July 7, 2022
4
Min read

“I avoided a panic attack right before going on stage at a conference”

Written By
Simon Dumont
With thanks To
Alexandria Shrader, Senior Support at Slite

The first time Alex thought she was dying, she was driving:

“I didn't know what was happening. I was getting heart palpitations. Then my fingers started clenching, and I couldn't unclench them—which was terrifying.”

Alex was a college student at the time. She was drinking a bit too much coffee in the day, a bit too much alcohol at night, studying lots, and sleeping little—the classic recipe for anxiety in your early 20s. But Alex didn’t know this yet, so understandably she was a bit freaked out.

As anyone who’s experienced this can relate to, the news that it was a panic attack—and that Alex was, in fact, not dying—didn’t provide much relief or closure. If anything, things got worse before they got better.

“I’d have anxiety about having anxiety, which would trigger a panic attack. I’d be about to enter a party, or start an exam at uni. On my way I’d feel totally fine. Then my hands would go numb, and suddenly I couldn't breathe.”

<quote-author>Alexandria Shrader<quote-author><quote-company>Senior Support at Slite<quote-company>

After six months of struggle, Alex went to see a therapist. With their help, she gradually got better at managing her panic attacks over the years.

But there are still some situations that set her off. Losing a friend or relative. Moving across countries. Speaking at a work conference in front of dozens of people.

Staying focused to stay calm

A few years on from her first panic attack, Alex found herself working in a tech startup support team. As someone well-versed in both customer support and managing mental health, she created a talk on self-care for support professionals to deliver at a well-known community conference.

It was a bold move for an anxious person.

From the moment she woke up that morning, Alex was nervous. <is--highlighted>She focused her attention on small tasks to avoid ruminating on her anxiety too much.<is--highlighted>

"I spent a long time making these gift bags for attendees, hoping they wouldn’t look at me on stage for a few minutes while they opened them.”

<quote-author>Alexandria Shrader<quote-author><quote-company>Senior Support at Slite<quote-company>

This kept her mostly calm until the afternoon, when Alex’s talk was scheduled. Then, as she was rehearsing her slides, a minor disaster happened: all the GIFs disappeared from her presentation. After scrambling to re-add them all and lay out the gift bags, Alex was feeling tense as she headed backstage ahead of her big moment.

Then the panic started creeping in.

“Start small”

The irony of having a panic attack right before doing a talk on self-care was not lost on Alex.

“Looking out and seeing 100 people, I suddenly realized I was panicking. I wasn’t breathing correctly, then I started feeling light-headed. I’m about to do a speech on preventing symptoms of burnout, and right now I’m checking 9 out of 10 boxes. I felt like a fraud.”

But Alex was prepared for this moment. <is--highlighted>She brought a colleague backstage for support who she’d previously confided in<is--highlighted> about her anxiety. They went outside. Alex <is--highlighted>focused on maintaining eye contact<is--highlighted> with her friend as she went through her anti-panic routine.

From therapy, Alex had learned how to <is--highlighted>concentrate on her breathing<is--highlighted> when a panic attack came, and how to <is--highlighted>feel more at ease with the physical symptoms in each part of her body.<is--highlighted>

“Start small. Take a minute to think: how are you holding your shoulders? Are you raising them? Start doing little circles—find reasons to bring yourself back to your body. Do you feel your toes? Can you wiggle them? Bring your full attention to your toes for a minute.”

By using these strategies and keeping her eyes on her teammates in the crowd, Alex managed to ground herself, walk out on stage, and get through the talk. It went really well.

“No one realised I was panicking. It shows you can still function perfectly well with any kind of mental health issue—as long as you treat it.”

<quote-author>Alexandria Shrader<quote-author><quote-company>Senior Support at Slite<quote-company>

The hidden impact of crushing workplace stigma

Alex overcame her backstage panic with well-practiced tactics—and support from a colleague she trusted. But depending on the workplace, finding this kind of support isn’t always easy.

In the past, Alex had found it difficult to open up about her anxiety with teammates. That changed when she joined Big Cartel—where she worked at the time of the conference—and when she joined her current team at Slite.

This stigma-free environment led Alex to bond with a particular colleague—the one who went on to help her that day. Talking about mental health at work from time to time might not feel like a big thing. But for Alex, it ultimately helped the show to go on.

Oliva therapist portrait photo

5 tips on managing panic

by Oliva therapist

Bliss White

1

Acknowledge how you’re feeling

Simply noticing that you’re feeling a bit panicky or anxious is a great first step. Feel good about noticing—it means you can now control what you do next.
2

Stop what you’re doing

Find a quiet corner or step to the side, and remind yourself that you’re safe. Don’t try to run away from the situation. It’s your panic symptoms telling you that you’re in danger. But this isn’t true—you are safe.
3

Focus on something you can touch

The toggle on your hoodie, a button on your shirt, that screwed up tissue in your pocket—touch it and focus on what it feels like. How would you describe it to someone? Try it now—see how it focuses your mind.
4

Shock your system

Panic gets you so caught up in your head that you neglect the rest of your body. Ping the elastic band on your wrist. Sniff the perfume or aftershave on your clothes. Wiggle your toes in your shoes. Shock your system into remembering there’s more to you than just panicky thoughts.
5

Tell someone

If you’re with people that you love or trust, tell them: ‘Hey, I don’t feel too good right now.’ Your tribe will want to support you during this heightened state. It might seem scary, but telling someone will help get you back to your normal, stable state faster.
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March 28, 2022
4
Min read

“I avoided a panic attack right before going on stage at a conference”

Written By
Simon Dumont
With thanks To
Alexandria Shrader, Senior Support at Slite

The first time Alex thought she was dying, she was driving:

“I didn't know what was happening. I was getting heart palpitations. Then my fingers started clenching, and I couldn't unclench them—which was terrifying.”

