WORK-LIFE BALANCE / SEP. 07, 2014
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How to Calm Yourself During an Anxiety Attack at Work

Anxiety attacks

Anxiety attacks, which can be a symptom of some of the types of anxiety disorders which affect 19 million children and adults in the US alone, manifest themselves with a number of symptoms so unpleasant that sufferers may feel like they are having a heart attack. Feelings of extreme panic, chest pains, nausea, hyperventilating and of being detached or losing control of the immediate situation, could indicate a panic or anxiety attack.

Whilst these symptoms most often subside within thirty minutes, the reality - or fear - of this happening at work, where there may be limited support and little way to get away from the situation, concerns many. If you are concerned about having an anxiety attack at work, there are some steps you can take to feel more in control of your condition in the work place.

Find strategies to control the condition where possible

Although anybody with concerns about anxiety or other related conditions should seek professional medical advice to ensure that they fully understand their condition and are able to receive any medical support available to them, there are self help strategies which can help manage low level or day to day anxiety in addition to any required professional intervention.

Taking good physical care of yourself is essential, including fitting time into the day to relax and unwind, whether this is through a visit to the gym, meditation, yoga, or time dedicated to a favourite hobby such as reading or crafting. Writing down the specific worries that come to mind when feeling anxious can be an effective way of managing these feelings, as well as choosing specific times to allow you to focus on your worries and concerns, in order to keep these feelings from assaulting you during the day.

Consider your specific work situation

You may reduce the anticipatory worries about the possibility of having an anxiety attack by telling someone at work about your concerns - this could be a personnel manager, your direct boss, or a trusted colleague, depending on whether you feel you need any adjustments made to help you manage your condition, or simply a listening ear and someone to be supportive should you experience difficulties.

If you have had, or fear having an anxiety attack at work, consider what the likely trigger could be - if there is one - and whether or not this is a situation you can avoid, or have coping strategies in place to deal with. If the thought of presenting at work causes you to suffer anxiety, for example, then taking time to improve your specific presenting skills in a safe environment such as a training course, and therefore increasing your confidence in this area may help. If you are in a customer facing position, and the prospect of conflict, with a complaining customer, for example, causes you concern, you may choose to talk to your direct manager about your concerns and ask for their support should a difficult situation arise. Simply by thinking and talking through the work issues that might arise, you may find appropriate methods to manage them with the support from colleagues and your employer.

Act in the moment

If you find yourself having a panic or anxiety attack at work, there are some steps you can take to manage the symptoms. Depending on your role, you may be able to move to a quiet area to allow yourself space and time to recover - although this may not always be possible in a customer facing role. Talking to your boss or colleagues about what you can do in the event of an attack at work can help plan for this eventuality.

Learning breathing techniques to help, in advance of an attack arising, or simply concentrating on slowing your breathing during an attack, might help you manage feelings of hyperventilation, and move towards feeling calmer. Cognitive distractions, such as counting backwards, reciting the alphabet, or trying to remember the lyrics to a favourite song, help some people get back in control during an anxiety attack, and can be done discreetly in a work situation.

Other techniques include deliberately tensing and then relaxing your muscles to provide a physical focus for the mind, as well as promoting relaxation, or switching your thoughts to a happier place or time, remembering or imagining as much detail as you can to soothe your mind and give you time to come through the attack.

Ensure you are getting the right help

If you find yourself suffering from severe or frequent anxiety attacks, at work or elsewhere, it is important to seek professional help. A simple visit to a doctor can help you understand and manage your condition, providing reassurance that you are doing all you can, and helping you feel better both at work and at home.

Do you suffer from anxiety or panic attacks at work? Do you have any other tips? Your thought sand comments below...

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