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Work-Related Anxiety & Panic Attacks? 3 Things To Keep In Mind

  • timeline Deepanwita Roy, Clinical Psychologist
  • 5 Min Read

In this unforeseen pandemic, we have adapted to the ‘new normal’ and most industries have been seamlessly gliding through their businesses in the ‘Work From Home’ routine. Hence, it’s not at all a surprise if your office routine also got affected while working remotely.

It’s no longer about ‘not bringing any office work home’ because well, you are working from home. So, in all possibilities, your email inbox is flooding with too many emails and there’s no pack up time anymore, because it is expected from people to be ‘more available’ since now they are anyway working from the comfort of their homes and not commuting long distances either.

Your work-life balance has gone for a toss.

Everyone has bad days at work, but there are signs that you need to watch out for before it starts turning into a never-ending, debilitating stressful work that starts ruining your physical and mental health. Some of the striking symptoms could be-

  • Experiencing frequent headaches, muscle pains, falling sick more often, feeling tired which disrupts your sleep and appetite. 
  • Simultaneously, your mental health worsens, irritability strikes in and you end up avoiding your friends and family members. 

And, in return, the symptoms can turn into anxiety or panic attacks.

How to identify anxiety or panic attacks related to work?

A panic attack is ‘a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause,’ according to Mayo Clinic. Panic attacks typically begin suddenly and without warning. ‘People with panic disorders have sudden or repeated attacks of fear that last for several minutes or longer’, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH).

Although panic attacks are an uncomfortable experience, these aren’t life-threatening, it is temporary and not fatal or dangerous.  While panic attacks are a clinical term, anxiety is not. Work-related anxiety is common and can be triggered by specific worries about performance review or work deadlines. Most people experience some form of work-related anxiety at some point in time.

Whether you are experiencing anxiety or bouts of intense stress or you’ve seen a specialist and received a clinical diagnosis of panic attack/ panic disorder- the coping mechanisms are similar and it can also be managed. So, here are a few strategies for you to manage your anxiety more effectively! 

panic attacks at work identify mfine

In-the-moment techniques

  • Identify the triggers. If your symptoms start with your work, there might be situations, objects, or people that trigger them. Try to recognize the triggers early– while you should not avoid the triggers to the point where it affects your performance at work; anticipating the trigger might decrease the likelihood of engaging in certain activities at work
  • Focus on your breathing. Often when you are anxious, your breathing becomes rapid and erratic. Start practising deep breathing and learning to breathe from your diaphragm- the area of the body that tends to get ‘clenched’ when we are anxious. Count your breaths while breathing- four seconds inhaling, four seconds holding your breath, and four seconds exhaling. This will bring your heart rate down and make your body relax eventually. This can be done while you are sitting at your work desk at the comfort of your home or anytime when you feel anxious. 
  • Noticing five things. This is yet another simple exercise to centre yourself and engage with your environment rather than getting carried away with unwanted thoughts and feelings. Pause for a moment, look around, and notice five things that you can see, listen to five sounds that you can hear, and connect to five things that you can feel in contact with your body. Continue doing all the above simultaneously. 
  • Finding a safe where you feel comfortable and not vulnerable. Look out for places within your house, for example, your balcony, terrace, or places where most likely you don’t work regularly or simply get up from your work desk, walk around the room and let your body relax. 
  • Connect with someone. While anxiety can be an isolating event, try being proactive by identifying the triggers that you’re on edge and could use some support. Text your friends or family members to see if you can talk or chat for some time or arranging for a virtual meet-up post your working hours can be ways to call out for support. 
  • Being mindful. Being mindful about your surroundings, being fully aware of the present moment- awareness of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the surrounding environment helps you to stay calm, relaxed, and manage anxiety in a much better manner. 
  • Write down your thoughts. Often in anxious situations, our thoughts get distorted and need to be challenged. If your thoughts are distorted, writing back and challenging the thoughts by coming up with more realistic versions of the same thoughts may help you gather perspective at the workplace. 

panic attacks at work writing journal mfine

Lifestyle modification 

  • Regular exercises. Doing easy exercises or going out for a brisk walk in between and during your working hours can help you manage your anxiety. 
  • Diet. Maintaining a healthy- nutritious diet, avoiding too much caffeine while working can also help you to cope with your anxiety. 
  • Rest when you need it. While your work might be demanding, taking smaller breaks in between and not shying away from taking rest can help you stay motivated and productive throughout. 
  • Find the ‘off’ button. In order to boost performance and minimize anxiety, try switching off the office devices post working hours and take time out for self-care which in return can boost your performance and minimize anxiety. 

woman relaxed coffee near window panic atatcks mfine

Long term plans

  • Think about talking to your boss! If you are having frequent panic/ anxiety attacks, the prospect of disclosing it to your boss or human resources may be daunting. But do you want your boss ‘to wonder why on occasions you have to drop your work tasks to gather yourself’? Anybody requires reasonable accommodation, thus talking to your boss or human resources may help you adjust your workload to melt your capacity. 
  • Start delegating. Over-committing yourself to many projects might mean you simply have too much on your plate. Understand when to say NO and find ways to delegate responsibilities that you don’t need to do yourself. It’s okay to ask for help. 
  • Break projects up and prioritize. If a large project seems too overwhelming, break it up into smaller tasks and create step-by-step plans. Focus on the manageable and most important tasks (MITs) first; try finishing the unpleasant tasks earlier so that there is light at the end of the tunnel.  
  • Time management skills. Developing effective time management skills not only boosts your efficiency and productivity, but it also allows you to develop work-life balance to minimize the last moment hassles and anxiety attacks.  

Mastering your emotions like a pro. The simple answer to this is emotional intelligence which allows you to identify and manage your own emotions, as well as that of others. If the symptoms are recurring frequently during this difficult and have been affecting you to the point that you can’t function properly in your daily life, it’s worth seeing a mental health professional get to the bottom of what’s going on. You deserve to live a normal and productive life both inside and outside your office!

Are you stressed because of your work? Take this short self-check to determine whether your stress levels are off the charts or not.

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  • Written by

    Deepanwita Roy, Clinical Psychologist

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