The 4 Best Ways to Cope with a Panic Attack at Work

Claire, a new graduate, recently scored her dream job: a junior editor at her favorite fashion magazine. Claire dreamed of this position ever since she flipped through glossy magazines as a teen. Claire spent every summer in college interning for the chance to be considered for this position and her hard work finally paid off! Everything was perfect......perfect until the third day on the job.  It was early morning, Claire walked into her first round table meeting, prompt, with a large latte in hand. Eventually, Claire’s new colleagues started piling into the room, including the Editor-in-Chief. As they took their seats and the meeting started, a strong feeling came over Claire.  She started feeling as though something was terribly wrong! Within seconds Claire felt short of breath (literally gasping for breath), her heart was racing, and sweat was running down her newly purchased blouse. What was happening? As Claire sat in her seat she thought: Am I having a heart attack? Am I going to die? Everyone is starting at me!

For all of you who have endured a similar episode likely know far too well what Claire experienced (it’s hard to forget if it happened to you). A panic attack occurs abruptly and often spontaneously ‘out of the blue’ as an intense feeling of fear and discomfort that reaches a peak within minutes. If that wasn’t enough, some of the following symptoms also occur simultaneously: chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath, trembling, sweating, nausea, dizzy, tingling and fear of losing control or “going crazy.” 

Unfortunately, because such episodes occur ‘out of the blue,’ nowhere is off-limits; including your place of work. Panic attacks are gruesome, but can be even trickier to navigate while on the job. Below are 4 ways to cope when your body is hell-bent against cooperating with you!  


“Holy crap, I think I just had a heart attack?”

“Holy crap, I think I just had a heart attack?”

Due to the fact that these symptoms mimic many medical emergencies, it is not uncommon for those suffering to feel like they might be having a heart attack or dying.  Often, those who endure their first panic attack will visit their local Emergency Room (ER) in order to get checked out….. and wouldn’t we all if we thought we just had a heart attack? Ask your family doctor for a pamphlet at your next appointment and educate yourself on what an attack looks like.  Understanding panic is the first step in coping. Although such attacks can be incredibly uncomfortable, panic attacks are short lived and will come to an end.


Just when you thought that was over (as you hoped it was a one time occurrence), panic has decided to visit once again. Panic may have returned without an invite, but this time you are prepared and ready! Now that you know what your body is experiencing as a result of education (as per above), it is time for the next step: Acknowledgment. Like with all uninvited guests, it is polite to acknowledge any ‘unwanted’ presence.  You can give your panic a name to minimize its impact.


"You can give your panic a name to minimize its impact."

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It is one thing to experience an attack in the comforts of your own home, but it is another to have a panic attack at the office. Many people suffer in silence for fear of being seen as ‘weak’ or ‘not cut out’ for the job. Although it is often expected that you leave your private life outside of the office, it can be helpful to let your boss and colleagues know when personal challenges may impact the job (do this carefully, and only reveal details you think are pertinent to your job). Giving your boss a heads-up makes it that much easier to leave a meeting abruptly. Making others aware prior to the next attack is not only helpful for lowering your distress level, but you may get a few helpful tips from others… it is highly likely others in the office are faced with a similar challenge



What is the different between having a panic attack and having a panic disorder? Panic attacks become a disorder when there is a significant and persistent amount of time (greater than one month) worrying about having another attack or possible consequences of an attack. Additionally, those who fear another attack often engage in significant maladaptive behavioral changes related to an attack (ex: absentee from work) as a way of coping with the fear. If you find yourself persistently worrying about another attack, so much that you avoid things that remind you of previous attacks, it’s time to seek help! 




Blare June is a lifestyle blogger from Halifax, Nova Scotia. What makes Blare June's blog unique is that in addition to fashion she writes about mental illness, empowerment, and overall wellness. When Blare June isn't blogging, she is working as a physician specializing in psychiatry in Halifax. You can find Blare June online or on Instagram: @blarejune