Thursday, August 24, 2017

Fighting Back A Panic Attack

(reposted from

As I’ve already written about, I had a panic attack last summer for the first time.  As anyone who’s had a panic attack knows, they are horrible.  They wreck you inside and out, and then leave you feeling fragile for a very long time after.  I would dare say they change you permanently.  I’m still feeling the effects of this “fragileness” and I’ve noticed that I don’t eat like I used to before the attack.

Anyway, as I reflect back on that attack and the unsteadiness I’ve felt since then, I realized that there are several factors that contributed to it.  And I’m going to summarize these factors (some are variations of others) and give possible ways to deal with them.  Maybe someone else can find a little help in these and ward off a panic attack, stopping it before it overtakes them.

Factors that might contribute to a panic attack:

1.  Not talking things out.  Bottling things up inside. 

2.  Lack of a support system. 

3.  Feeling like it's all up to you and trying to handle everything on your own, in your own strength. 

4.  Trying to control things too tightly.  Holding onto too many things at one time.  Looking too far into the future.  Having too many decisions to make and possibilities to consider, while always feeling like you're bound to make the wrong choice.  Always waiting for the other shoe to drop, feeling like it's just a matter of time before things go wrong. 

5.  Carrying too many responsibilities and/or responsibilities that aren’t yours to carry.  And then feeling like you can't hold onto them all and like things are spiraling out of control.

6.  Not crying when you need to cry. 

7.  Not asking for help when you need help it.

8.  Trying to keep up a strong front in front of other people (or for Christians – keeping up that “good Christian” mask), instead of letting yourself be real and human.

9.  Dwelling on all the things you “fail” at, on all your fears, on all the ways things could go wrong, on all the things you can’t do or can’t handle or can’t fix, and on all the problems in life.  Focusing more on the problems than on the Problem Solver (God!). 

10.  Not trusting God to lead you in His way and in His timing, feeling like it’s all up to you to make things work, sort things out, fix what's broken, carry the heavy load, find the right path, etc.

11.  Always striving for more or better (too much so), instead of learning to be content in the life you have.

12.  Envying other people’s blessings, instead of counting your own.

13.  Reaching for undefined, impossible, or unreasonable standards or goals.  Expecting perfection.  Having unreasonable expectations of life and others and God and yourself.

14.  Negative self-talk – constantly telling yourself that you’re a failure.  Or loser.  Or worthless.  Or alone.  Etc. 

15.  Fearing everything else in life (failure/the future/finances/people/etc.) … when what we really need to fear (respect/trust/honor) is God.

16.  Not letting God be God.  Trying to play God in your own life. 


Possible ways to help stop a panic attack before it starts:

1.  Talk to a trusted friend or family member or pastor.  Find a counselor, if need be.  Share what’s going on inside of you honestly … before the pressure builds up so much that you explode.  Maybe find an on-line support group, somewhere to vent your frustrations and fears.  Maybe journal or start a blog.

2.  Pray about it all honestly.  God can handle the honesty.  So many times, we Christians think we have to polish ourselves up nice and shiny for the Lord, hiding our ugly thoughts and feelings.  But He already knows it all anyway.  He’s just waiting for us to be honest, with ourselves and with Him.  To invite Him into our lives and hearts.  To realize that we need Him, that we want His help and comfort.  Don’t hide what you’re feeling and thinking and what’s bothering you.  Be honest! 
            Maybe write a no-holds-barred, blazingly honest letter to Him, and then pray it out loud.  And if you’ve never prayed before and don’t know how, just start talking to Him like you would a friend.  Say, “Help me, God.  I believe in You.  I need You!”  (Or maybe simply, "I want to believe in You.  I want to know You're real.  Help me find You!")

3.  Ask for help when you need it.  Share the burdens and responsibilities with those who care about you. 

4.  Loosen your grip.  The more you feel it’s your job to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders, the more it will crush the life out of you.  The more you feel you have to make everything happen the way it’s “supposed” to be, the more anxious and exhausted you’ll get.  The more you try to figure out and straighten out the future, the more worries you borrow from tomorrow.  Trust that God will straighten out your path as you walk with Him each day and that He can handle your concerns, far better than you can.  Lean on Him, not on yourself.    