Alex was a college student at the time. She was drinking a bit too much coffee in the day, a bit too much alcohol at night, studying lots, and sleeping little—the classic recipe for anxiety in your early 20s. But Alex didn’t know this yet, so understandably she was a bit freaked out.

As anyone who’s experienced this can relate to, the news that it was a panic attack—and that Alex was, in fact, not dying—didn’t provide much relief or closure. If anything, things got worse before they got better.

“I’d have anxiety about having anxiety, which would trigger a panic attack. I’d be about to enter a party, or start an exam at uni. On my way I’d feel totally fine. Then my hands would go numb, and suddenly I couldn't breathe.”

<quote-author>Alexandria Shrader<quote-author><quote-company>Senior Support at Slite<quote-company>

After six months of struggle, Alex went to see a therapist. With their help, she gradually got better at managing her panic attacks over the years.

But there are still some situations that set her off. Losing a friend or relative. Moving across countries. Speaking at a work conference in front of dozens of people.

Staying focused to stay calm

A few years on from her first panic attack, Alex found herself working in a tech startup support team. As someone well-versed in both customer support and managing mental health, she created a talk on self-care for support professionals to deliver at a well-known community conference.

It was a bold move for an anxious person.

From the moment she woke up that morning, Alex was nervous. <is--highlighted>She focused her attention on small tasks to avoid ruminating on her anxiety too much.<is--highlighted>

Quote author photograph
"I spent a long time making these gift bags for attendees, hoping they wouldn’t look at me on stage for a few minutes while they opened them.”

<quote-author>Alexandria Shrader<quote-author><quote-company>Senior Support at Slite<quote-company>

This kept her mostly calm until the afternoon, when Alex’s talk was scheduled. Then, as she was rehearsing her slides, a minor disaster happened: all the GIFs disappeared from her presentation. After scrambling to re-add them all and lay out the gift bags, Alex was feeling tense as she headed backstage ahead of her big moment.

Then the panic started creeping in.

“Start small”

The irony of having a panic attack right before doing a talk on self-care was not lost on Alex.

“Looking out and seeing 100 people, I suddenly realized I was panicking. I wasn’t breathing correctly, then I started feeling light-headed. I’m about to do a speech on preventing symptoms of burnout, and right now I’m checking 9 out of 10 boxes. I felt like a fraud.”

But Alex was prepared for this moment. <is--highlighted>She brought a colleague backstage for support who she’d previously confided in<is--highlighted> about her anxiety. They went outside. Alex <is--highlighted>focused on maintaining eye contact<is--highlighted> with her friend as she went through her anti-panic routine.

From therapy, Alex had learned how to <is--highlighted>concentrate on her breathing<is--highlighted> when a panic attack came, and how to <is--highlighted>feel more at ease with the physical symptoms in each part of her body.<is--highlighted>

“Start small. Take a minute to think: how are you holding your shoulders? Are you raising them? Start doing little circles—find reasons to bring yourself back to your body. Do you feel your toes? Can you wiggle them? Bring your full attention to your toes for a minute.”

By using these strategies and keeping her eyes on her teammates in the crowd, Alex managed to ground herself, walk out on stage, and get through the talk. It went really well.

quote author photograph
“No one realised I was panicking. It shows you can still function perfectly well with any kind of mental health issue—as long as you treat it.”

<quote-author>Alexandria Shrader<quote-author><quote-company>Senior Support at Slite<quote-company>

The hidden impact of crushing workplace stigma

Alex overcame her backstage panic with well-practiced tactics—and support from a colleague she trusted. But depending on the workplace, finding this kind of support isn’t always easy.

In the past, Alex had found it difficult to open up about her anxiety with teammates. That changed when she joined Big Cartel—where she worked at the time of the conference—and when she joined her current team at Slite.

This stigma-free environment led Alex to bond with a particular colleague—the one who went on to help her that day. Talking about mental health at work from time to time might not feel like a big thing. But for Alex, it ultimately helped the show to go on.

Oliva therapist photograph

5 tips on managing panic

by Oliva therapist

Bliss White

1
Acknowledge how you’re feeling

Simply noticing that you’re feeling a bit panicky or anxious is a great first step. Feel good about noticing—it means you can now control what you do next.

2
Stop what you’re doing

Find a quiet corner or step to the side, and remind yourself that you’re safe. Don’t try to run away from the situation. It’s your panic symptoms telling you that you’re in danger. But this isn’t true—you are safe.

3
Focus on something you can touch

The toggle on your hoodie, a button on your shirt, that screwed up tissue in your pocket—touch it and focus on what it feels like. How would you describe it to someone? Try it now—see how it focuses your mind.

4
Shock your system

Panic gets you so caught up in your head that you neglect the rest of your body. Ping the elastic band on your wrist. Sniff the perfume or aftershave on your clothes. Wiggle your toes in your shoes. Shock your system into remembering there’s more to you than just panicky thoughts.

5
Tell someone

If you’re with people that you love or trust, tell them: ‘Hey, I don’t feel too good right now.’ Your tribe will want to support you during this heightened state. It might seem scary, but telling someone will help get you back to your normal, stable state faster.

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