Finding Peace Amidst Anxiety and Panic Attacks
When your heart is racing and your mind is spinning, it can sometimes be difficult to imagine ever feeling normal again, let alone feeling peace. Yet, in the Bible, God promises us His peace in all circumstances.
In John, even after foretelling how His apostles will abandon Him, Jesus said, “‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’” (John 16:33, ESV).
If we believe the Scriptures, we must believe that the peace of God is available and accessible even in the midst of anxiety and panic attacks. But when panic and anxiety are constantly at play, you may wonder how you can move from simply believing God’s peace is available, to experiencing His peace in your life. You may think that if only God could take the anxiety away, then you’d be able to know what peace is.
Yes, a cure for anxiety would undoubtedly make life simpler. With help from God and the support of a Christian counselor, you may find relief from your symptoms. However, you don’t have to wait until your anxiety and panic attacks are perfectly controlled before you can start experiencing life-changing peace.
Throughout His Word, the Father reminds us that He is a present God with us at all times in all our circumstances. Even anxiety cannot overcome Him.
Anxiety and panic attacks: what are they?
Anxiety is a broad term that may refer simply to abnormal feelings of stress and worry or may reference one of several anxiety disorders. Though everyone sometimes experiences anxiety, individuals with chronic anxiety and anxiety disorders experience symptoms of stress more acutely and for more extended periods than others. An anxiety disorder is any condition primarily characterized by fearful, worried, or excessively apprehensive feelings.
Some mental health conditions classified as anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and panic disorder.
Panic disorder is the condition most commonly associated with the term “panic attack.” While society tends to primarily visualize someone breathing frantically into a paper bag when thinking about panic attacks, these episodes of intense fear can present with many varying symptoms, including:
- Racing or pounding heart or heart palpitations
- Profuse sweating
- Body shakes
- Difficulty breathing
- Choking sensations
- Chest tightness or discomfort
- Unexplained nausea or abdominal discomfort
- Dizziness, unsteadiness, or fainting
- Feeling very hot or cold
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Disconnection from the body and one’s sense of reality
- Fearing a total loss of control or insanity
- Fear of death or the feeling that one is dying
Living with anxiety and panic attacks can feel treacherous, scary, and out of control, especially when you don’t have a strong understanding of what triggers your episodes.
You may find yourself living moment-to-moment, waiting for the next spike in your symptoms. These feelings of fear and stress about your anxiety can even become the cause of your anxiety, making it easy to fall into an increasingly anxious cycle that is difficult to break.
If you feel like fear and worry are ever-present features in your life, or if you frequently experience panic attacks, you don’t have to struggle alone. Whether you have a strong community you can lean on, can speak to a trusted friend, or are interested in seeking the help of a qualified Christian counselor, there is support available.
Talking with someone about your symptoms is an essential first step toward a healthier, more balanced emotional life.
Anxiety and the body: is it all in your head?
One frustrating aspect of life with anxiety is the nagging feeling that if you could just stop being so crazy, get ahold of yourself, or get out of your head, the panic attacks and fear would go away. There exists a common misconception that anxiety and panic attacks start and end in the brain.
The truth, however, is that stress and fear responses involve the whole body. Though anxiety may begin as conscious or unconscious thought, its effects are not confined to your head.
Feeling anxious or panicky activates the same parts of your brain and releases the same hormones into your body as an immediate threat to your life. This state of hyperawareness, or fight or flight, is an essential part of our design as humans and exists to help us survive moments of extreme danger.
When this hyperawareness is activated by anxiety and not a genuine threat, it can take longer to resolve, impede your ability to reason, and cause impulsive behavior.
Not unlike the processes behind an allergic reaction, a panic attack is usually triggered by a small or even harmless stressor that your brain misinterprets as a threat to your safety. Your nervous system, limbic system, and the whole rest of your body then begin an overreaction that causes the physical symptoms associated with episodes of panic.
Because your brain and body constantly create shortcuts to help you process your world faster, your body may begin reacting in certain situations and moments of anxiety before your conscious mind can catch up.
While anxiety and panic attacks do begin in the brain, they don’t stay there for long. Recurrent or chronic anxiety can live in your body, reacting to stimuli without the consent or intervention of your higher reasoning.
If you’ve previously experienced panic attacks when you’ve felt nervous, any feelings of arousal or excitement may begin to trigger your symptoms. To find peace amidst anxiety, you must become attuned to your body’s signals.
Shame, anxiety, and panic attacks: breaking the cycle.
Another complicating piece of life with anxiety and panic attacks is the tendency to feel shame about your symptoms. Instead of believing that your anxiety is something difficult that you struggle with, shame leads you to believe that there is something inherently wrong with you because you struggle with anxiety. Nothing steals your peace and joy faster than believing the lie that you are somehow less than others.
Too often, people who battle anxiety feel shame due to inequitable comparisons, social pressures, unsupportive family members, or their internal expectations for themselves. You may feel like you are incapable because of your anxiety, are constantly over-reacting, or are a burden on your friends and family. Shame over these perceived failings can isolate you from your community and prevent you from seeking the support you need.
Nothing removes the power of shame faster than a consistent practice of self-compassion. When you begin to understand how much God loves you and how priceless you are in His sight, you can start to see yourself through His eyes, the eyes of ultimate love, compassion, and care. Instead of deriding yourself for the things you struggle with, the Father would have you welcome His healing love and grace into those areas of your heart.
Working with a qualified Christian counselor to root out the unhealthy thought patterns that lead to feelings of shame is another excellent way to begin changing your perception of yourself.
A good, faith-based counselor can help you discover any false beliefs you hold about God, your worth, and your anxiety. With consistent effort and an ongoing renewal of your mind, you can begin feeling God’s miraculous peace even in your moments of anxiety.
Counseling for anxiety and panic attacks: getting help.
Whether you’ve struggled with anxiety your whole life or have just recently begun to experience symptoms, it isn’t always easy to know when you should reach out for help. As with many other mental health concerns, it can be tempting to ignore anxiety symptoms or, worse, to accept your discomfort as an unchangeable part of life. You don’t have to resign yourself to barely get by. A healthier, less anxious life is achievable with the proper support.
The first step toward getting better is always acknowledging that something is wrong. Then you should talk to someone about what you are going through. You can start by speaking with a trusted loved one. If you don’t feel heard or don’t feel you are making progress toward peace, you can speak with a counselor. Counseling can help you move from feeling stuck in your anxiety to managing your symptoms in healthy ways.
Are you or a loved one dealing with anxiety and panic attacks? Do you feel unable to experience the peace you know God is offering you? Do you want to move from a posture of fear and shame to one of self-compassion? If you answered yes to any of those questions, don’t wait any longer. Contact us today to book your first appointment with a Christian counselor near you.
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