Perhaps you know that you can alleviate the attack by taking a quick walk or by taking a quick break in the bathroom. Or, maybe you know that sitting down and drinking some water will help.
But what if your workplace doesn’t allow you to take a walk or a bathroom break? What if your workplace doesn’t allow you to sit down? Or allow you to have food or drink at your workstation?
Are you forever stuck without the resources you need in order to calm (or prevent) your panic?
THE AMERICANS WITH DISABILITIES ACT
You’re not stuck. You can request helpful accommodations from your employer thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
So, what is the ADA, exactly? From the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) website:
The ADA gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in employment, State and local government services, public accommodations, transportation, and telecommunications.
The ADA doesn’t maintain a specific list of medical (or psychological) conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, according to JAN, they use a general definition of “disability”:
A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having such an impairment (EEOC, 1992).
Does panic disorder substantially limit one or more major life activity? Sure; it absolutely can. If you call work a “major life activity”, and panic is substantially limiting your ability to work, then your panic would probably fall under the ADA’s definition of “disability.” (Take a further look at the criteria here.)
With this in mind, you can ask your employer — usually your Human Resources department — for accommodations that will help you to perform your job.
WHAT KIND OF ACCOMMODATIONS CAN I REQUEST?
JAN maintains a fairly thorough list of accommodation ideas that are useful for mental health impairments. For panic disorder specifically, here are a few ideas on what you can request:
Modified or flexible break schedule. It’s frustrating to twiddle your fingers in boredom on your 10:15 AM break. It’s even more frustrating to then have a panic attack at 10:40 AM and not be able to take a break to care for yourself…because you already used up your precious 15 minutes of morning break time. Flexible breaks can give you the comfort of knowing that you can retreat from a panic situation in order to care for yourself, call a support person, or manage the anxiety via CBT techniques.
Leave for counseling. Maybe you want to try CBT or biofeedback, but your local therapist only sees patients during the same 9-to-5 during which you’re stuck in front of that computer. Or that cash register. Or that assembly line. You can request permission to switch up your work schedule — perhaps by working late or coming in early to make up time — to accommodate for therapy sessions.
A work-from-home agreement. This obviously won’t fly if your work needs to be done in person, but it’s a perfectly legit request for computer-based jobs. You can ask if your company would be willing to let you work from home on days when flare-ups might occur (if your panic is predictable), or after you’ve taken anxiety medication that makes you too sleepy to safely drive, or if panic has made physical attendance difficult in some other way.
Removal of triggers. Do sudden loud sounds incite panic attacks? You can request that your workspace be moved to a quieter area. Does panic make you immediately need to run the restroom? You can request a seat or a job that is physically closer to the restroom. If your request is reasonable — and I know that’s a difficult word to define — then it’s worth asking.
However, keep in mind that simply requesting a workplace accommodation doesn’t mean that your employer is obligated to grant your request outright. They may deny certain accommodation requests if they place an undue hardship (like a “significant difficulty” or “significant expense”) on the company. Or, they might negotiate with you and offer similar reasonable requests. Either way, you can contact JAN for support throughout the process — they even offer live chat.
Ready to write that letter? JAN provides a sample accommodation request letter to help you get started.
REFERENCES AND RESOURCES:
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Last reviewed: 28 Jul 2011