The Woman at Work who Grabbed onto her Desk when Panic Attacks Struck.

Once upon a time there was a woman, (I’ll call Jo) who was suffering from panic attacks.  They occasionally happened at work, or in the early morning before she got to work.  She said the panic attacks came out of the blue; she never knew when one was going to strike her.  She would be sitting at her desk at work and suddenly get a wave of panic so intense she would have to grab onto her desk so she wouldn’t run out the door. The attacks were happening more often and she dreaded the next one.   She claimed that her job was not the issue – it wasn’t difficult, just boring.  Her main focus was how to manage the panic attacks.  Her doctor prescribed some Ativan and referred her for counseling.

Panic attacks seem to occur ‘out of the blue’ but they really don’t.  They are like a tidal waves, they rise up, crest and subside.  The therapy started with helping her handle the panic attacks by breathing through them.  This helped her feel less out of control.  Then focus shifted to increasing her awareness of herself.  She was so focused on trying to avoid a panic attack that she had lost contact with herself.  She was focused on the symptom, not the cause of the symptom.

Her office job was a problem for her.  She was not just bored, she was bored to tears.  She had a dream of getting a degree in biology so she could teach, but she considered doing that out of the question.  She couldn’t afford it.

Work was not the only problem.  She and her husband were totally renovating their home and they were having lots of arguments about it.  Money was tight and she needed her income.  Quitting work was not an option.

As Jo got more in touch with herself, she realized the precursors to the panic attacks.  Gradually she became so aware that she could feel the hairs on the back of her neck go up the closer she got to work.  She no longer could deny how intolerable her job was.

Jo finally told her husband how unbearable her job was.  To her surprise, he understood.  Once the renovations were completed, they remortgaged, finding the money needed for her to go to university.

People often focused on symptoms instead of the cause of the symptoms.

Sometimes people are distracted by the symptoms, which gets in the way of finding the cause.  Other times, focusing on the symptoms helps them avoid what they do not want to face.  People are often convinced there is no solution (which is occasionally true) so they bury their heads.   But usually once they are clear what is causing the problem, they find a solution.  Once the cause is identified, even though it may be difficult, appropriate changes can be made. Change is what is needed.

With care and concern,

Dr. Bea

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