5.  Simplify!  Clean out the clutter from your mind and schedule and life and home.  Learn to say “no” to jobs and responsibilities you shouldn’t be taking on right now.  There will be a season for helping others and for saying “yes” later.  But for now, it’s your turn to say “no,” to purge yourself of concerns that you don’t need to deal with right now. 
            (And stop watching the news for now.  It’s all bad all the time.  You don’t need to be reminded of all that right now.  There’s nothing you can do about it anyway.  If there’s something you really need to know about, it will make its way to you eventually.) 

6.  In fact, stop what you’re doing and take a walk.  Breathe deeply.  Smell a rose.  Pick a bouquet of wildflowers.  Watch kids playing in the park or a bird eating seeds.  Go to a movie.  Watch a fun movie with your kids at home.  Put on some music and dance.  Take a nap. 
            Your concerns will still be there later.  And getting away from them for a little while often helps sort out which are real and which are not.  Decide that you will not even think about your concerns until later sometime when you've had a chance to breathe and think clearly and maybe sleep.
            I found myself spiraling into panic just a few days ago over a health concern with one of my kids.  (One of the lingering effects of a panic attack is always being afraid of the next one, always afraid that your mind will turn on you and you won't be able to stop it.  Ugh!  Not fun!)  And as I contemplated the various possible choices of how to deal with it, I could feel my heart pounding, my mind spiraling off, my stomach getting sick, and panic setting in.
            As I felt the panic grow, I realized that I was headed for trouble.  And I realized that I was too fragile, too weak and broken and afraid, to even think about the health concern at that time.  And so, in heartbroken despair, I cried out to the Lord:
            "Lord, I can't carry this burden anymore!  I'm done.  I'm dropping it at Your feet.  I can't do it.  So I'm giving it to You to carry awhile for me.  Right or wrong, I'm not even going to think about this issue right now or make a decision about it.  I'm too fragile.  So please, tell me what to do and when, sometime in the future when I'm stronger.  But until then, I can't even think about it.  I'm done!  You carry it for me.  I trust You more than I trust me." 
            And it really did help a good deal to just mentally picture myself dropping the heavy load off my shoulders at the feet of the Lord.  To cry a bit as I told Him that I was done, that I couldn't handle it anymore, that I needed Him to step in and handle it for me right now.
            The truth is, I do trust Him more than me.  I do trust Him to carry these concerns for me, to guide me and give me strength when it's time to move forward again.  But until then ... I'm letting go of the burden, refusing to let it be placed on my shoulders.  I can't borrow tomorrow's worries. 
            As I came out of this panic spiral, I also spent a couple hours reading my Bible, praying Scripture back to God, and researching "spiritual warfare" on-line.  After all, a panic attack is a spiritual battle that takes place in the mind.  And you have to recognize it as such and use every spiritual weapon available to you to fight it off.
            (I also one time stopped a panic attack simply by realizing that I was too tired to be panicked.  I literally told myself, "No.  I can't do it.  I'm too tired to be panicked.  And so I'm not going to panic right now."  And I didn't.  There's power in our words and thoughts.  Use them to your advantage instead of letting them drag you down more.)

            [Here are some biblically-sound prayers that other people posted on-line, prayers that relate to anxiety and spiritual warfare.  I prayed them out loud after I felt the panic coming on.  And as I did, I could feel a small bit of peace flood my anxious soul and slowly grow.

            There are links to other specific prayers on the side-bars of these sites.  If you still need more prayers, google things like "prayers for spiritual warfare" or "praying Scripture back to God" or "prayers for fear, anxiety, encouragement, etc."  And see what other godly people share.  Just be discerning and steer clear of ones that sound too "out there," too mystical and not biblically-sound. 
            (For starters, try if you are looking for some emotional help and spiritual warfare information.  I haven't read it all, but it's worth a look.  And here are links to Scripture-based prayers I wrote for anxiety, for peace when you’re afraid, for when you’re brokenhearted and exhausted, for when you need to find rest in the Lord, and for when you fear you're failing in life.)]

