It has been reported that fears around Covid-19 have put an acute emotional strain on people. Increased anxiety is one of the conditions which has become prevalent with worries about family, health, and social distancing. As lockdown has been relaxed and some of us are returning to work, there is the chance that anxiety will escalate to the point of having a panic attack. Read on to find out more about panic attacks and how to handle them in the workplace.
What is a panic attack?
Those experiencing a panic attack often feel the following:
“I’m going to die”
“I feel faint”
“I think I’m about to have a heart attack”
“I’m finding it difficult to breathe”
“Everything seems blurry”
“I feel really sick”
Your colleague may feel like they’re losing control and, in some cases, think that they are about to die. Most attacks last between 10 and 30 minutes and can be a symptom of prolonged stress or worry.
Understanding panic attacks
Panic attacks are grouped into two categories: expected or unexpected. An expected attack is usually associated with a specific concern or trigger, such as fear of flying, exams or being in crowds. Unexpected panic attacks have no obvious trigger and can seem to happen for no apparent reason.
Panic attacks are typically experienced as a result of misinterpreting physical symptoms of anxiety. Heart palpitations may be mistaken for symptoms of a heart attack, breathlessness or feeling faint may be taken as a sign that a person will collapse or die, and racing thoughts can lead a person to think that they are losing control of their mind.
These misinterpretations – which a person may be unaware that they are doing – can trigger a panic attack, which seems to appear out of the blue.
Helping a colleague who is having an attack
The most important thing is to stay calm and be kind. It can be very distressing seeing a teammate unwell, but it is crucial to offer support and compassion. Sit with them until the anxiety has passed, and if you have one, contact your mental health first aider.
Another recognised way to calm the physical symptoms and help increase feelings of control is known as ‘grounding’. There are various versions, but a popular one is the mindfulness-based 5-4-3-2-1 technique where you note and pay attention to:
This exercise is designed to relax you, ground you in the present, and calm any negative racing thoughts.
For more information on managing panic attacks visit the Mind website. You can also support the mental health of your team members by downloading their free Wellness Action Plans.
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