Are you living with panic attacks? Just the name makes me want to run away and hide.
The last one I had was bad enough for my husband to call the paramedics. I had one 11 years ago (at work of all places) that put me in the hospital for two days. I thought I was having a heart attack, but I wasn’t. By now I recognize that I’ve been living with panic attacks all these years in between. They don’t always feel quite so big and scary. I must have gotten it together before my breathing took on a life of its own.
Before we go any further, you must know that I’m not a medical professional, and this article is not intended as medical advice. Because this can happen to anyone, I’m simply sharing my experience with panic attacks, my personal beliefs for recovery, and information uncovered in my research. I pray it inspires you to pursue the appropriate help in managing your situation.
What is a panic attack?
According to the Mayo Clinic: A panic attack is a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause. Panic attacks can be very frightening. When panic attacks occur, you might think you’re losing control, having a heart attack, or even dying (Panic attacks and panic disorder 2018).
I’m learning that panic and anxiety are not the same. There are differences between these two types of attack. For the sake of simplicity, I will use the term panic attack in this article, fully recognizing that there are difference, and you can read about them in this article by Jayne Leonard, Anxiety Attack vs. Panic Attack (Leonard, 2021).
How can I deal with panic attacks wisely?
So, what does wisely mean? Well, first we should probably slow down, take a deep breath and admit there is a problem. This part is hard but needed before we can move forward. Then start taking steps to address it.
Don’t be embarrassed to talk about it
Eventually, Life happens to everyone. For example, you get a bad medical report, your kids leave home, your spouse leaves you, or several big things all at once. I can look back and see how it started. I was in a difficult season at work, then a job change, and finally becoming a full-time caregiver to my sister. Sometimes life challenges take us off track, and we don’t realize it until something happens, like a panic attack.
Let’s be plain about it–if you do not deal with these challenges wisely, life will kick your butt. How we respond to these challenges makes all the difference.
There is wisdom in the Word of God
My next steps must be getting back into God’s Word regularly, like every morning. I recently wrote about how, for some reason, my morning routine has deteriorated, click here to read more. I find myself struggling to maintain what was once a solid daily habit of prayer and time alone with God in scripture. Now, I believe this panic attack is proof that I’m suffering without it.
The morning after my panic attack, I found two things in my mailbox that will start me back on a path to time alone with God and bring some accountability into this part of my life:
- The first step – I saw the Thrive Again 5-Day Challenge, by Christene Caine, and signed up. I have already benefitted from the worksheets. Will this change me? No, not on its own. But it is an excellent first step and will tide me over to the next step.
- The next step – A friend from church sent me an email inviting me to a bible study starting soon. It has been almost a year since my last small group bible study. Immediately, I bought the book and confirmed my attendance. Now, all I have to do show up.
I love the way God provides what you need when you need it. Just keep taking the next step.
Why are panic attacks embarrassing?
During my research, I came across an article by Paul Tautges on the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors website. Tautges wrote, “The battle with anxiety is part of our fallen condition” (Tautges, 2020). At first, I thought, that’s why Christians don’t talk about living with panic attacks. We are embarrassed because someone is always telling us we are sinners. We think that it is somehow shameful to experience fear, anxiety, or have panic attacks because we are Christians.
Christians are still only human
It was so hard to admit I have panic attacks, and they can get nasty. I didn’t want people to know. I just finished writing a series on living joyfully. My life verse is 2 Timothy 1:7, for goodness’ sake. I should be able to handle everything life throws at me with a smile. Right? Wait a minute. During my panic attack God reminded me that, while I’m a Christian, I am also human. And so are you.
On second thought, Maybe Paul Tautges has a point? There was only ever one perfect human, Jesus. Therefore, we (the rest of us humans) all live in this “fallen condition.” We do have weaknesses, but we can find strength in Christ (Philippians 4:13), through the Holy Spirit.
