Employee Spotlight

What It's Like to Live and Work with Anxiety and Panic Attacks

The panic attack I had at my first job left me feeling overwhelmed, lost, and exhausted. Like many workplaces, mental health was not a topic that was openly discussed.

Written by
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Jared King
Account Executive
Clinically reviewed by
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Man experiencing a panic attack on the coach while struggling with anxiety

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    When I reflect on my mental health journey, two significant events define my struggles with anxiety and panic attacks. I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember, but my first panic attack happened when I was in college. 

    I was walking to class like any other typical day when I suddenly started crying hysterically and felt severe tightness in my chest—as if an elephant was sitting on top of me. I didn’t know why I was crying or what had prompted it. It took a few minutes to gather myself, but I remember taking a sip of water and continuing on. I needed to power through and move on with my life.

    The second panic attack I experienced was a truly formative moment for me. About four years later, after graduate school, I was at my first “real” job in Manhattan. I was enthusiastic about the position and wanted to prove I belonged and would be an asset to my team. 

    It was a normal day, and I was sitting at my desk when it happened again. Very suddenly, I could feel the debilitating tightness in my chest take over, and before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face. My breathing became increasingly elevated, so I got up from my desk and went to the bathroom.  

    I splashed water on my face to soothe myself, but I still didn’t know what was happening or why I felt this way. I looked up from the sink and saw my reflection in the mirror.  My eyes were puffy, my hair was disheveled, and I was sweating as if I had just ran a marathon. I was a mess.  

    At that moment, I made a commitment to myself. I promised to figure this out and get help. I just didn’t know how.  

    Understanding anxiety and panic attacks

    Everyone experiences worry or stress at times around health, money, or interpersonal issues. When that stress continues over long periods and affects daily life, it may become an anxiety disorder.

    Anxiety disorders affect one in five adults every year and include:

    • Social anxiety disorders. This affects 15 million adults, entails an intense fear of interacting with people, and may manifest as anxiety for weeks leading up to a social gathering. 
    • Generalized anxiety disorder. This affects 7 million adults and involves ongoing, constant worry about daily issues like family, health, or financial concerns—even when there’s nothing to worry about immediately. People with generalized anxiety disorder struggle to sleep, are often wound up, and their nervous system is in constant fight or flight mode.
    • Panic disorder. This affects 6 million adults. Panic attacks are the symptoms of panic disorder. They happen without warning and are intense, brief periods of overwhelming fear. It feels like you can’t breathe and don’t have control over your body.

    One of the key takeaways is that those of us who live with anxiety are not alone. Millions of people are struggling with an anxiety disorder, and almost anyone reading this has had some interaction with an individual dealing with a mental health struggle. 

    What it's like to work with anxiety and panic attacks

    The panic attack I had at my first job left me feeling overwhelmed, lost, and exhausted.  Like many workplaces, mental health was not a topic that was openly discussed.  

    How would I explain what I was dealing with to my boss when I wasn’t even sure what was happening? I felt uncomfortable and embarrassed. At first, I brushed my feelings aside and kept working hard. That was the only way I knew how to cope, and I didn’t want others to view me differently. 

    Even though I’d committed to getting help, I didn’t know where to start or what to do. After some initial research, I realized that my company had a traditional EAP. Still, the idea of calling a 1-800 number seemed like a daunting task that I was not ready for—especially while struggling to stay afloat.  

    Fortunately, my mother was a social worker and able to guide me to a therapist that I connected with right away. I was lucky to have found a provider who worked for me in that crucial moment and still sees me to this day. 

