Treating Panic Disorder Can Head
Off Disability and Workers' Comp Claims
"My first panic attack came out of nowhere and hit me at work one
day. I got up right away and went outside for some fresh air. I felt
better so I went back in. The next day, I had two or three attacks at
work. The third day I didn't want to go back."
Panic attacks along with other anxiety disorders are the most
common of all mental health problems and can arise in a number of
ways. Research indicates the presence of an underlying biological
vulnerability in afflicted people. In the presence of stress, these
people become afraid, seek to avoid a situation or emotion perceived
as threatening, have catastrophic thoughts, and may eventually
develop pronounced avoidance behavior and physical symptoms as well
as associated depression.
Stress in the workplace can bring on or aggravate a panic
disorder. Even if stressors outside of work are involved, an
employee's performance can decline because he or she fears being
embarrassed by having an attack at work.
The Symptoms of a Panic
Individuals suffering panic attacks may go to great lengths to
hide their symptoms because they fear ridicule. Symptoms include
heart palpitations, dizziness, tingling in the hands or feet, chest
pain or discomfort, feelings of unreality or disorientation,
sweating, faintness, trembling or shortness of breath and stomach
distress. Employees may be concerned about these symptoms, fearing
medical problems such as heart attacks. Eventually, the employee may
want to flee the work place to go to an emergency room or escape to a
If a supervisor notices a decline in the performance of an
employee who has always been a good worker-- if for example the
employee starts avoiding certain tasks or staying at home-- it would
be helpful to try to identify the presence of panic symptoms.
The employee should also undergo a medical exam to rule out any
underlying conditions which can produce panic-like symptoms.
Fortunately, panic attacks are highly treatable. For more severe
problems, understanding and encouraging the employee to seek
counseling can result in productivity being resumed and can often
avoid a stress claim for disability. Reassurance, possibly with the
aid of self-help books or tapes, may be all some employees need.
These publications are readily available at many bookstores.
Treatments used by therapists usually include cognitive/behavioral
coping techniques which are often integrated with medication for
Coping Techniques Sooth
Panic sufferers are usually tensing their body in a way that
increases symptoms. Helpful coping strategies include: muscle
relaxation exercises, breath retraining, visualization, gradual
exposure to all avoided situations, and appropriate labeling of
emotions, since any strong emotion can trigger a panic attack. They
are encouraged to replace their fearful thoughts with more rational
ones. For example, "I'm going to faint" could be changed to "I've
never fainted before and there is no evidence I'm going to faint
Finally, predicting setbacks can be useful. If a return of
symptoms is seen as part of a normal learning curve, the supervisor
and affected employee will understand that progress is still
A good employee experiencing a panic disorder need not be fired or
suspended if the company realizes what is happening and that
solutions exist. It makes sense to leave these employees on the job
and help them find relief.