How to Manage Anxiety and Panic Attacks at a Job Interview?

By Nov.07, 2012

Over the years I have met a small but significant number of students who experience much more than the average interview nerves.  For our Salford readers, I’d recommend that you take advantage of the services our counselling and wellbeing team can offer you if you suffer from anxiety – especially if you want to use specific strategies, e.g., bringing on a panic attack, which it’s best to do with the help of a therapist/counsellor.  And don’t forget you can also get help with practice with interviews by seeing a member of our Careers & Employability team. We will happily give you a mock interview and hour-long appointments are available for this. However, I was pleased to receive this guest post from Ryan Rivera who writes with considerable experience about panic disorder and other mental health issues at Calm Clinic. He goes into detail on specific coping strategies which are really useful. “Living with panic attacks is difficult enough as it is. You may find yourself out with your friends and experiencing a panic attack, triggering worries that your friends will judge you or that you’ll be humiliated. Yet in the end, once the panic attack is over, you know that your friends are still going to be there for you and their opinion of you is not likely to change. But when you have a panic attack at a job interview, it can be an immensely stressful experience. Not only do you have to deal with the tremendous pressures of a panic attack, but you also have to try to salvage the interview, knowing that your panic attack may play a role. The Fear of Panic Once you feel a panic attack coming on, there is very little that you can do to control it. What makes it more problematic is that fearing a panic attack can cause a panic attack, and those with panic disorder are likely to worry about how they handle themselves during the interview. That’s why there are two steps towards reducing the chances a panic attack will affect your interview: Reducing the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack  and controlling the severity of the panic attack

  1. Reducing the likelihood of experiencing a panic attack.

There are numerous steps you can take to prevent panic attacks when you have panic disorder, but assuming that you still get panic attacks regularly at the time of the interview, your goal is to make sure that you’re not focusing on your anxiety or your worries about your panic attacks before the interview takes place. Consider the following:

  • Exercise Thoroughly Beforehand

Panic attacks are often caused by stress and oversensitivity to body sensations. You worry that you’re going to get a panic attack, and you start to become attuned to the way your body feels. Then when you feel any unusual sensation, you get the attack. Exercise appears to reduce this risk in several ways. First, it releases endorphins which calm the mind and body. Second, it gives your body an “excuse” for various sensations, which makes it less likely you’ll have a panic attack. Third, it tires your muscles, so the chances of feeling as nervous are reduced.

  • Keep Yourself Mentally Distracted

Give yourself less time to focus on your worries about a panic attack. Call your friends, spend time out in public, and do things to keep yourself as busy as possible. The less time you spend thinking about the “inevitable” panic attack, the less likely you’ll get one.

  • Have a Panic Attack

As a last resort, you may want to consider finding a way to trigger a panic attack before the interview. It sounds unusual, but panic attacks don’t usually trigger themselves one after the other. They peak at 10 minutes, slowly fade, and don’t generally come back for quite a while. If you have a panic attack trigger, trying to trigger it long before the interview starts can actually help – afterward, though, try to do something to improve your mood and energy.

  1. Controlling the severity of the panic attack.

The other thing you’ll need to do is figure out how to reduce the severity of a panic attack if you start to have one during your interview. This is much more difficult since usually one of the best ways to reduce the severity of a panic attack is to talk to someone about the fact that you’re having one, which is something you may not want to do at the interview. Going for a walk also helps, but since you can’t leave the interview, it may not be the best strategy. How do you reduce the severity of the attack?  Ideally, there are two strategies:

  • Drink Water/Bathroom – Do something that changes your environment a bit. Asking to be excused to go to the bathroom may help, and then while you’re in there you can take a moment to overcome your panic. Also, drinking cold water can sometimes have a calming effect. Neither of these are surefire solutions, of course, but they can help.
  • Learn Breathing Techniques – Also, breathing techniques can reduce hyperventilation, which can reduce the severity of your panic attack. When you’re not answering a question, take very slow breaths, breathing both in slowly and out slowly, and at the peak of your breath (when your stomach is the most full), hold for a few seconds to regain some of the CO2 that’s lost during hyperventilation.

It would be great to say there was a surefire solution for immediately stopping a panic attack when one begins, but unfortunately that’s not the case. Usually when they start they are very hard to stop, but if you can reduce the severity you should still be able to move forward with the interview. Panic attacks are not dangerous, but they can make it very hard to get through an interview. Ideally, you’ll need to get anxiety help long before you start interviewing for jobs. But if an interview is coming up fast and you are suffering from regular panic attacks, use the above strategies to reduce the likelihood of getting an attack and control the severity of the attack should you suffer from one. There may not be an immediate cure, but the more you do to stop the effects of your panic, the more likely it won’t affect your interview chances.” Here are some other links you may find helpful too.

1 Comment

One thought on “How to Manage Anxiety and Panic Attacks at a Job Interview?

  1. I want to to thank you for this fantastic read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it.
    I’ve got you book marked to look at new stuff you post…


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