How to Repress a Panic Attack During an Interview

John Krautzel
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The interview process can be very taxing for candidates. You may find yourself worried about your financial situation when faced with unemployment. The pressure to find a job builds and can ultimately lead to a panic attack. However, what if a panic attack launches at the worst time? Learn how to repress the stress and panic that can creep in during an interview to keep your professionalism in the forefront and increase your chance of landing the job.

Symptoms of a Panic Attack

A panic attack can be scary and triggers both physical and emotional symptoms. You may feel dizzy, your heart may pound and intense nervousness can lead you to believe you are about to faint. Some people have shortness of breath, experience body shakes and begin to sweat profusely. You may even notice your palms are extremely sweaty, which can make for an embarrassing moment when shaking hands with a potential employer. These symptoms may be difficult to control during a job interview if they escalate. You can learn how to repress the symptoms, though, to avoid any uncomfortable encounters with hiring managers.

Breathe in Fresh Air

Panic attacks can make you feel as if your body is out of control, especially when it is hard to breathe. Take back the control with breathing exercises right before or during an interview, recommends therapist Mark Tyrrell with Uncommon Help. Hold your breath for 10 to 15 seconds to reset your breathing to normal. You can subtly do this during an interview to help regain your composure and offset shortness of breath. People often feel as if they cannot breathe because they are breathing out too much air, explains Tyrrell. Holding your breath briefly allows the air to remain in your lungs to regulate your breathing patterns.

Slow down your breathing to repress a panic attack. Breathe deeply in through the nose on a seven-second count and exhale through the nose slowly, taking 11 seconds to release the air. Practice this technique well before the interview so that you can naturally perform breathing exercises while appearing to be tentatively listening during a job interview.

Keep Your Brain Active

When panic attacks, it is common for the brain to become less active. Repress the symptoms of a panic attack by keeping your brain busy. Purposely count backwards in your mind, or think about how you have prepared to answer interview questions. By forcing your brain to work on small tasks, you are sending the message to your unconscious self that this panic attack is not an emergency.

Be A-W-A-R-E

One of the best ways to repress a panic attack is to accept it. Tyrrell suggests using the AWARE method. Begin by Accepting the anxiety, and then Watch the anxiety as if you are observing it. Act normal and carry on as if your body is not being taken over by the symptoms, and Repeat the steps until you begin to feel normal again. The last step is to Expect the best. Positive thinking helps to override the terror you may feel inside. Instead of giving in to worry about how much you are sweating or shaking, tell yourself that you are in control, and the panic should subside quickly.

Know the Process

Panic attacks commonly trigger a feeling of fight or flight. By knowing what is bound to happen, you can prepare yourself quickly to fight the symptoms. Tell yourself that the symptoms are short-term and that you know you are not likely to faint, vomit or even die. Utilize relaxation techniques while thinking positive thoughts. If you need a moment to gather yourself, discreetly ask the interviewer if you can use the restroom quickly to give yourself a bit more time to recover.

Although panic attacks can make you feel as if you are going to be physically sick, if you utilize coping methods such as deep breathing and relaxation techniques, you can quickly minimize the symptoms. A job interview is a stressful experience and can trigger feelings of panic, but if you know that you are in control, then you can repress these feelings and continue to show off your professional demeanor.

Photo Courtesy of Stuart Miles at


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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Duncan, you could go to the restroom prior to the interview and try some deep breathing or even yawing. They understand. Maybe you had a long drive to get there and you need to use the facilities. As for eating - just a nice healthy meal prior to the interview. And make sure that you brush your teeth afterwards. No smoking either as that smell lingers and you will bring it along with you. @Laura a little bit of light humor is good. Who knows - maybe this is the interviewer's first time and he is just as nervous as you. And always remember that an interview will only last about 1/2 hr. We can get through anything when we know it's only for a short period of time. Best of luck to all.

  • Laura Winzeler
    Laura Winzeler

    My natural tendency in these sorts of situations is to disarm and diffuse with candor. It might be risky, but I'd probably say something like: "Wow! I'm way more nervous in front of you than I expected to be!" Normally, other people rush in to comfort or reassure in some way, and it can also be a great way to inject lighthearted humor, which always tamps down my stress levels.

  • Duncan  Maranga
    Duncan Maranga

    Sometimes the panic may just come unnoticed after some time of calm while waiting for my turn into the interview room. I am not sure if it will be appropriate for me to openly show my panic to my potential employer by asking for some time in the restrooms. In that case if I want to prevent the panic attack before hand, are there specific foods that I can take prior to the interview day to help me stabilize?

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    One of the biggest calming factors I've ever found in stressful situations is controlled breathing. The first thing I do when I start to panic is to take shallow, inefficient breaths. If I focus on my chest and take a deep, long breath — just one breath — I find myself much calmer afterward.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @Sarah, I think this goes back to all the advice about being prepared to ask questions. Come up with as many as you can and keep your list in front of you and this along with the breathing exercises can help to keep your calm. I also believe that if you really can't control your panic attack and start to get sick, it's okay to excuse yourself. Interviewers are human too, so hopefully they will be understanding. And if not, maybe this isn't a position you want anyway.

