Devan Moonsamy

In light of the recent spate of destruction caused by the flooding in the Kwa Zulu Natal province, emotions of staff members might be on edge around family members impacted by the devastation. As much as efforts are under way to remedy the destruction caused by the flooding, the emotional stress and pressure might cause staff to feel unsettled. 

Hundreds of people lost their lives and thousands more are displaced from their homes. The news of devastation might be the trigger for a panic attack in the work place. This is not the only incident that might trigger a panic attack at work, but it can be a contributing factor as to why someone might break down due to a situation that is unexpected.

Experts define a panic attack as a feeling of dread that washes over a person unexpectedly. This can come in many forms. It can be triggered by an unexpected circumstance at work perhaps the fear of being retrenched, it can also be caused by stress and pressure from a wedding or illness of loved one. 

For anyone who has had a panic attack before the symptoms are known. But for someone who has never experienced this and it just happens they might start to feel an overwhelming feeling of despair. It can be a shortness of breath, feeling a pain in their chest. Other indications of a panic attack might also be feeling hot or cold, nausea and fear. 

 As an organisation it is important to be aware of how a situation with staff and clients who are experiencing a panic attack might be helped. In a world where it has become a normal to pull out the phone and record any incidents that go against the normal, it should be a point of education on how to cope with a situation of panic in the workplace. 

Here’s how you can help someone manage their panic attacks in the workplace: 

  • If you are in close proximity of someone about to have a panic attack, customer or staff member, the first step would be to ask them if they need assistance. This would give you an idea if they are in need of assistance and also what assistance you can offer.  
  • Start by reminding them to take deep breaths. Taking slow deep breaths will help the person slow down their heart rate and it could have an impact on counteracting the light-headedness. It can also help the person feel more aware of themselves. If they are standing get them to sit down and breath. If they are still unsettled get them to breath in a paper bag or even place their head between their legs once they are sitting. The aim is to get them to breath and be more aware. 
  • Once you have got the breathing in order remind the person to be aware of where they are. Tell them to speak about what is around them. Remember not all panic attacks are face to face, some might be telephonic. If you are in a high-pressured work environment, it can be stressful. It is for this reason that even reaching out to a trusted loved one in a case of a panic attack can help you restore your self-awareness. 
  • Experts indicate that distracting oneself and thinking of a happy place can help improve the results of a panic attack. Think of a place that you feel happy and capitalise on that. The key to overcoming a panic attack is reminding your body to breathe again, to relax and restore is steadiness. 
  • Reassure the person that you are there to assist them. A person having the panic attack needs to know they have support. They need to feel that you are not judging them or laughing at them. This is a vulnerable moment for them. It is for this reason that assuring them that you are there to help them.

Devan Moonsamy is the CEO of ICHAF Training Institute, a South African Corporate Training Provider & National Learning Institute. He is the author of Racism, Classism, Sexism, And The Other ISMs That Divide Us, AND My Leadership Legacy Journal available from the ICHAF Training Institute. 

The ICHAF Training Institute offers SETA-approved training in business skills, computer use, and soft skills. Devan specialises in conflict and diversity management, and regularly conducts seminars on these issues for corporates. To book a seminar with Devan or for other training courses, please use the contact details below.

Tel: 011 262 2461 | 083 303 9159 |

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