For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid,
but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
–2 Timothy 1:7 (NIV)
There is nothing to be ashamed of
I was so ashamed that it took me months to admit that first, and hopefully, last, ambulance ride eleven years ago was because of a panic attack. But a lot has changed since then. I now know that God does not condemn His children (Romans 8:1-2). That shame comes from society and the enemy.
We must work with God by allowing the Holy Spirit to reveal in us what needs attention. Because we are human, there will always be something that needs attention. And since they come unannounced, learning to trust God while living with panic attacks is necessary for dealing with them.
5Trust in the LORD with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.
6In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will make your paths straight.
Can I prevent a panic attack?
Addressing our spiritual health is one particularly important part of this panic puzzle. But don’t forget the other pieces, mental and physical health, because they all contribute to stress levels resulting in panic attacks. What you can be sure of is ignoring panic attacks will not prevent them. So, what can we do to help ourselves?
Make healthy choices
In my research, I found several areas mentioned repeatedly about how to prevent or at least manage panic attacks:
- Breathing exercises
- Physical exercise
- A healthy diet
- Avoid alcohol and caffeine
- Practice mindfulness
- Look panic square in the face
- Prayer (This is my contribution to the list.)
These seem like very common-sense practices for overall well-being, and all seem doable. Well, number six is a little scary, but we can work up to that one.
Taking control of your choices
After reviewing all the information, I took a quick assessment of my lifestyle choices. I can see that I am not eating a healthy diet, not exercising the way I should, and coffee and tea (and chocolate) are among my closest friends. Clearly, I have work to do, and I will do, to get better. How about you?
I think we can agree that having a sense of control over even one of the things on our list might provide some sense of calm, and that has value. So why not pick one and start working on it? It seems fair to say that gaining control over these few things might complement our time alone with God. Although, God does not need any help. He is enough already.
What will be your first step in managing panic attacks?
I’m sharing this with you today because I don’t want you to suffer in silence. Let us not endure life in fear or anxiety. Instead, let us live a life empowered by the Holy Spirit. In His power, love, and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). There is no shame in having panic attacks. But it is important to gain freedom from whatever is causing them, and that usually requires outside help.
IMPORTANT: Don’t rely on home remedies or suggestions easily found online or in this article. Panic attacks deserve proper attention. Please seek the help you need.
Have you had a similar experience? Don‘t wait for something perfect to come along and save you. He already has. All you have to do is ask Jesus to come into your heart for life.
Here is a simple prayer to help if you can’t find the words:
Dear Heavenly Father,
I‘m sorry for the wrong things I‘ve done. Please forgive me. I believe your Son died on the cross for my sins and rose from the dead, and because of this, I will enter into heaven when I die. Jesus, come into my heart and be my Lord and Savior. I willingly give you my life. Now, Father, help me do your will. Thank you again for saving me! In Jesus‘ name, I pray. Amen.
The road to recovery starts and ends with Jesus, but some important stuff goes on in the middle. And Jesus is there too.
Let’s get started together today. But first, I’m asking you again, what will be your first step?
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. This article is for information purposes only and not meant to provide or replace good medical advice.
Panic attacks and panic disorder. (2018, May 04). Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/panic-attacks/symptoms-causes/syc-20376021
How to deal with panic attacks. (n.d.). Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.nhsinform.scot/healthy-living/mental-wellbeing/anxiety-and-panic/how-to-deal-with-panic-attacks
Leonard, J. (2021, January 20). Panic attack vs. anxiety attack: What is the difference? Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321798#causes
Emamzadeh, A. (2018, August 14). A Technique for Overcoming Panic Attacks [Web log post]. Retrieved April 7, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/
Panic attack. (2017, May 17). Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/panic-attack
Diagnosis Dictionary, no author listed.
