When we work toward a certain career path or go to college to land that dream job, we envision a rewarding career and lifestyle. No one in their wildest dreams would ever imagine that feelings inside of themselves could actually make it a daily struggle to cope at work. I’m talking about panic attacks.
When I was fresh out of college and working as an ICU nurse in a large teaching hospital in New York City, that’s exactly what happened to me. My first panic attack came out of nowhere and hit me at work one day when I was at the nurses’ station. I excused myself and went outside the hospital for some fresh air. After a few minutes I felt better so I went back in. But the next day, I had three attacks at work. By the third day I didn’t want to go back. My life literally went to hell in the span of 3 days.
Unfortunately that scenario plays itself out everyday in workplaces all over the country. In fact, over 19 million Americans struggle with an anxiety disorder every day. What can you do if you experience anxiety or panic attacks at work? A lot actually.
First and foremost, it’s always advisable to see your doctor. He may suggest shortterm anti-anxiety medication to alleviate the symptoms, which will make it easier to return to work. Once you feel “safe” at work again, you can enlist the help of a cognitive behavior therapist to help you learn how to. I suggest you also speak with your employer confidentially. Once I had a handle on my panic, I had a private meeting with my nurse manager. I explained to her I was diagnosed with panic disorder and was being treated. I also explained that this would in no way affect my job performance. It’s amazing what a little honesty with your boss can do in a situation like this. My nurse manager was really kind and supportive. She admitted that she noticed I’d been withdrawn during hospital rounds and staff meetings.
When people are struggling through a crisis, whether it be divorce, caring for an elderly parent, anxiety, or anything else, it can help to let your boss in on it in an appropriate manner. If you are a good employee, you cannot be fired or suspended for having an anxiety disorder. And this is confidential information as well. If you find yourself having debilitating anxiety in the workplace, you must take steps to help yourself. Once you’re feel better, you can be your own best advocate by sharing about it with your boss or a supportive friend at work. Anxiety is just a rush of adrenaline. Everyone experiences it to some degree, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Going to work should not have to be a hellish ordeal because of anxiety.