What to Do When You Have a Panic Attack Right Before Work

My fellow sufferers of depression and anxiety will know this issue too well.  Some of you may have never fallen victim to a fit of sobbing or dizziness right at a crucial moment, but with these stressful times, you never know.  Sometimes, enough stress builds that your mind gives out and you find yourself in a panic.   This happened to me a lot at my summer job.  I was working in a busy hotel restaurant in France, which entailed having to communicate exclusively in French, make drinks that I didn't know how to make, and interact with customers for hours on end.  Sometimes, the pressure built up and I just cracked.  Unfortunately, my anxiety manifests as crying, which is not easily controlled.  It would start with a lump in my throat, followed by tears welling up.  Eventually, I wouldn't be able to even open my mouth without crumpling.  My ability to speak French dissipated, and I couldn't stop myself from crying.

But, the show goes on.  The dinner starts punctually.  So how the heck can you calm down?


1) Go to a bathroom

A liminal space where people don’t look each other and don’t judge each other, a bathroom is a perfect place to get crying out of your system.  I’ve spent many minutes staring at my tear-stained, puffy reflection, trying to get myself together. Splashing cold water on your face, dabbing a cool paper towel on your cheeks, repeating comforting mantras to your reflection--they all help me.

2) Get some fresh air

When time is precious, you can’t really take time to take a walk.  Alternatively, sometimes just stepping outside and taking deep breaths of fresh air can really calm you down.  

3) Ask someone for help

Surprisingly, if you tell your boss what’s going on, they’ll most likely understand.  Sometimes they’ll send a coworker to help you out and talk you out of it.  I had a sweet 15-year-old intern help me during my job over the summer, handing me tissues and patting my back, and she got me to calm down within minutes.

4) Call someone

I had a panic attack before work on Sunday, so ten minutes before my shift started, I told my friend from home how I was feeling. She called me to tell me funny stories about her cat, which adequately distracted me from my senseless panic and had me smiling when I sat down at the desk.


While these methods are almost self-explanatory, I found that they help me a lot, and have taken me a long time to master.  With some self care and healthy methods to handling panic, you’ll be able to get back on the floor quickly without worrying about your job on top of everything else.