  • Jacqueline Parks
    Jacqueline Parks

    I love the advice to know the process and accept it, and to be aware, but I am not so sure about keeping the brain active. I think counting backwards could backfire and result in missing important information during the interview process. Instead, I think the applicant might concentrate on his breathing while also paying extra attention to the interviewer. Listening fully and observing body language takes the mind off of your personal panic levels and back where it belongs, on the interview process.

  • Sarah Andrews
    Sarah Andrews

    To add to the point of keeping your brain active, I find that a good way to stay composed in an interview is to turn the table and ask the interviewer a few questions. You can ask them to clarify a question, or ask about the position, or anything that's relevant at the moment. It makes me feel a little more in control of the situation and like we're on common ground. I'm wondering though, if you can't manage to repress the panic attack, how do you continue from there? From the perspective of an interviewer, is there a way to recover from a panic attack and still get the job? Or should the candidate just see themself out at that point?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Cory everyone is different so it's hard to say. But, if you are nearing a panic attack, try some of them and see. The last thing you want is to have a panic attack while in front of the interviewer. So take a few minutes, before the interview, and try some deep breathing. For me, I have found that if I yawn really big that I can head off a panic attack. I guess it allows more oxygen into my body and gives it a chance to relax - at least a little bit.

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    Before going in to any high-pressure situation, like a job interview, being aware of your body and how you are reacting to the situation is so crucial,. Knowing what is normal for me allows me to catch and remedy things when my breathing or heart rate start to fluctuate prior to an interview. It makes it much easier to be ready and control the situation.

  • Cory L.
    Cory L.

    I've never had a panic before but I have had anxiety issues in the past. If it's possible for me to have a panic attack, it's entirely possible that my first could be in a high pressure situation like an interview, right? If this is the case, would I be able to use these strategies if I'm not used to having panic attacks?

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    The BEWARE method is a great idea. I especially like the last part, to expect the best. Positive thinking is a great way to overcome anxiety. Normally anxiety is triggered and accompanied by negative thoughts, which don't do any good for anyone. Stay positive, be optimistic, and think of only the good things that can happen during and after the interview. This should help to calm your anxiety immensely.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Shannon thanks for your comment. That interviewer already knows that you are nervous. Who knows - they can be more nervous than you. Maybe this is their first time conducting an interview! As for deep breathing - you need to do that prior to the start of the interview. Doing deep breathing exercises while the interview is going on it probably not the best idea. As @William mentioned - try three big deep breaths before you walk in for the interview. I have also found that if I do some big yawns prior to the interview that I feel more focused and ready to go.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    Breathing is definitely a good technique to help you calm down. Taking a deep breath gets more oxygen into your bloodstream. The oxygen gets to your brain to help stabilize your thought processes. In yoga and martial arts, a "cleansing breath" happens when you take deep breaths in the nose and out your mouth. Try three of those before you walk into the building for your interview.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    These are really helpful techniques to calm down interviewees struggling with panic. Is it appropriate to share that you are nervous with the interviewer or can this be perceived as a method to stall, a lack of confidence or indicate that you have something to hide? Deep breathing is a strong strategy, but it could also communicate something negative to the interviewer.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Mike thanks for your comments. Breathing exercises are great as long as you take long measured breaths. When in a panic we tend to take very short quick breaths which can cause hyperventilation. You could try some stretching right before you go in. If you are at the site and are really apprehensive, go into the restroom and try some quick stretches and some big yawns. I know sitting in the waiting room is the toughest because you start thinking about what you have already forgotten and your mind says RUN! But, as long as you had prepared in advance, you can reassure yourself that you have everything that you need and, in about a half hour you are going to be laughing at yourself for being so silly. What's the worst that can happen? You don't get the job. What's the best that can happen? You get the job or even possibly a referral or chance at another position within the company. If you have prepared, that will help to keep your panic in check. Remember that the interviewer knows that you are going to be nervous and they will take it into account. Let me just say, as a person who has been on both sides of the table, I would prefer someone who was nervous rather than someone who came in all self-assured because, in my opinion, the nervous one is the one who really took the time to prepare and who really wants the position. Typically, at least in my experience, the self-assured one is the one who figured that his work could speak for itself and he didn't have to prepare - never even did a cursory look at the company website. So remember that a bit of apprehension is not a bad thing.

  • Mike Van de Water
    Mike Van de Water

    John, do you have any advice for preventing panics attacks in the first place? Perhaps through some sort of breathing exercises, or preparation in the form of practice interviews? I find that I sometimes can't stop my mind from racing in pressure situations, and job interviews (and sitting in the waiting room beforehand) certainly qualify. I'd hate to miss out on a sweet job due to a preventable situation.

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