A panic attack is your body’s flight or fight response to something it perceives as a threat in your immediate environment, even when there isn’t anything physically threatening your wellbeing. In terms of symptoms, you may experience:
- A pounding heartbeat
- Feeling faint
- Feeling sick
- Shaky hands
- Feeling like your legs are turning to jelly
- Feeling unable to breathe
- A sensation that you’re not connected to your body
- Pins and needles in your limbs
These physical symptoms occur as a result of your body pumping adrenaline into your system, priming you to take immediate action to protect yourself.
Panic attacks can happen in everyday situations where there is no obvious “threat” – such as sitting in a classroom, going to work or getting on the underground. They can even occur when you sleep! In these instances, the reaction you experience can feel very uncomfortable and you may feel you need to leave the situation you’re in as soon as possible.
Most panic attacks will peak after about 10 minutes, with the symptoms easing off shortly afterwards.
Managing panic attacks at work
If you suffer from panic attacks and haven’t confided in anyone at work, you may be very apprehensive that your co-workers (or even your manager) will find out. You may also be worried that a panic attack might take place in front of them and whether this will have negative consequences for your job. So, we’ve come up with ways to set your fears aside and help you cope:
1. Recognise panic attack symptoms
Having a panic attack can be a very scary experience. However, if you start to understand the body’s reaction to fear and recognise the physical symptoms as they occur, you may be able to manage your symptoms more effectively.
2. Practise coping strategies
Practise coping strategies for panic attacks whilst you’re not at work. This could include deep breathing exercises, tensing and relaxing your muscles and ‘thought stopping’ – where you consciously say “Stop” when you experience negative or distorted thoughts which may make your panic worse.
3. Devise a plan you can use at work
Write down a list of strategies you can use if a panic attack does occur – this will help to reduce your anxiety about what you will do if it happens. Although you may not want to, it may reduce your fear about how you’ll cope if you confide in a close colleague about your panic attacks so they can provide you with moral support.
4. Book a GP appointment
Some people who experience panic attacks are against the idea of going to see their GP for medication to control their symptoms. However, your GP can also signpost you to further help and advice. For example, you may be referred to a counsellor for Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) which is a talking therapy that can help you change the way you think and help you manage your panic attacks.
Find out more about how to manage your anxiety and panic attacks at Mind