Simple deep breathing techniques paired with muscle relaxation in any posture comfortable. Recommendation would be to do this on a regular basis apart from in the moments of an attack as well.
  • Consistent exercise routine, eating healthy and well and sufficient sleep are all definitely important on an everyday basis.
And always, seek out for help from a professional if things become difficult. You are never alone!

Image source-Google


Rachna Murlidhar

Psychologist & Outreach associate,
Mpower-The Centre, Bengaluru