(https://www.psychologytoday.com/, Panic attack 2017)
Tautges, P. (2020, April 22). When Panic Attacks. Retrieved April 7, 2021, from https://biblicalcounseling.com/resource-library/conference-messages/when-panic-attacks/
How to pray the salvation prayer. (n.d.). Retrieved April 08, 2021, from https://www.thehopeline.com/salvation-prayer/
I’m also posting this on the Inspire Me Monday and the Grace & Truth linkups. See you there.
A lot of good stuff in here! I have had one panic attack a couple years ago. During the attack, prayer and controlling my breathing helped me get through it. Since then I’ve been working on getting margin in my life and being more in the Word.
Thanks, Jerralea. I agree the being focused on Jesus is key to managing life without panic attacks and anxiety. Interestingly, FOCUS is my word of the year.
Jerralea, I’m sorry you had to go through that, but I’m glad you have taken steps to manage it. Like you, I believe staying in the Word is important. Thanks.
Thank you for sharing so openly and honestly about such a difficult issue. I also struggle with anxiety and my last panic attack was almost 10 years ago. This was a good reminder to re-evaluate my own healthy choices to continue moving towards healing. I pray your advice helps many and that God continues to grant you His peace.
Hi Alyson. I’m sorry you are struggling with anxiety, too. Thanks for that prayer. I’ll join in it with you, as my goal is to help and encourage others with this blog.
Thanks for sharing. Many have these issues and they come out in different ways, mostly not understood. IT may be what my son has but people interpret as anger. They happen when something happens unexpectedly.
Thanks too for other resources.
I’m glad the other resources might be helpful to you. Yes, unpredictability makes it harder to manage, unfortunately. But we shouldn’t stop trying. I pray that your son finds the tools he needs to help. Thanks for stopping by.
I think there is so much truth in your reason for not sharing our panic attacks with others. “We think that it is somehow shameful to experience fear, anxiety, or have panic attacks because we are Christians.” Yes, we think we should be able to deal with them, and they are saying something negative about us. Panic attacks are not fun and they can effect people differently. For about 7-10 years, after a very bad auto accident, I had pretty debilitating panic attacks where I would feel like I was going to die, and yet most of the time no one could really tell. Sometimes I had multiple ones a day. What made it more difficult was that my husband and daughter were also experiencing their own panic attacks (as they were in the same accident), and yet different things triggered us. Eventually we got through this time. “Looking panic in the eye” really does help. And God does know what we are going through. Thanks for educating people about panic attacks and removing some of the stigma.
Theresa, I’m so sorry your family had to go through that difficult time after the car accident, and I glad to hear that you’ve all be able to put it behind you. God is good and wastes nothing. Only after living through it can we share our experiences, without shame, and help others.
Great information here! I used to have panic attacks rather often when I was stressed with work. The first time I had one I thought I was dying. Only by reading did I find out more. Changing my priorities and lifestyle has certainly helped, but reflection and prayer has a huge role too.
Hello Corinne, I’m sorry that you know how panic attacks feel, first hand. I’m glad you found the information useful. Keeping prayer first certainly helps.
I don’t think I have ever had a panic attack. Even so, I know what happens when I allow my mind to go off the tails into speculation! You have offered some good practices here.
Michele, I’m so glad that you haven’t. Thanks, I hope the info resources are helpful to people. Certainly, leaving the what-ifs out of our mental conversations could help prevent panic attacks. Thanks for stopping by.
Obviously you’ve struck a nerve here: so many of us have had experiences with panic attacks, to one degree or another, myself included. After my infant died in November of 1992, I had two small panic attacks shortly thereafter when I would be around other people’s babies. It’s very tiny compared to what you’ve been through, but it was enough for me to know that panic attacks are a REAL thing and not to be taken lightly. I appreciate you sharing here about your experience and also what you’ve learned.
Lisa, I’m so sorry for your loss and the ensuing panic attacks you endured. Yes, unfortunately, there’s enough of us to establish a club but nobody wants to be a member of this one. I’m glad if anyone was helped by my experience or the info shared in the article. Take care, friend.