How to help employees who suffer from panic attacks

Written by
Dr Stephen Cox

10 Jun 2016

10 Jun 2016 • by Dr Stephen Cox

Fresh air is essential

A number of studies have demonstrated that individuals with panic disorder will have more panic attacks if they’re exposed to environments with heightened C02 levels. 

Two separate, double blind medical studies in two different countries, done by two different investigators have demonstrated that carbon dioxide pollution filters help reduce panic attacks.

Environments with poor airflow and ventilation are problematic for panic disorder sufferers. As well as the obvious problem of C02, these environments tend to be stuffy, hot and dry, which can make even the most relaxed person feel tense and uncomfortable. 

Employers could do a lot to help panic sufferers by improving ventilation. So many offices have windows that don’t open. In such cases, you’ll need a seriously good ventilation system to compensate and many businesses don’t. Actively encourage your people to get out and about. Even a five minute break outside can help. Fresh air is so important.

Consider flexible working

Flexible hours would immediately alleviate the tension of having to travel at peak times. Often, the thought of having to get a crowded train or bus can be enough to trigger panic. If employers allowed staff to work flexible shift patterns that meant they didn’t need to travel during rush hour, they’d arrive at work a lot less stressed and be more productive.

Look at workplace layout

Open plan offices can cause anxiety as people struggle to get privacy. Foot traffic approaching from behind can be a distraction or at worst, a panic trigger. Reconfiguring offices with empathy for those who are prone to panic can boost productivity. 

Not everyone has the ability to alter office layout, but you could provide respite space so people can go and have a quiet five minutes. An office that’s abuzz with activity and noise can be a great place to work for some personality types, but for others it can be overwhelming. A dedicated room with good ventilation, comfortable seating and relaxed lighting would offer employees the chance to escape a lot of the triggers associated with the workplace.

Listen & offer support

The biggest recommendation by far for employers is to be supportive and listen. More than a quarter of UK adults with panic disorder get no support at all from their employer. Just knowing that their needs and concerns are being listened to can be a huge comfort for employees.