7.  Cry when you feel the anxiety brimming up.  Put on a tender movie or an inspirational song, and cry (my favorite “cry songs”:  “Fell Apart” and “Love, Heal Me” and "Oh, What Love" and "Praise the Lord" by The City Harmonic).  I have often found that anxiety is really just stored-up tears I haven’t cried.  And when I let the tears flow, I feel better.  Lighter.  More refreshed.  It doesn’t make all the problems go away, of course, but at least I’m allowing myself to be real, to be human, to be broken.  Trying to “keep it all together” is exhausted and leads to anxiety.  And sometimes the best way to deal with anxiety is to let yourself fall apart for a little while.  (And can I also suggest something else which might help with moments of depression or anxiety?  Sing.  Out loud.  Even when you don't want to.  Put on some good music or just sing on your own.  But sing.  Trust me.)   

8.  Focus on the things you know you can do, simply doing the very next thing on your list, even if it's just throwing in a load of laundry or getting breakfast … and let God handle the rest.  Let Him have the things you can't do or fix or control.  The future concerns.  The decisions you can't make right now.  Place your fears and concerns at His feet and ask Him to help you through it all, to give you wisdom when you need it, to make something beautiful out of the messes, to carry the pieces you drop.  If He’s big enough to create the universe out of nothing and life out of dirt, He’s big enough to carry your concerns.  (If you find that trusting Him is too hard, ask yourself “why.”  Even better, pray about it and ask Him “why.”)

9.  Count your blessings.  Look for hidden blessings, the “silver linings” on the storm clouds.  Learn to be content with what you have.  (Imagine if it were all taken away tonight.  We don’t realize how blessed we are with the little things until they’re gone.)  Thank God for the tragic news stories that don’t have your name or your family member’s names in them.  (And say a prayer for those whose names are in them.)  I know it’s a cliché, but look at the bright side of the trials you’re facing (or have faced).  Write down the good that has come from them or the good that still can come from them.

10.  Go even further than that, and find ways to turn your heartaches into help for other people.  Sometimes, the best help we can be to others is because of the hardest things we’ve gone through.

11.  When you are clear-headed enough to think, evaluate the expectations you have – of others, of yourself, of life, of faith, of God.  Are they reasonable?  Are they achievable?  Are they fair?  If not, set new standards and expectations, ones that can be met, that are reasonable for you and your life.

12.  Be careful of your self-talk.  Take inventory of the negative things you say about yourself and to yourself.  And then write down a truth that counteracts them.  If you are a Christian, write down a Bible verse that contains God’s truth to help you defeat the lies you are telling yourself.

13.  Get to know God as He is in His Word.  This will help you know who His is, what He is like, how He acts, and what He thinks of us and expects of us (as much as we can understand any of that).  As Christians (and even as non-Christians), our misunderstandings of God and life and faith can cause a lot of confusion and heartache.  Don’t try to mold God into what you want Him to be or expect Him to be.  Find out who He really is, according to Him, in His Word.

14.  And if you want more ideas, read my post “26 Tips for Dealing with Depression and Anxiety.”  Maybe something will help.  If nothing else, at least you’ll know you’re not alone.


And trust me … you’re not alone!  And you are not abnormal; you’re human.  And that’s okay.  And you’ll be okay.  Just, please, find faith in the Lord.  He’s really the only answer to the problems of life.  It doesn't mean that trusting God makes all your problems go away, but it does mean that you will have a lot of help in dealing with them, Someone to carry the burdens with you and to hold you up when you are falling down.  Why go it alone when there is a Loving, Faithful Creator who wants to help you? 

The things that happen in this life don’t matter nearly as much as what God can do with them - the beautiful things He can turn them into, for His purposes and for your eternal good. 

If you’ll let Him.


If you’ve ever had a panic attack, would you like to share your story here?  Is there anything you would add to my lists?  Factors that contributed to it?  Any advice for getting through it, or for dealing with anxiety in general? 

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