"My first panic attack came out of nowhere and hit me at work one day. I got up right away and went outside for some fresh air. I felt better so I went back in. The next day, I had two or three attacks at work. The third day I didn't want to go back."
Panic attacks along with other anxiety disorders are the most common of all mental health problems and can arise in a number of ways. Research indicates the presence of an underlying biological vulnerability.
Stress in the workplace can bring on or aggravate a panic disorder. Even if stressors outside of work are involved, an employee's performance can decline because he or she fears being embarrassed by having an attack at work.
The Symptoms of a Panic Disorder
Symptoms may include heart palpitations, dizziness, tingling in the hands or feet, chest pain or discomfort, feelings of unreality or disorientation, sweating, faintness, trembling or shortness of breath and stomach distress. Employees may fear medical problems such as heart attacks. Eventually, the employee may want to flee the work place to go to an emergency room or escape to a safer location.
If a supervisor notices a decline in the performance of an employee who has always been a good worker-- if for example the employee starts avoiding certain tasks or staying at home-- it would be helpful to try to identify the presence of panic symptoms.
The employee should also undergo a medical exam to rule out any underlying conditions which can produce panic-like symptoms.
Fortunately, panic attacks are highly treatable. Reassurance, possibly with the aid of self-help books or tapes, may be all some employees need. For more severe problems, understanding and encouraging the employee to seek counseling can result in productivity being resumed and can often avoid a stress claim for disability.
Coping Techniques Sooth Anxiety
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is recommended for panic attacks. Counseling may include: muscle relaxation exercises, breath retraining, visualization, gradual exposure to all avoided situations, and appropriate labeling of emotions, since any strong emotion can trigger a panic attack. Strategies to manage fearful thoughts are also learned.
A good employee experiencing a panic disorder need not be fired or suspended if the company realizes what is happening and that solutions exist. It makes sense to leave these employees on the job and help them find relief.
Portions of this article are taken from Overcoming Panic, Anxiety & Phobias, Babior and Goldman, Whole Person Press