What to do When PANIC Takes Over at the Office

I don’t know about you, but I’ve gotten into a flat panic at the office more times than I can count on all 10 fingers AND all 10 toes. I’m sure you have to – in fact, I’d be surprised if you’ve never panicked at work in your entire life. Then I really want to know what your job is!

But let’s talk more about this panic at work thing… this stress, the anxiety – that overwhelming feeling that everything is going to fall apart at any second.

Your boss wants things done, now, now, NOW. A client wanted things done yesterday, and everyone seems to want a part of you at the same time. Aaaaahhh! You can’t very well split yourself into pieces, so what do you do?

A few things you DON’T want to do:

  • Burst into tears in front of everyone, crying, “It’s TOO much… I can’t, I can’t!” before locking yourself in the bathroom.
  • Snap at anyone who dares to so much as breathe in your direction.
  • Get super defensive when you’re asked about something you’ve worked on – or haven’t had time to get to yet.
  • Make yourself sick the next morning just so that you don’t have to go into work to face whatever is stressing you out.
  • Freak out – big time, and run all over the place like a headless chicken – getting absolutely nothing done.

How many of these have you done? Or rather, how many are you close to doing right now in your current job?

Working in the fast-paced recruitment industry wasn’t as easy as it seemed. Demanding clients, bitchy sales consultants, a never ending stream of tedious CV’s to type, and just not enough hours in the day. Stress wasn’t the word. But that was nothing. I started working at an Internet service provider in the accounts department soon afterwards. Let’s just say that every single day was filled with anxiety to the max. Think major lack of staff morale, screaming clients when the Internet goes down, and holding bathroom breaks because there’s simply “too much work”! Back then I didn’t know how to handle these daily moments of panic.They absolutely consumed me.panic

Ten years down the line and I think I can safely say that I’ve learnt a few things about handling this panic thing. On most days in my current job in the advertising industry, I’m flooded with last minute work that HAS to get done now, now, NOW! Panicking is not an option. So is saying, “there’s not enough time”. I’ve got to make it happen – without feeling like I want to grab my handbag and flee out the door at any second! Here are my tips to stop from panicking:


  1. Remind yourself that you’re HUMAN. That’s right. You’re not a freaking robot. So your boss shouldn’t expect superhuman things out of you, and you shouldn’t expect that of yourself either. You can only do what you are physically capable of doing at that very moment.
  2. Just breathe. Seriously, I know it sounds stupid but it actually works. When you feel like you’re about to crumble under all the pressure, take a 5-minute walk outside or to the bathroom. Breathe in slowly for 7 counts, and out again for another 7. You WILL start to feel calmer.
  3. Plan! Get a diary or use a Google calendar if you prefer. Block off your lunch, block off 5 minutes at the start and end of each day to plan. List the things you need to get done in order of importance from high to low. Prioritise. Whatever can be moved to the next day – do it. Don’t feel like you have to get it all done immediately just so that you can cross it off.
  4. Prepare for interruptions.  Unless you’ve got a corner office and a PA to hold all your phone calls, there’s no escaping those unexpected interruptions during the day from colleagues, the phone ringing, clients dropping in, last minute deadlines, etc. It’s going to happen so don’t freak out when it does. Just accept that’s part of your work day.
  5. Treat yourself. When you’re faced with a mammoth task, it makes things a LOT easier when you’ve got something to look forward to at the end of it. Plan a nice dinner with your partner, make yourself a strong cup of coffee or herbal tea before starting the task at hand, pick up some dessert on the way home – whatever makes you happy. If it’s going to help you ground yourself from the earth-shattering panic that’s threatening to explode, DO IT.
  6. Speak up. There’s nothing wrong with speaking up and asking for help if you’re really struggling to finish a task or don’t know where to begin. Just make sure that you try figure things out yourself first before seeking help. Ask if someone is available to help you, or if any other tasks can be shifted over to the next day, or delegated. Rather ask than try and look like you’re doing the perfect job and screw up royally because you’re so stressed out.

What things have YOU found helpful to do at the office when you feel that overwhelming ball of panic creeping up?

Image credits: David Castillo Dominici and digitalart, freedigitalimages.net