Because Who Wants to Feel Like They're Dying? (Tips on making it through a panic attack)

I was dying. 

At least, it felt like it. It was a normal day. One moment I was just fine and then suddenly, I wasn’t.  I remember feeling completely out of control.  My chest was tight, my heart was beating furiously, my breathing was really labored, and my brain was struggling to figure out what in the hell was going on.  My boss noticed that something was not right and walked over to check on me.  I remember telling him that I wasn’t sure, but I needed to leave.  Not only did he agree, he put me in his truck and drove me home.  When I got home, I immediately went to bed.  Though it wasn't a heart attack, this was the first in a series of panic attacks that would plague me for almost three years.  I was in the grips of anxiety. 

As I look back on it now, I can be a little more clinical about it, but that was three years of absolute torture for me.  Just to be sure it was panic and not stemming from a physical problem,  I had a complete physical done.  But, aside from my weight, I was in perfect health.  Thus, I turned to the mental.  Honestly, I was stressed at work.  Jen and I were fine (though the porn thing had caused some intermittent problems),  but we were just starting out in our first house, money was tight, and we had a new baby.  Knowing it wasn't physical was a relief, but knowing it was mental was unsettling. I wasn’t sure what to do.  

How do you fight an enemy you don’t understand and can’t see? 

I did what most Christians do when they reach the end of their limit—I prayed and I prayed hard.

It was during this time that God began waking me up to the realization of what a real relationship with Him would be like.  At that time, I didn’t really see an alternative.  I was scared.  I didn’t have control.  I didn’t have any answers other than to trust God. 

Isn’t it funny that it tends to be the scary and dangerous times that we reach out to him?

There’s an old saying that there aren’t any atheists in foxholes.  Through this time, I was learning how to truly rely on Him to get me through the day. I never knew when panic would come, so I had to believe that when it did, I wouldn't be alone in it.  

We’re talking about anxiety at The {K}not Project right now because, frankly, a lot of folks are feeling it now.  As I think about our society, there is a strong sense of uncertainty and loss.  I see it as I scan through my Facebook feed.  Shared stories, comments, and emoji’s are communicating the underlining discontent and fears of our friends, families, and neighbors.  Maybe you feel the same way?  What can you do?

In our video this week, we give some quick tips to help provide support to a spouse or loved one who might be experiencing anxiety. But what if you’re the one experiencing it?  Let me share with you some of the things I learned to do to cope:

  • Breathe deep controlled breaths.  In and out.  The physical things you are feeling are your body’s natural reaction to a perceived threat.  Key word here:  perceived.  This causes your body’s natural fight or flight reaction to kick in.  However, in almost every case of anxiety, the threat doesn’t really exist.  It’s just something you believe is there.  Your feelings are real (and accepting that you're having a panic attack is a key first step), but the threat is probably not something imminent. Most panic attacks are rooted in fears of the future. Taking in deep breaths oxygenates your blood and deep breaths out help relax your body.  Focusing on your breathing also takes your mind off of your fear. 

Emotionally, the feelings of abandonment, isolation, and inadequacy are all myths.  The truth is you are never alone and you are more than worthy!  God desires relationship with us.  He never leaves us—it’s us that leaves Him.  The good news here is that we can also return to Him!  God proved our worth to Him by Jesus’s sacrifice and resurrection.  Paul wrote it out perfectly in his letter to the Romans:

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,k neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:31-39)

Type out or write out this verse and keep it with you.  Or, write it on an index card. Repeat it to yourself.  Believe it. You are never alone.

  • Get some physical exercise.  It doesn’t have to be anything extensive.  You’d be surprised how good a nice relaxing walk feels after you’re done.  There have been numerous studies showing the mental and emotional benefits to exercise.  Set aside some time in your day and do it consistently. Sometimes panic attacks are the result of pent up anxiety that has built up over time. Daily exercise gives your body and mind time to work out stress. It can also be a great time to pray.
  • Find a way to process what you are feeling.  It’s easy to read “therapy” here and, honestly, that might be the best thing for you.  However, your spouse, a trusted friend, or pastor can certainly help here.  The idea here is to find a place and time where you have the freedom to express how you feel to a person who will love and support you. Your anxiety has a root in something. It's like a weed. If you only deal with the symptoms (the part of the weed you can see), it might be hard to experience full freedom. God doesn't want us to live in a state of anxiety. He wants to help us not only find the root of the problem, but also dig it out so that it no longer has it's tentacles in us.

Thank God, I’ve been free of anxiety for several years now.  My experience has given me a strong desire to help others through similar trials.  I’d love to hear your stories of struggle and success!  Please take a moment and post your stories in the comments.  Let’s build each other up!