Managing panic attacks is always a challenge. You may be finding that your physical symptoms of heart pounding, dizzy spells, and heat waves are especially difficult to manage while you’re at work.
A common concern for many individuals who experience panic attacks on the job is the fear of coworkers recognizing your anxiety or that your secret will be revealed. The worry about having an attack in front of their colleagues or even worse their boss can lead to fears of losing control or embarrassment. All sorts of thoughts begin to swirl: will you be disciplined? Will you lose credibility with your coworkers? Could you lose your job? Surprisingly, panic attacks are not visible to others and no one really can see the terror you are experiencing.
Panic attacks are difficult to manage on their own – but when coupled with the usual challenges of our daily workday – your commute, expectations, presentations, deadlines – they can feel overwhelming. While all these reasons can make dealing with panic disorder in the workplace a daunting task to some, there are many ways you can learn to manage you panic attack symptoms in a manner that will lead to a happier, healthier and more productive experience.
Oftentimes, specific situations trigger anxiety and panic attacks. Having an awareness of those triggers, fears and phobias will make it easier for you to effectively manage them.
For example, you might be experiencing symptoms in the morning as opposed to other times of the day. Oftentimes the trigger is a hidden embedded thought or worry such as “What if I panic and lose control in a business meeting where I am trapped and cannot escape.” Adopting a take control training stance can help break the vicious cycle of panic. Recognizing and accepting the physical symptoms as harmless natural normal feelings of adrenaline and challenging the false catastrophic thought of losing control can break the vicious cycle of escalating symptoms and terrifying thoughts.
Understanding your triggers and the scenarios and situations that lead to your attacks – will make managing them much easier.
Panic attacks present themselves physically and emotionally in a wide range of ways. Some people can feel a lump in the throat and worry about choking. Others feel shallow breathing and worry about suffocating. Some panic attack victims feel heart pounding and chest pressure and think they are having a heart attack.. Fear of the physical symptoms can lead to avoidance of situations associated with the panic experience such as shopping malls, highway driving, and restaurants to name a few. Having a clear understanding of what your symptoms are, how your body feels and your thought processes in the lead-up to those episodes is incredibly important to taking steps to managing your attacks.
Developing effective coping techniques
A while back, we discussed the root causes of panic attacks and the importance in grappling with them and reconditioning your mind so you can better manage them. As human beings, we’re always looking to explain our situations. When it comes to those dealing with panic attacks, those explanations often include the worst possible scenarios for a particular occurrence.
For example – if you are experiencing the physical symptom of head tingling – your false catastrophic thought might be cancer or a brain tumor. Or when a loved one is late coming home – you might think it’s because they’re cheating on you – or may be in an unsafe, catastrophic situation. These are called ‘cognitive distortions’ and they’re often the fuel that feeds the fire with regards to panic attacks.
These scenarios and thoughts – manifest themselves in a similar way in the workplace and learning how to cope with those is essential to your overcoming your panic attacks. Whether you’re worried about the presentation you’re about to lead in front of leadership, a looming deadline or an overbearing boss, the reality is that none of those things are going to go away on their own. You’ll need to learn how to manage your thought processes that take your discomfort from simple anxiety to full-blown panic attacks.
Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (CBT) is a scientifically validated drug free approach which guides you through the steps to stop panic in its tracks. This approach views panic attacks as caused by a catastrophic misinterpretations of normal bodily sensations of adrenaline. You will learn to challenge the validity of your false thoughts. Heart pounding has nothing to do with a heart attack. I have been to the Emergency Room twice and told my heart is fine and my family doctor has reassured me I have a healthy heart. Heart pounding is no different that when I run up a flight of stairs.
In order for Cognitive Behavioral Treatment to work, you’ll have to practice the method and the best time for practicing these techniques is when you’re not in a high-stress situation.
Through constant, repetitious practice of these methods, you will learn to take control and block panic attacks.
After you have identified the triggers for your attacks and you recognize the physical symptoms and cognitive distortions of your panic episodes then you must rehearse the take control training stance to block your next attack in the workplace.
Behavioral Rehearsal can prepare you in advance to take control of your panic attacks. First pick the triggering situation such as a the Monday morning business meeting. Next identify your “anticipatory anxiety thoughts” What if I get hot and dizzy and pass out on the floor in front of everyone?” Next is the cognitive challenge to your false catastrophic thought. I have never passed out in 37 years. Adrenaline will not make me pass out. It is designed to put me more in control as part of the “fight or flight” response. Finally, embrace the physical feeling of hot and dizzy as natural normal feeling of adrenaline.
Build a support network
The choice to keep your panic attacks a secret is yours to make. However, it’s always good to have some people you can confide in. And those people don’t have to be people you work with. They can be your spouse, friends, parents, or your doctor. All of these people can have a tremendous impact on your life and your overall sense of wellbeing. Having a social support network can take the edge off your day-to-day life and drastically reduce the sense of loneliness you might be feeling. You are not alone. Millions of people suffer from panic attacks.
Remember that when you change how you think – you can change how you feel and how you behave. Help is available if you need it. Good luck!