What do you do when it seems overwhelming? Panic Attacks - Introduction

And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
 yes, I would wander far away;
    I would lodge in the wilderness

I think every person alive has felt the angst penned in Psalm 55:6,7.  When pressures mount, or sorrows pile up, or demands overwhelm us, there is a soul-cry that bubbles up - "just get me out of here!"

I know the feeling well.  The longing to escape the pressures and troubles that cause pain and angst and sorrow.  The desire for rest and comfort and peace.

I am so grateful for the vulnerable authenticity of the psalmist.  It is great encouragement to know that God deemed it profitable for my training in righteousness (see 2 Timothy 3:16) to include this passage in Scripture.  I urge you to read the entire Psalm; it is very likely that you, too, have felt the need to escape life's unrelenting stresses.  This Psalm might help you process the strain.

Let's have a look at some of it together....

First, let's examine the situation the psalmist is in.  Verses 2-5 describe  what I have had countless folks recount to me as a panic or anxiety attack.  Intense heart rate, restless feelings, gripped by fear, engulfed by sensations of horror and anxiety and despair. Despair even to the point of thinking death would be preferable.  It's all right there in Scripture.  Even though we are tempted to think this malady is a modern phenomenon. 

The next thing I want us to see is the "trigger" of the anxiety.  There are numerous verses that unpack the "source" - 9,12-14, 20-21,  23.  In this instance, the stress is brought on by people,  Specifically, the betrayal from a "friend".  A friend turned enemy.  In other cases, though, the anxiety is induced by circumstances, such as those of Job (Job 3:13, 21:6).  (Even then, however, the feeling of being overwhelmed by horror is exacerbated by the responses of "friends")

And the result is an intense desire to flee.  To get out from under the panic and the stress. To flee to a place of peace, comfort, and an absence of pain.

We can "flee" in different ways.
 Physically.  We can leave the situation that feels unbearable by  creating space between us and the stress.  By severing a relationship.  Or taking a different job.  Or maybe going for a run.
Mentally.  There are mind-numbing options such as alcohol or drugs that allow us to "check out" of stress.  Or we can "fly away" through entertainment or activities that take our mind off the tension.

What can we learn from this psalm that will help us when pressures and panic threaten to be our undoing?  How can we cope victoriously with not only the physical symptoms of anxiety attacks but also their roots? What is the way to successfully respond when the desire to flee overtakes us?

It's too much to put into a single post. In a later post,  I will cover some things I've learned from talking with dozens of counselors, physicians, and panic-attack-sufferers that I think can be of some help.  But for now, I want to leave you with some encouragement.

1.  If you suffer from these attacks, you are not alone.  Not only have I spoken with numerous people (who, by the way, are capable and mature and successful folks) who have dealt with such, here we have in God's Word the very situation that has thousands of people seeking help, even right now.  There is a temptation to feel isolated and desolate in this but that is not accurate.  I Corinthians 10:13 assures that "No temptation (trial/test) has overtaken you but such as is common to man".  It happens to lots of folks, not just you.  And lots and lots of folks have figured out how to win over this so you can, too.

2.  Which leads to the next point - you can win over this.  You do not have to live in fear, controlled by anxiety.  In the next post, I will share with you what I've learned from some experts and some overcomers that I think will help.  There is hope because God is faithful and will not allow you to be tested beyond what you are able but provides the way for you to endure it.  You don't have to run away - you can triumph over it all.

 3. Even though I don't suffer from  full-blown panic attacks as described here in Scripture and in the lives of other folks, I do often have the feeling of desolation and a desire to get out from the pile of pressure I'm under.  Longing for a way to escape, to get away to a place of comfort and relaxation.  I expect that is true of all of us.
Sometimes our life's circumstances enable us to experience some relief.  We might get a vacation or a few hours rest.  Perhaps comfort arrives in the words from a beloved friend or counselor.  A reprieve from financial pressure might appear. Or maybe the situation causing the stress gets resolved satisfactorily.
But what if none of that happens? What if you can't take a vacation or even a few hours away? What if no cavalry shows up at your door offering childcare, a casserole, or consolation?  What if the tension continues to mount and the problems get more complicated?  What if the "worst thing imaginable" happens and we find ourselves in a place we never wanted and can hardly bear?  What then? 
  There is a  "way of escape" that Scripture exhorts.  A way that leads to victory to our heart and brings glory to God.  Because I am firmly convinced that all of Scripture is the inspired Word of God, I know that it is not insignificant that the psalmist uses the words "wings like a dove".  Why not "wings of a sparrow", a fragile, needy sparrow, which is how we feel at those times?  Or "wings like an eagle", a majestic, powerful, eagle, which is what we aspire to?  Why did the Holy Spirit inspire "wings like a dove"?  A dove???
I am surely not a prophet and cannot claim to know the mind of God.  But here is a thought.  The dove is seen not as powerful and capable but rather as innocent and pure. In digging out info about a dove, I learned that doves don't fight back at their attackers nor do they even fly swiftly away to outrun them.  Rather they fly patiently and consistently, not wearying themselves, to a place of hiding from the pursuer.

 Perhaps the psalmist wants to convey the idea of one who is unable to save itself but instead can flee to safety, to refuge, to peace...

 Leave the cities, and dwell in the rock,
    O inhabitants of Moab!
Be like the dove that nests
    in the sides of the mouth of a gorge.

Jeremiah 48:28

When our heart is in anguish and anxiety threatens to reduce us to a puddle, when we feel abandoned or afraid and no help is in sight, we don't have to stay in that state.  I will share some suggestions in a later post- practical helps- about how to handle the immediacy of a panic attack as well as some ways to help prevent further occurrences.  But for now, know that there is help.  Because God's Word is true.  Truer than our circumstances.  Stronger than our feelings.  And bigger than our fears.

Psalm 61:2,3  assures us

from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy.

Wings of a dove that can take us to the Rock that is higher, the strong tower, the refuge...Jesus.