Have you ever experienced a panic attack?
The fear rises in your chest without warning. Your heart begins to race and your pupils dilate. Dread and shame quickly weigh you down and before long you can’t catch a breath. It feels as if an elephant were sitting on your chest. You might pass out. You might become nauseous. You might break out into a sweat.
It’s a dark, scary place — the kind of place you never hope to find yourself in.
It’s definitely the kind of place I never wanted to find myself in. And yet, despite every ounce of faith and belief within me, I’ve been in the panic pit more than a time or two. In reality, too many times to count.
A few years ago, admitting this to you would have brought me a lot of shame. I believed in Jesus, but anxiety kept me in a chokehold of disgrace. I tried to talk about my struggle with others, but their dismissive comments only made me feel worse about myself. I was a slave to fear and the assaults of the enemy. I didn’t know how to overcome this form of Goliath in my life. Maybe you’ve worn the same chains.
But God is a chain breaker. And He has been so gracious to me in that, through my on-and-off struggle with panic attacks, He has shown me that I don’t need to be ashamed — I need to speak up. Because I know there are many out there who might be going through something similar. And they need hope, light and encouragement just as much as I do, every single day.
My hope in sharing what I’ve learned about overcoming panic attacks is that if you’re struggling with or have struggled with anxiety, you will be reminded of two truths:
- You are not alone.
- You will get through this.
In my experience, the message often communicated to those who suffer from panic attacks is: Maybe if you stopped worrying about things, prayed harder and trusted God more, you wouldn’t have this problem. Sound familiar?
“Just stop worrying.” “Don’t think about it.” “You’re being ridiculous and irrational.” “Real Christians don’t have anxiety.” These are the words people spoke over me when I started experiencing panic attacks in high school.
Though they meant well, what many of my peers didn’t realize is that having a panic attack is not like worrying about what you should wear to work. There’s no off switch once your fight-or-flight mechanisms are activated. Still, their comments made me feel ashamed and over time I started to feel like the panic attacks were my fault. In my mind if my faith was strong enough, I’d stop having them. Or at least, that’s what others led me to believe.
What I didn’t realize at the time is, from a physiological standpoint, no amount of willpower can stop panic attacks. It’s not something we can fix.
When anxiety first entered my story in high school, I thought I could fix myself by simply believing or praying harder, like my peers suggested. But my efforts only left me feeling more empty and frustrated inside.
By God’s grace, somewhere along the way I realized the problem wasn’t me — it was my defense strategy. I was relying on my own confidence and strength, when what I really needed was God’s strength to help me overcome.
The Bible says we are more than conquerors — we are overcomers. There’s a song by Steven Curtis Chapman that I listen to on repeat to remind myself of this truth every day. But here’s the thing about overcoming:
We cannot and we do not overcome by our own strength. The only way to overcome is to strengthen ourselves in the Lord (1 Samuel 30:6).
Overcoming also doesn’t mean you’ll never deal with something ever again. Sometimes overcoming is a daily battle, depending on what you’re going through.
For me, panic attacks come and go. There are seasons when I experience them frequently, and there are seasons when they are nonexistent. What I’ve learned is that there is no shame in the attacks themselves (my doctors actually think it’s linked to the connective tissue disorder I have). And while I cannot carry myself out of the panic, God can — because He is faithful and when He promises to deliver His children out of darkness (2 Timothy 4:18), he means it.
I mentioned two truths earlier in this post: You are not alone, and you will get through this. But we don’t get through panic attacks on our own, by our own strength. We get through them together, relying on each other and God’s strength to bring us peace and carry us through our darkest nights.
How do we strengthen ourselves in the Lord? How do we experience peace amid the chaos of panic?
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