Panic Attacks and Anxiety
Panic attacks and anxiety often go hand in hand. You can sense panic attacks coming, like watching your roller coaster car edge closer and closer to the top. The closer you get, everything starts to slow down. Your head starts buzzing with the anticipation in the pit of your stomach. For half a second at the top of the highest point, you can feel your heart stop beating. Your brain shrinks inside your head.
The exhilaration of riding a roller coaster can be exciting. But if you are constantly stuck in the upward climb anticipation of terror, it becomes exhausting. It can even cause physical illness. Panic attacks are the terror inducing part of a roller coaster, without the fun or the release. They are physical reactions to very real fears and can become debilitating for many people.
Anxiety. Panic attacks. These are big hitter words in the mental health world. They have become commonplace terms even in everyday interactions. It is estimated that over 31% of adults in the United States alone experience some type of anxiety disorder over the course of their lives.
Anxiety and Panic Attacks Defined
There is a clinical definition of anxiety. Then there is the real, human, no holds barred picture of anxiety and panic attacks. The picture of complete loss of control, shaking uncontrollably, praying for the next breath. The image where you are desperate for your thoughts to get out of your head because they keep circling around and around, like hawks hunting and diving at you. This is the picture where everything else becomes meaningless. All you can think about is the giant taking up space in your head, your body, your lungs. The giant that expands with every breath and sinks its claws into your skin, until you start wishing for any out, any escape, to loosen its grip. No one wants to share that picture, because it puts us at risk. When you struggle with an anxiety disorder or panic attacks, anything risky is avoided at all costs. No one wants to appear weak, sick, or incapable.
Panic attacks pass, but anxiety does not. Anxiety hovers all of the time, just out of reach, and its victims feel like they are hunted every second of their lives. Picture yourself on the upward roller coaster climb, but all of the time, with no release and no chance to rest or catch your breath. Anxiety keeps its victims on hyperalert, Level 3 watch, constantly. When you’re hunted every second, you cannot let your guard down. Any misstep may lead you straight into the path of the giant waiting to devour you.
Ways to Cope with Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Medications may pause anxiety momentarily, but they do not stop it or lessen it. Therapy can redirect anxiety and teach skills to cope with it. Despite these options, anxiety is a debilitating, chronic illness that requires you to adjust, adapt, and learn to live with it, much in the same way you would with diabetes or cystic fibrosis. The difference often is that people find it easier to admit they are suffering from a physical illness than from anxiety.
In my own journey with anxiety, one of the most important things I have learned is that in my own power I cannot stop being hunted. It isn’t just a question of replacing my thoughts, deep breathing, guided meditation. All of these are skills that will briefly steer me off the course. Inevitably, my body and brain lead me right back to the path of that flesh-eating giant that seeks to devour me. The only answer I have found that gives respite is at the cross, where Jesus gave His all to cover my all.
People who struggle with anxiety and panic attacks find it overwhelming and pretty near impossible to just lay back, close their eyes, and trust that God has it handled. I get it – I have been, and at times still am, right there with you. (This was written on a day of hiding under a blanket, having a series of mini heart attacks and not making it out of my slippers). This is my struggle and my own personal #metoo movement. I have found there is immeasurable power in giving voice to my own story. There is power in sharing with others the only true relief I have found. Maybe this is more of a #Himtoo movement, and maybe more people need to know there is an answer that will turn the hunted into conquerors.
- Harvard Medical School, 2007. National Comorbidity Survey (NCS). (2017, August 21). Retrieved from https://www.hcp.med.harvard.edu/ncs/index.php. Data Table 1: Lifetime prevalence DSM-IV/WMH-CIDI disorders by sex and cohort.