How to Survive a Professional Panic Attack

don't push the panic button

Yesterday, I received an SOS message from a former colleague. She is in considerable distress: Her company is failing; the staff is shrinking; the survivors are exhausted; and she’s dying to jump ship.

She is panicking, and needs my help.

Her note began with her kicking herself for not doing anything sooner, and spiraled into many regrets about the past. She berated herself for pigeonholing herself into a specific career, and worried she couldn’t break out of it in the future.

She was all over the map, and the one place she wasn’t was where she needed to be–in the present moment. That’s where you take control.

In this ever-shifting world of work, many professionals find themselves in a similar position of panic. They guilt over the past and worry about the future. I call this problem-generating, where you go around and around in your head and spin out of control. Hallmarks of problem generating are phrases such as “I should have” and “What if.”

Problem-solving is the antidote to panic. It’s where you take control.

Here are a few steps to help you:

1.   Give yourself permission to feel anxious. Know that it’s normal to feel angst when you’re facing change, especially unwanted change. Often, just recognizing this defuses the panic bomb.

2.   Get in the present moment. Don’t waste your energy guilting over the past—what’s done is done. We all make mistakes—why pay for them twice?  And don’t let your mind run so far in the future—you will drive yourself nuts! Accept where you are right here and right now.

3.   Begin to talk to yourself in a calming, compassionate way. Never forget the strength of your own “change muscle” and how you’ve flexed it successfully in the past. Whether it was starting school, moving to a new neighborhood, or entering the job market, you’ve survived and thrived. You know that these awful feelings pass, and you can get through this.

4.   Start asking yourself better questions. Instead of “Why is this happening?,” “Why didn’t I do something sooner?,” and “What if I fail?,” ask “What is the next positive step I need to take?” and “Who can help me?”

5.   Get busy. Put a plan of action into place and take that next step. Don’t get overwhelmed—just take one step at a time. Remember: Activity counters anxiety. The more you take control and move forward, the more confident you become. And finally….

6.   Don’t forget your sense of humor. This is your joker card when you begin to feel a bit crazy. It’s all how you see it, after all, so stop the drama and start the laughter! Find the humor in how you have reacted to your problems. The sound of your own voice can help break the spell of panic and propel you in a positive direction.

Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

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