• Dr. Emi Garzitto

Panic Attacks in the Workplace

How can you help someone when they are beginning to spin into overwhelm? What can you do to help yourself or the people around you when you see someone freeze or experience significant physical symptoms from a panic attack?





The cultural decline of resilience and mental health skills can be felt in our bodies, in our homes, but also in our workplace.


A panic attack is a brief episode of intense anxiety, which causes the physical sensations of fear. These can include a racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, dizziness, trembling and muscle tension. Panic attacks occur frequently and unexpectedly and are often not related to any external threat.

How can you help someone when they are beginning to spin into overwhelm? What can you do to help yourself or the people around you when you see someone freeze or experience significant physical symptoms from a panic attack?


Strategies:

Breath. The best way to get someone to do something is to face them and do it yourself. Our brain learned by watching those around us, especially our caregivers, manage their feelings and navigate the world. Take slow breaths and let them know. It might look like this, "Jeff looks like you are breathing pretty fast right now so I am going to just stay here and take some slow breaths to help me calm down. You don't have to ask them to do it with you, you can just try and do it yourself. They will very likely begin to follow your breathing.


Get them to Breathe With You. Especially if you have a connection with the worker you can support them by getting them to breathe with you. It might look like this; "Jeff you are having a panic attack. I need you to take long slow breaths with me. Let's do this right now."


Diversion. "Jeff looks like there is alot of information happening all at once. Let's get out of here and go for a coffee. Get your coat." or "Jeff, I feel like your spinning right now and talking about this is just going to make it worse. Let's forget about this and move on to the next paragraph."


Make it About You: "Jeff I am overwhelmed with all of this information. Come with me and grab a coffee." "Ugh, this is so confusing. I need to take a break and clear my head. Let's go for a walk around the block and talk about something else."


Play the Long Game: Set aside time every day to practice and strengthen mental health and resilience. Three minute breaks is all you need to begin training your brain. Decide on 5 or 7 strategies that you practice everyday, then embed the time in your workday to practice them.


Panic attacks do not happen all at once. The panic attack is a symptom of a long line of cuts and deficits. The way to innoculate yourself from future episodes is to build, strengthen and practice the building blocks of resilience.

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