When Panic Attacks - part 1

Fear has always been around.  Since Adam and Eve hid from God in the garden out of fear, this emotion has been controlling behavior of people everywhere.  If not controlling, then threatening to, and inducing paralysis, guilt, and panic. 

Fear of all sorts of things - heights, public speaking, needles (my personal phobia to address) as well as fear of rejection, loneliness, loss of security, and death.  Even fear itself is frightening.  It is destructive to relationships, careers, and personal growth.  And it is cyclic in that fear often induces more fear, anxiety, and stress.

As followers of Christ, we usually suffer our fears privately, wondering if we are spiritual failures to succumb to the negative feelings that leave us paralyzed emotionally, mentally, and even physically.  We try to address our fears in lots of ways, most of which do not lead to sustained success.  We feel guilty, telling ourselves that we ought not to feel this way. We might try positive thinking or even quoting some Bible verses from time to time.  Or we ignore the fears and try to avoid situations that might trigger those feelings of terror.  Or we convince ourselves that fear is somehow normal and therefore we must just deal with it as best we can, often with medication that at least takes the edge off the panic.  Then we usually lay shame on top of the fear.

And yet, the fears persist. The physical manifestations are indeed real - elevated blood pressure, sweaty palms, acceleration of heart rate, difficulty breathing. So are the emotional symptoms - feelings of helplessness, panic, and despair are brought on by the body's response to fear-induced adrenaline levels.  All too often, those who suffer from fear usually find themselves eventually locked in a battle with depression as well.  It's a natural outgrowth.

So, what do we do?

As I said in the earlier post, I have more to share than can fit into one day's post.  Or even two.  Also, remember that I am not an authority - not a trained counselor nor a physician nor even a panic attack sufferer.  But I have talked with dozens of the aforementioned, I have researched extensively, and, like all humans, I, too, know fears. 
And I want to offer some thoughts over the next few days that I believe can be of help.

For today:

1.  While medication may be able to help with some of the physical and emotional symptoms, it is insufficient to address the root issues of fear.  Those must be dealt with. Two women in different cities told me that every woman in their Bible study (except themselves) were on some type of anti-anxiety medication. That's 10-15 in each group --- surely this should not be the norm! More than one woman told me that it seems "trendy" to be in therapy and/or on medication even among Christians. Pretty much like Starbucks or Pilates,   I find this disturbing. We might find some use of medicines temporarily successful but we must not place our trust in this as our solution.
2.  The root issues of fear are spiritual - fear is grounded in unbelief and we must be willing to examine ourselves to discover the real issues.  And to bring it out into the light and call it what it is.  It is not helpful to hide behind masks of pretense or of defense.  Let's deal in truth, including personal responsibility.
3.   We do not have to be controlled by fear.  While God's will may not always be physical healing, there is not one sliver of doubt in my heart about this - His will for His children is always to walk in peace and joy and victory - not fear. The command "do not fear" appears over 100 times in Scripture and there are over 500 references about fear and exhortations to instead know and trust God.
4.  Since God commands us not to fear and actually to not only trust Him but also to rejoice, then it must be possible to live this way.  Therefore, we can expect that He wants to equip us to overcome our fears and live in joy and peace, controlled by His Spirit instead of our fears.

5.  So the question becomes....as silly as it may sound....Do you wish to get well?
In the Gospel of John, Jesus asks this very question -
One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”
(John 5:5,6)
Does that strike you as interesting?  I mean, really, here's a man who had been a invalid for 38 years. Of course he would want to be healed!  What's up with that question!!
Well, since Jesus is God, He already knew the answer to the question.  So why did He ask?

Because the invalid needed to know the answer to the question, not Jesus.

Check out his response in verse 7 -
The sick man answered him, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me.”

At the risk of sounding callous, I want to call it like I see it.  Or like I read it.
This is classic blame shifting and self-pity.  The man sees himself as a victim and claims there is no help available.  He sounds like he's saying "I've tried but it's no use - the deck is stacked against me"

Before we take the poor man to task, let's admit that we can do the same thing.  We can slide into blaming others for our plight or playing the victim card - maybe hoping to either evoke sympathy or avoid personal responsibility.  We can actually get comfortable with our fears, so comfortable that we prefer them to the possibility of change.  Without realizing it, we may even believe there are "benefits" to our fears (Stockholm Syndrome, anyone?)  "Benefits" such as seeking comfort and attention from those around us.  Or a "right" to be relieved of the expectations of others and excused from responsibilities that we really should be accepting.

So. just like Jesus asked that invalid over 2000 years ago, He asks us now - Do you wish to get better?
Because if you do, then He welcomes you to participate in the process.
Just like He did with the man by the pool.

Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked.

So, before I share the tips on how to handle your panic attacks and how to deal with the roots and ward off fear successfully, we need to first dig deep and answer the question - Do I wish to get well?
Unless we can truthfully answer affirmatively, we will not be able to participate in the process.  And I seriously doubt that passivity will result in profitable results.