For people with Panic Attacks, having an attack in public is among the biggest fears. Unfortunately, panic attacks are often triggered by stress, and because for many, their job environments are both highly demanding and stressful, this makes it very likely that an attack may happen at the work place. The anticipation of a possible panic attack, can in and of itself be stressful enough to set off an attack, acting as a self-fulfilling prophecy. The triggers for the attacks are as varied as people but can include things such as having a meeting with a superior, having to call a hostile client, having to ask for time off or asking a coworker to help with a project.
Similarly to the multiple triggers that are possible, the symptoms that occur during an attack also vary. Some common ones are: hyperventilating, feeling shaky, having an upset stomach, feeling dizzy and feeling flushed. Moreover, a severe panic attack may include the feeling that one is about to die or go crazy and that the person must get away. A person in this situation may be embarrassed to be exhibiting these symptoms in front of coworkers and superiors. Thus, the first tip is to find a place that is private. This can be an office, an empty conference room, the car or a bathroom stall.
Once in a private place, the person can try several techniques to get a handle on the symptoms, including breathing into a paper bag to combat hyperventilating or taking small slow sips of water. If muscles tighten, the person can use progressive muscle relaxation (manually tensing and untensing muscle groups) to help the muscles relax. However, the most powerful tool is what people say to themselves. Although panic attacks are terrifying, a person can try to remember that they have experienced these before, and although they may feel like they will die, they have never died from an attack before, so it is unlikely that this will be deadly. People can also remind themselves that the sensations they are experiencing are only uncomfortable but not harmful, and if they just keep breathing, the attack will pass.
Sometimes, in addition to the thoughts of panic that accompany an attack, people worry what their coworkers will judge them, thereby exacerbating the attack. If this thought happens, people should try to think of what they would think if they saw a colleague have such an experience; they are much more likely to be sympathetic, than they are to be judging. Therefore, it is likely that they will not be judged either. Nevertheless, if panic attacks are a regular occurrence for some people, it may be helpful to have a “safe person” at work. The safe person is one who is trusted to help the sufferer get through the attack. For some, just the presence of the safe person can lessen the panic. For others, the safe person can help them get to a private place and ward off unwanted attention until the attack passes.
The most important thing to remember is that a panic attack is difficult enough to cope with without having to worry about where it happens. If it happens, try to minimize the damage, and if it does not happen, do not waste the day worrying about the fact that it might.