Published On: June 2, 2016
Updated On: November 3, 2023
If you are having a panic attack at work while reading this, please immediately follow the simple steps below (if not, skip this section):
It’s hard to read detailed steps when you are sweating profusely and trying to hold it together. Use the above steps if this is your first time visiting this article. Keep reading if you want in-depth advice for future use.
Note: We derived much of the above and below steps from advice from therapist Perpetua Neo, who has helped many clients manage panic attacks.
Use these next steps to prepare and practice in case there is another panic attack. You can also use them if the simple steps were not effective enough. Once you’re done reading, try combinations and make a custom method that works best for you.
Panic attacks don’t happen suddenly. They start creeping up an hour before people become aware of them, according to a study published in the National Center of Biotechnology Information.
By memorizing the signs of an oncoming panic attack, you can better prepare for it and react quickly. Here they are:
If you experience any one of these symptoms, start using the simple (listed above) or detailed steps (keep reading) in this article. It might negate the panic attack or at least better prepare you.
Talkspace therapist Jessica Gilpert recommended people handle panic attacks using a technique called TIP. Here is how it works (remember to follow the steps in order):
T = Cold Temperature
If you apply something cold to your body, it will help you calm down during a panic attack. When having a panic attack at work, try finding a bathroom so you can run cold water on your wrists or place a cold towel on your neck. If it’s cold outside, try going out for a bit.
I = Intense Exercise
Exercise will also help you calm down before and during a panic attack. Gilpert recommended running really fast in place, doing some jumping jacks and stretching the chest. Make sure you know where you can do these exercises without disturbing co-workers.
Therapist Laura L. Ryan recommended running, a tactic that has helped several of her clients deal with panic attacks at work.
“I had a client in the past who was having up to 20 panic attacks per day and I suggested she carry running shoes in her purse so she could be prepared when she started to feel the panic coming on,” Ryan said. “She would step outside during her workday to speed walk/run for several minutes when she felt panicked and then return to the office when she was feeling normal again.”
P = Progressive Breathing
Use the breathing techniques mentioned earlier. Remember to inhale through your nose, take deep breaths and allow your stomach to expand.
Talkspace therapist Alicia Winkle suggested breathing in through the nose for five seconds, holding a breath for five seconds and then exhaling for five seconds.
You can practice these techniques as part of TIP or separately.
Read our article on anxiety and mindful breathing for more advice.
PMR is a great way to relax your body and mind. As the name suggests, it involves relaxing your muscles step-by-step. Here are some PMR steps Winkle recommended using for panic attacks:
Note: Try variations on the numbers of seconds until you find the optimal time.
Therapist Nicole Richardson recommended people drink eight ounces of cold water when having a panic attack. This tactic has worked with several of her clients, Richardson said.
It is also a good idea to splash cold water on your face and the back of your neck, said therapist Perpetua Neo. You can do this using a spray bottle, too.
To minimize any damage to your professional relationships, consider telling your supervisors and human resource staff members you suffer from panic attacks. You can inform co-workers, too, if you feel comfortable doing so and think it will help the situation.
Remember, it is illegal for anyone to discriminate against you because of a mental illness, including a panic disorder.
If your panic attacks start in the workplace, there might be situations, people or objects that trigger them. Try to recognize these. It will help you further prepare.
You should not, however, avoid these triggers to the point where it affects your performance at work. If presentations are a trigger, it might be hard to skip them and keep your job.
Anticipating the panic attack might decrease your likelihood of engaging in certain activities at work, according to Dr. Jude Miller Burke, the former Vice President of OPTUM, United Health Group. This can prevent you from succeeding by taking on new and challenging responsibilities at work.
It’s difficult to recognize and prepare for triggers without anticipating a panic attack. To help the process, Burke suggested using a combination of psychotherapy, relaxation techniques and medication (more on these strategies later in the post).
In the same way there are triggers that will start panic attacks, there are objects, people and situations that might calm you before or during an attack. Here are some examples:
Being in a place you are comfortable in will help with panic attacks. Here are some examples of environments you can use:
Now that you have the list of tactics, it’s time to customize and make your game plan for handling panic attacks at work. Here is an example of what that should look like:
Once you make this plan, put it somewhere easily accessible on your phone or a piece of paper you carry. Modify it as many times as needed. If you need help practicing or forming the plan, consider working with a therapist, someone who can act as a coach.
Being prepared for a panic attack at work is great, but the best solution is eliminating them. To do this, you’ll need to investigate the cause of the attacks. You can gain a better understanding of these experiences by taking a panic disorder test to learn whether the panic attacks are a symptom of an underlying condition. Seeing an in-person or online therapist will help you understand what issues and behaviors are at the heart of your panic disorder.
“Panic attacks are the body’s way of shouting that you are ignoring your mind and feelings,” Neo said. Getting in touch with them will help.
If you need a supplement to therapy to take the edge off your symptoms, consider seeing a psychiatrist. He or she can work with you to find a medication that will help.
Modifying your diet can reduce panic attacks, according to studies such as this one by Okayama University Medical School. Nutritionist Trudy Scott has worked with clients who made the following research-supported diet changes as part of coping with their panic attacks:
“Your mind will go further with therapy after that,” Meyers told Talkspace.
Exercising during a break in the work day can help with panic attacks. Exercise at any time will help prevent the development of other anxiety disorders, according to this study from Southern Methodist University.
By using this article to form a plan to handle panic attacks at work, you should be set for the present. Then you can try a combination of therapy, dieting or exercise to secure a mentally healthy — and panic-free — future.