Anxious looking woman having an anxiety attack at work.

What To Do If You Have An Anxiety Attack At Work

Wouldn’t it be nice if anxiety attacks would wait until after hours to appear? Not that I think there’s ever a perfect time for them to show up. But, talking from experience, having an anxiety attack at work or out in public is a whole different story than feeling the rising tide of anxiety in the privacy of my own home. However, when that happens, I’m thankful there are ways of working through it quickly to get on with my day. And if you want to know how you can do it too, keep on reading because I’ll be sharing a few ways you can do just that.

What does an anxiety attack feel like?

Anxiety attacks are not the same as panic attacks, though they share many of  the same symptoms. 

Here are a few of the emotional symptoms you might feel during an anxiety attack.

  • restlessness
  • fear
  • apprehension and worry
  • distress
  • jumpy 

While here are a few of the physical symptoms that both anxiety and panic attacks have in common

  • chest pain 
  • heart palpitations or fast heart rate
  • shortness of breath 
  • sweating
  • nausea
  • fear of dying or losing control
  • numbness or tingling

While panic attacks tend to come out of the blue and be more intense, anxiety attacks are often caused by a trigger such a stressful situation, experience, or event. 

What to do if you have an anxiety attack at work.

So, you’re sitting at your desk, and you feel an attack coming on. You’re probably trying to figure out how to hide the symptoms from your co-workers and remain professional in the process. That’s understandable. However, you shouldn’t bottle up your emotions and suffer in silence because of the negative effect it can have on you.

It’s okay to let your close co-workers and even your boss know that you suffer from anxiety. Yes, it might be an awkward discussion, but you might be pleasantly surprised how understanding they are. 

Below are some steps you can take to deal with anxiety or panic attacks.

1. Go somewhere private

If you are able, get up from your desk or work area. If you need to, use the excuse that you need to visit the restroom.  Anywhere is good where you can have a little privacy. But if you can’t leave your work area, it’s okay. You can still proceed with the following steps.

2. Focus on your breathing

To regulate your breathing, breathe in for four counts, hold for seven counts, and exhale for eight counts. Repeat this pattern five times.

3. Remind yourself this will pass

Acknowledge the situation and remind yourself you’ve had these symptoms before and they will soon pass. If you need to, keep saying the phrase, “This will soon pass.” 

4. Challenge your negative thoughts

For the most part, people’s worries tend to be false alarms. And of the small percentage of worries that do happen to come true, the outcome is usually better than expected roughly a third of the time.

So, when you are experiencing an anxiety attack at work, pause and ask yourself some questions to help you challenge those anxious thoughts. Below are a sample of questions you can use.

  • Am I overestimating the danger?
  • What is the evidence to support this thought of being true/not true?
  • Is this just a thought or a fact? 
  • What would I tell a good friend if they had the same thought?
  • Okay, if this thought (fear) comes true, what can I do to cope with or handle it?

And here some ways of challenging your negative thinking:

  • Yes, I headed straight to the worst-case scenario.
  • There is no evidence, but I just feel like what I fear is going to happen.
  • Because there is no evidence, I’m going to assume it’s more thought than fact.
  • If my friend was in this situation, I would probably say something like this to my friend, “Look, you’ve felt this way before. There’s nothing to point to that says what you’re worried about is going to happen. But if it does, I’ll be there for you.” 
  • Okay, even if it happens, yes, I’ll be disappointed, but I’m strong, and I can get through it. 

 5. Tell yourself you will be ok

The physical symptoms that accompany anxiety attacks can be downright scary sometimes. It’s important to tell yourself that you’ve been here before, and you were okay then, and you will be okay now. You might find it helpful to say it over and over again until you feel better.

6. Focus on your breathing again

This time do a different  breathing technique called Box Breathing. 

  • Inhale to the count of four 
  • Hold for a count of four 
  • Exhale to the count of four
  • Hold for a count of four  

Repeat this exercise for five minutes. 

7. Repeat steps 2 – 6 as many times as you need to.

Remember, it’s a process. You don’t need to rush. In the end, everything is going to be okay. And once the anxiety attack is over, pat yourself on the shoulder. Think about how you feel emotionally and physically. And then, remember that feeling. Good Job!

“Some of the most comforting words in the universe are ‘me too.’ That moment when you find out that your struggle is also someone else’s struggle,  that you’re not alone, and that others have been down the same road.” — Unknown

So last but not least,  when you do experience an anxiety attack at work, there’s no need to be ashamed or embarrassed. I know it can be easier said than done. But rest assured, more people deal with anxiety than you know. And even better, if you have a co-worker you feel comfortable enough with, by all means, share with them what you are going through. You’ll find immense comfort in knowing you have an ally in your corner to help you when you need it the most. 

Well, I’m confident these seven steps can enable you to push through the anxiety when it wants to come knocking at your workplace door. However, if you want to learn additional ways to manage anxiety and stop stressing out, working with a coach is a great way to go. I’d love to hear from you.

Hi, I’m Kris Henderson, LPC. I want you to know that I am here to help. There are numerous coping skills to manage anxiety, but not always one best way to proceed. If you want more personalized support, I invite you to contact me or schedule your phone call today. Together, let’s discover which strategy works best for you to  feel more confident, competent, and in control at work.

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