How to Work While Struggling With Anxiety, Panic Disorder, and Agoraphobia

Before I jump into anything, I want you to take a minute and identify which bucket you currently fit into, and then say out loud what I've written under that category.

A. I currently have a job and I'm struggling with anxiety, panic, and/or agoraphobia.

I have a job! This is huge. I am capable of doing hard things! I am doing a good job.

B. I don't currently have a job because of my struggle with anxiety, panic, and/or agoraphobia.

I am struggling with something that is really hard, and I am doing a good job. I will reach my goal of having a job. I am strong and capable.

When I was struggling with doing everyday things, like going to work and school, I remember finally breaking down and talking to a psychiatrist about trying medication. I will never forget what she said to me after we talked for a bit in my initial consultation. She said, "Shannon, I can't believe you're still going to work and school, most people in your situation wouldn't be."

She was right. But I never really acknowledged that I was doing something every day that was so incredibly hard, and I successfully made it through each day (even though it didn't feel like a success). I often convinced myself that I sucked, but I was actually doing a really good job.

There were so many days that I just wanted to give up and not go anymore, but I knew that if I gave up, I would ultimately cause myself more anxiety and panic in the long run. The alternative to not pushing myself was to stay stuck, which is something that I had already felt every single day, so I wasn't about to quit my job and be even more stuck. Annnnd there was no way I could financially afford to live the life I wanted to if I wasn't working, so this was another big factor for me.

Reminder: Facing your fears and reminding yourself that you are capable of doing hard things is what will help you to keep pushing forward.

And I say this wholeheartedly because I know how hard it is to struggle with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia: There are exceptions to not pushing yourself to go to work. If you truly aren't able to function on a daily basis because of the amount of anxiety and panic you are experiencing, it might make sense for you to focus more of your time on improving your mental health. It’s okay to focus your time on you and your mental health, but you have to put in the work in order to get unstuck.

Even while I was working, I made time for me and my mental health. Let’s dive into what helped me to continue to go to work every day so that you can see what I mean by this!

And if you're currently thinking to yourself, when the heck am I supposed to make time for me and my mental health? It is possible, and you have to, otherwise you will remain stuck.

Here are my top tips for working while struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia (these tips will also help you to work through and eliminate anxiety and panic):

1. Share your struggle! I know, I say this all the time, but it's because it is something that will help you SO much! Share what you’re going through with a co-worker, or even with your boss. When I was struggling to make it into work each day, and had panic attacks every single day while I was there, I knew that I had to share it. Boy do I wish I hadn't waited as long as I did to share it! Once I shared what I was struggling with with a couple of my co-workers, I felt such a sense of relief and knew that I could ask them for support when I needed it.

And at one job, I had to tell my boss because it was interfering with my ability to do my job. Initially, I felt so embarrassed, silly, and shameful for having to share what I was going through. I also felt like my job might be at risk if I told my boss what I was going through. But you know what? Everyone is going through something. And being honest about what you’re struggling with will help you, and will help others around you to better understand and support you.

Some workplaces may even give you an accommodation (like giving you additional breaks throughout the day) to help you so that you can make it through each day successfully. If you're curious to learn more about this, I suggest educating yourself on the Americans with Disabilities Act, and/or checking in with your Human Resources department at your employer to find out more info about a possible accommodation.

It’s really up to you who you choose to tell, but I highly recommend sharing your struggle with at least one person that you work with!

2. When you are anxious, don’t try to ignore it. Acknowledge how you feel, feel it, then do a mindfulness exercise to help you work through it. And ask for support (see #1)! And if you experience panic attacks at work, check out my free guide on working through and eliminating panic attacks on my homepage.

3. Take time during the day for self-care! If you get a half hour for lunch, take 15 minutes of that time to go for a walk, read a book, listen to a podcast, write, or do whatever it is that makes you feel a sense of calm. You might be at work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take time for yourself.

4. Get on a sleep schedule! This one is HUGE! What I mean by this is, go to sleep at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning. This will help your body and mind to get the rest it needs so that it can serve you well the next day (instead of consuming you with anxiety, panic, and fear)! And aim for between 7-9 hours of sleep each night.

5. Create a good morning routine. Being rushed in the morning will likely cause stress which will then lead to anxiety and panic. Make sure you have time to wake up, eat breakfast, and get going. Something that helps me a ton in the morning is to just write down what I’m grateful for before I even start my day. This helps me to start my day off by focusing on the good things rather than all of the things that could or might happen.

6. Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake. These things are contributors of anxiety and panic. And if you struggle with panic attacks, I highly recommend that you remove these things from your diet altogether.

7. Drink lots of water! I know, this sounds like a silly tip, but staying hydrated will help give your mind and body what it needs to stay calm and focused throughout the day.

8. While at work, ask for help when you need it! Don’t overwhelm yourself or stress yourself out unnecessarily. If you need help, it’s okay to ask for it. Everyone needs help in order to do a good job.

9. Challenge your thoughts! When you start thinking about those what-ifs, challenge your thoughts. Ask yourself, has it ever happened before? And if it has, ask yourself if you’ve successfully worked through it. Remind yourself of your realities. We are so often completely safe but we convince ourselves with our thoughts that we’re in danger. Tell yourself: I am at work. I am safe. I have always successfully worked through every anxious moment and every panic attack no matter where I was or what I was doing.

10. Medication may be a good tool for you. Medication has the potential to give you relief so that you can focus on the tools that will help you to push past anxiety, panic, and agoraphobia. If you’d like to hear about my journey with medication, head over here.

When I say to make time for you and your mental health, I mean it. You have to make time for you. YOU have to come first. If you don’t put yourself first, your family, your job, your friends, and most importantly you, will never get the best version of you.

When I was struggling, I made time for therapy every single week. It was hard to fit it into my schedule, especially around work and school, but I knew that it was a must in order for me to heal.

Make time for you and your mental health. Put you first. You are worth it. You have always been and will always be worth it.

And remember, you are capable of hard things.

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