How To Overcome A Panic Attack At Your Desk

Because sometimes the option to 'get up and leave' just isn't viable.

“The dizziness. It always starts with the dizziness.”

Jane was 21 when she suffered her first panic attack at work. “It was debilitating,” she told ten daily. It was while she was sitting at her desk “overworked, busy and stressed” Jane said that she began to feel the usual symptoms bubbling up.

“My fingers started to feel empty, and then that sensation went up my arms and then I started to get this feeling, like my chest was hollow and my heart is kind of playing pinball in there and I can’t control it,” she said.

Jane said that it's usually "at this point" that her chest begins to tighten to the point where “it feels like someone is grabbing and squeezing it”.

“Usually when it reaches this stage I need to get away -- I feel the need to run -- so I’ll make a mad dash for the bathroom and lock myself in a stall for some mediation time” she said.

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According to beyondBlue approximately five percent of people in Australia will experience a panic attack in their lifetime -- that means at least 1.2 million of us either have or will struggle with those feelings at one point in our lives --many of us while we’re at work.

Despite workplaces becoming more open and understanding to mental illness, many sufferers aren’t as lucky as Jane and don’t have either the option or feel comfortable enough to simply walk away from their desk in the middle of an episode.

To find workable solutions to the problem ten daily spoke to two experts -- one in psychology and one in meditation -- to find ways to bring the situation under control.

Elyse McNeil, from Lysn PsychologY

Control your breathing

Try to focus solely on your breathing for a few moments. Take deep breaths, focusing on the rhythm, and using your breath to calm you down. Try and expand your stomach and breathe as slowly and deeply as you can.

Relax your muscles

Panic attacks often make your muscles feel like they are seizing up. Make a conscious effort to think about muscles from each body part and whether they might be feeling tight. Progressively work through your body, intentionally tensing muscles and inhaling, and then relaxing the muscles and exhaling. You can focus on one specific muscle group rather than your entire body as well. For example, tensing and releasing your toes or buttocks and then actively relaxing them.

Work through your body, intentionally tensing muscles and inhaling, and then relaxing the muscles and exhaling.

Change your physical temperature

Try and actively change your body's temperature -- typically through using things that are cold. Having a cold drink of water or touching something cold can all help if you are feeling panicked and overwhelmed.

Focus on your thoughts

Once you've begun to calm down your breathing and relax your body, pay attention to the thoughts you are having. This will help you identify what might have triggered the panic. Try and increase the rationality in your thinking by challenging negative or anxious thoughts. Organise your thoughts and work out what you need to do to feel calm again.

Rory Kinsella, Meditation Teacher

Box breathing

This is an age-old tactic but it works. By regulating our breathing we can activate our parasympathetic nervous system which will help calm us down. Try this “box breathing” technique used by US Navy Seals to calm down under pressure. Exhale all the air from your lungs and keep them empty for a count of four. Inhale through the nose for four. Hold the air in for four, exhale for four, hold for four etc. Repeat for as long as you need, but even a couple of rounds should help.

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Body awareness

Another way to put our mind into neutral is to place our awareness in our bodies. This grounds us and gives us a feeling of security. Think of your awareness like a spotlight which is usually focused on objects in the outside world or on your thoughts. Shine the spotlight of your awareness instead into your body. Start at your feet and use this internal light to explore the physical sensations in your feet. Do they feel warm or cold? What do your shoes feel like on the skin of your feet? Can you feel the tingling of sensation in your feet? This may feel silly, but it will help ground you in your body. When you’re grounded in your body you will immediately start to feel calmer.

If you need help in a crisis, call Lifeline on 13 11 14. For further information about depression contact beyondBlue on 1300 22 4636 or talk to your GP, local health professional or someone you trust.

Feature Image: Getty