    How to manage anxiety and panic attacks at work

    After experiencing panic attacks at work and working through therapy, I’ve come to appreciate the significance of effective management strategies. Here are some key steps you can take if you find yourself dealing with anxiety or a panic attack on the job: 

    • Recognize the signs: Be attuned to physical and emotional symptoms that signal the onset of a panic attack. Acknowledge these feelings and remember you’re not alone.
    • Find a safe space: Identify a quiet, private place to retreat if you feel a panic attack coming on. Having a designated space offers a sense of security and control.  
    • Practice deep breathing: Calm your nervous system with deep, slow breathing. Focus on inhaling and exhaling deeply to regain control over your body’s responses.
    • Reach out for support: If you feel comfortable, inform a trusted colleague or supervisor about your situation. A supportive network at work can make a significant difference in managing anxiety.
    • Utilize mental health resources: Explore available mental health resources through your workplace, such as your organization’s EAP. Consider talking to a therapist who specializes in anxiety and panic attacks. 
    • Establish a self-care routine: Incorporate daily self-care practices to reduce overall stress, including short breaks, mindfulness exercises, or activities that bring you joy. 

    By integrating these strategies into my daily life, I’ve become adept at recognizing my anxiety symptoms and avoiding panic attacks at work. Instead of disengaging, I’m highly attuned to how anxiety manifests physically. I notice when my mind starts to spin and I feel powerless. Instead of feeling like things are out of my control, I now use deep breathing to shift my thoughts to my body to relax.  

    Therapy has taught me how to slow my thoughts, recognize anxious feelings, and proactively engage in activities that maintain control. For me, this involves walking outside, meditating, taking breaks for a reset, hiking, connecting with nature, and disconnecting to reconnect with myself and be present.

    I’ve also learned—and am still working on—how not to fear my anxiety. I’ve come to accept that anxious feelings are part of who I am. I invite them in, acknowledging their validity and transient nature. All feelings, regardless of type, come and go, and I aim to embrace the full range of emotions. 

    How organizations and leaders can provide anxiety and panic attack support

    People leaders are the frontline for supporting employees living with anxiety and panic attacks. They can help by:

    • Fostering an environment where open communication about mental health is practiced and celebrated at all levels.
    • Allowing employees flexible scheduling to fit their mental health needs into the work week. Employees who can attend therapy or coaching sessions, meditate, take walks, and generally care for their mental health will be their best selves and be more productive at work. It’s a win-win for employees and their employers.
    • Providing access to an innovative EAP eliminates barriers to therapy, coaching, and other forms of mental health support. 

    The national average wait time for a new therapy appointment is 25 days, and someone who is experiencing anxiety and/or panic attacks does not have this much time to wait. 

    With Spring Health, an employee can schedule a therapy appointment in less than two days. Every enrolled employee has access to their dedicated Care Navigator, who is a licensed clinician and always available to guide employees through the process. This includes clinical guidance, referrals, follow ups, and general support.

    How Spring Health is removing barriers to employee mental healthcare

    My first two panic attacks were defining experiences in my life and the start of my mental health journey. I felt overwhelmed and unsure of how to get help or what kind of help I needed. 

    I’m so fortunate that my mom had the experience and knowledge to get me the right help right away, but I realize not everyone is that lucky. I don’t want anyone else to live through anxiety and panic attacks without the proper guidance and support, which is one of the main reasons I started working at Spring Health. 

    Spring Health is now the first and only comprehensive mental health solution to obtain certification from the Validation Institute, an independent and objective third-party organization dedicated to improving the quality and cost of healthcare.

    Spring Health customers have realized a significant reduction in overall workplace and healthcare claims costs, including a 2.2x return on investment in health plan spend alone.

    Supporting employees' mental health isn’t a competition for resources that detracts from the bottom line. Employees with better mental health can be their best selves at work and bring more to the table.

    Watch our latest webinar on-demand to learn more about why investing in mental health pays off and how your organization can gain proven clinical outcomes and financial ROI.

    About the Author
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    Jared King
    Account Executive

    Jared currently lives in Manhattan, NY, where he is an Account Executive on the Commercial Partnerships team at Spring Health. Prior to joining Spring Health, Jared had a variety of professional experiences ranging from working for the Israeli government in Jerusalem, to assisting his father in the sale of their family distribution business.

    About the clinical reviewer
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