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May 4, 2023
Min read

“I had a panic attack on a sales call”

Written By
Nausheen Eusuf
With thanks To
Indra Saha | Account Executive at Oliva

Indra knew early on that he’d enjoy working in sales.

“It’s a very people-first position. I love having conversations with people, getting to know them, and being able to have a positive impact on someone’s day.”

So when he landed his first senior sales role at a London startup with a great company culture, Indra was thrilled. He liked his colleagues and became good friends with his manager. He worked hard and received very positive feedback.

It was also a high-pressure environment, and Indra held himself to high standards of performance. He consistently exceeded his targets and was the highest revenue-generating sales executive for two quarters in a row.

But in his second year there, things began to falter.

“My brain was on a constant loop”

Indra was in a relationship at the time, but it wasn’t working out. The relationship troubles started to affect him at work. It was hard to engage in a conversation with a prospect when he was preoccupied with personal issues.

“I kept thinking about what had gone wrong—which made it hard to focus at work. Then my work performance started to slip, causing even more anxiety and stress. I started to doubt myself and lose my confidence.”

But working in sales is all about confidence—and that means being able  to put aside whatever might be happening in your personal life. It’s a stressful job, with constant pressure to meet targets. 

Indra would try to focus, but he could tell that his brain was on autopilot. He wasn’t really there.

“I’d obsess about my relationship, then about why I couldn’t work. I was wondering why I’d gone into sales. My brain was on a constant loop of anxiety and self-doubt.”

<quote-author>Indra Saha<quote-author><quote-company>Account Executive at Oliva<quote-company>

Indra started losing interest and motivation. Even when he did perform well and receive good feedback, he was no longer celebrating. Mustering the energy to perform on each call was emotionally draining. He felt like he was putting forward a false version of himself.

Then, it happened.

“I thought I was having a stroke”

It was a day like any other. The sales floor was humming.

Indra was on a call doing a demo, just like he’d done countless times before. Besides himself and the prospect, there were two others listening in.

Meanwhile, his anxious thoughts continued their vicious loop. Indra ignored the mounting sensation of pressure at the back of his mind.

He was mid-demo when he stopped abruptly.

“My brain suddenly went blank. I couldn’t think. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t register or comprehend any words. I felt like I was going to faint. I thought I was having a stroke.”

Indra handed the headset to the person next to him. He stood up and said to his manager, “I think I’m going to pass out.”

Indra’s manager was alarmed to see that he had turned grey. He called an ambulance and took Indra to the garden outside the building. He tried to calm him down and help him feel safe.

“I just started breaking down. I still couldn’t speak properly. I started crying because I thought I was about to die. My brain was so dissociated from reality that I couldn’t even figure out if he was real—or if anything was real.”

At the hospital Indra went through a full battery of tests, but there was nothing amiss. He went back again the next day, still convinced he’d been having a stroke. Again, the tests came back fine.

It would take Indra several months to figure out that he’d had a panic attack.

“It was the lowest period of my life”

Indra returned to work a few days later, but he found it overwhelming. He couldn’t concentrate, and the constant pressure in his head refused to go away. He also couldn’t find the support he needed.

“The company wasn’t proactive about having support structures in place. I was on my own—sorting out the paperwork and ringing their medical insurance to find support. The process was really stressful, especially when I was already not in a good headspace.”

Indra ended up having to take several months off work. He struggled with anxiety and self-doubt. He couldn’t sleep. He didn’t feel motivated to do anything. He worried about having another stroke-like episode.

“It was the lowest period of my life. I felt alone and isolated. I didn’t know where to go. I was just told: use this directory to find a therapist. I was basically left to my own devices.”

Indra tried a therapist from the directory, but quit after a few sessions because they weren’t a good fit. He thought maybe therapy wasn’t for him. He started taking sertraline, which helped take the edge off the anxiety.

While the time off was necessary, it was also alienating because Indra was no longer aware of what was happening at work. He ended up leaving the company altogether.

Eventually, Indra found a new job. He wasn’t sure what it would be like to go back to work. But it helped that it was a fresh start at a new place with new people.

“I remember taking deep breaths and mentally preparing for the first call. Thankfully, it was fine. Knowing that the previous place was triggering while the new environment wasn’t—that was a revelation. I started to realise and accept that what had happened was truly psychological.”

This new understanding marked a turning point for Indra. 

Making friends with his mind

In the two years since then, Indra has been on a journey of self-discovery and self-acceptance.

“I’ve come to terms with my anxious thought patterns. Over time, it clicked—that it’s just my thoughts causing the symptoms. I can manage it better. I’m not as hard on myself anymore.”

<quote-author>Indra Saha<quote-author><quote-company>Account Executive at Oliva<quote-company>

As part of this journey, Indra was recently diagnosed with OCD. In retrospect, it makes sense to him. Even prior to the panic attack, his mind would get stuck or fixated on particular things. He’d notice the obsessive quality of his anxious thoughts.

“I’m still coming to grips with OCD and what that means for me. But I have a great new therapist, which is amazing. I’m much more aware of how my mind works. And I’m in a much better place than I ever was before.”

Indra’s own experience is what motivates him in his latest role: the very first Account Executive at Oliva.

“When I’m on a call, I’m passionate because I know firsthand what it’s like to not have proper access to support. It feels great being able to help people facing the situation I was in.”

Previously, Indra didn’t talk about his mental health except with close friends. And before the panic attack, he never thought he’d need therapy. That’s why he wanted to share his story—so it can help someone else who may be suffering in silence.

Oliva therapist photograph

5 tips on managing panic

by Oliva therapist

Bliss Pidduck

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.