A few weeks ago I blogged about a panic episode that was taking me down. It seems only decent to update how I’m doing. To recap, we had a stressful event at my house regarding a health issue with my son. It had the potential to be life changing, and I got worried. We had to find him a doctor, and the best I could do was a visit three weeks in the future. At that point we had to wait, and I began to have panic attacks.
This was an intense bout of panic attacks. I had several a day, and they didn’t last the ten minutes or so panic attacks are supposed to last. For hours I would experience racing, pounding heart and intense feelings of doom. I was mostly non-functional for a few days.
I want to say right now that, while intense, this turned out to be one of my shortest bouts of panic disorder. And, I have a few ideas why that might be as well as some tips if you find yourself dealing with panic attacks.
Maturity helps. So do friends.
First, I’m older and wiser than I was fifteen years ago when I had my last intense bout of panic. (I have an occasional attack every few months, but they are short and don’t linger, so those don’t count.) I am closer to God now than I was then, and I think that made all the difference. Being more mature, I did a few things I seldom do, and the best thing I did was call for help.
I contacted my pastor and a wise woman at my church, and I happened to spill my story to one of my fiction readers who emailed me on one of my worst days. I had a visit from one of them, emailed the other a couple times, and my reader—she has turned into an amazing, prayer warrior friend. She emailed. She sent me resources, verses, podcasts, all kinds of spiritual help, and I devoured all of it. Although she lives across the world from me, and I will never meet her on this side of heaven, she got to spend last month being the voice of the Spirit in my ear.
Taking every thought captive
Second, a few months ago I picked up a book by Louie Giglio called Don’t Give the Enemy a Seat at your Table. I’m going to review that book this week, so I’ll keep this short, but in the book he gives a step-by-step method for fighting sinful thoughts. Wrong thoughts. Any thoughts that give Satan a foothold in life. Jenny Allen recently wrote a similar book called Get Out of your Head. Both of them help with the concept of taking every thought captive before it can do us harm. Here’s where that comes from in the Bible:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NIV
It’s mostly a matter of paying attention to what I was thinking. When a thought scared me, I stopped and determined a couple things about that thought. Was it true? Was it from God? Was it from elsewhere? More than once the scary thoughts felt true, but after searching the Bible, I discovered the real truth. Yes, my mind lies to me. I have carried some untrue thoughts about the character of God for a long time, and those were the meat of my fearful thoughts. I am tired of that. Those thoughts need to go.
This month I worked through a lot of untrue ideas about God’s character, his behavior, my lack of trust, and my position as a daughter and heir. Each started with a thought that turned out to be a lie and my search for the truth. I demolished a few strongholds and arguments and sent a lot of thoughts packing. I waged war, and honestly, I’m tired.
At one point I was talking with my sister about this method, my physician sister, and she laughed and told me I’d been practicing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which in her mind is the best way to deal with fear. Since Louie Giglio and Jenny Allen were using Biblical teaching, I guess CBT is pretty much a Biblical way to deal with fear.
It also works. In the midst of a panic attack, no. Nothing gets through. But when an attack wound down, I would focus on thoughts and truths and lies, and the next attack wouldn’t have so much power. As Jesus says in John 8, knowing Jesus’ teachings is knowing the truth, and the truth sets us free. Wrong thinking about God makes us slaves to fear and doubt and sin.
I think this pattern of taking every thought captive broke the back of this bout. The truths came from the Bible, of course, but they came to me through my friends, through resources sent to me, books I own, and of course my own scouring of Scripture. With every new truth, panic had less of a hold.
Panic attack tips
As far as the panic attacks themselves, I have a few new tips. First, I found some supplements that calmed them. Not much, but enough to help break the cycle. If you like the idea of supplements, that’s great, and if not, I understand. They are not for everyone. I considered seeing a doctor for something stronger, but it would have taken me weeks to get in, and while I’m not opposed to mental health medication, I’ve never done well on it, so that was more a last resort. However, I found two amino acids, L-theanine and GABA, that seemed helpful.
Again, I’m not going to prescribe anything here, even supplements, but with a little internet digging you can decide if you want help and what to expect from the different supplements and herbal treatments out there. I don’t take anything often, but for a few days I appreciated even a short break from the physiological symptoms.
Also, I practiced some grounding techniques. In the middle of an attack, I would focus on smells around me. Sights. Colors. Sounds. Textures. I had never tried those before, and I was surprised by how much they helped. Just getting me out of my head for a minute helped calm the attack. Here is an AWESOME list of grounding techniques that I wish I’d found earlier. Hint: Write them down and keep them handy, because you won’t remember them in the midst of the onslaught.
I also discovered that, for me, changing temperatures helps. If I was overheated when the attack started, I tried to cool down. Usually this meant stepping outside in the cool wind. If I was chilly when the attack started, I would either wrap in a blanket or take a hot shower. I was always afraid to take the shower—I felt sick and faint and worried I would get worse, but by the end of a shower, I always felt calmer than when I started. And wrapping in a warm blanket with my Chihuahua never failed to make me feel a little better.
Tears. Yes, just letting go and crying helped. I’ve read that adrenaline and cortisol play roles in the panic reactions, and tears purge out a lot of that. If Jesus could weep for Lazarus even though He knew a rescue was imminent, I can cry, too. I did, and it was good.
For the first ten days I didn’t leave my house. I simply couldn’t make it happen. My goal was to get through a few hours without triggering an attack. When I did that, I worked toward a day, then two. And then I left the house to shop and to go to church (I told myself socializing was optional. I did fine and even spoke a sentence or two. Small triumphs.)
By the end of week two I was mostly waking up to panic attacks and not having them later. I don’t know what causes that, although the internet said it could be an excess of cortisol. They suggested lemon balm tea along with the L-theanine (which comes from green tea). I figured that was harmless enough, and since I made the mistake of planting lemon balm a few years ago, I have an abundance of lemon balm in my yard. I began to sip lemon balm tea. My husband, who adores making things from weeds in our yard, made me a few cups a day.
Did it help? I honestly don’t know, but it didn’t hurt. The drink was warm and soothing, and if nothing else I liked being taken care of, and the routine of morning tea was comforting.
Rhythms and routines
In my thirty or so posts on this site, I must have said half a dozen time already how much I love the idea of rhythms. At the beginning of this cycle of panic, I lost all of those. I was in pure survival mode, and my brain was telling me I wasn’t going to make it. (Brains!! They don’t always listen to reason.) But a few days in I took back my morning routines. Then I put the rest of my day back together. By the end of that second week, life looked mostly normal again.
Someday I plan to write about morning routines. It fascinates me how a few repeated events in the morning can set the tone for a day. I work from home, so I don’t have to work so hard to get ready for my day, but my mornings include drinking water to rehydrate, having a very small meal, as my diabetes is hardest to control in the morning, stepping outside with the dogs, taking a few vitamins, feeding our cats and dogs, and then doing my morning Quiet Time. That has its own routine of silence and prayer and Bible study and thanksgiving. (Read about that here.)
When all of that got back to normal, then the rest began to follow. I worked through the morning anxiety, and many days it didn’t last much past getting out of bed. Now, almost four weeks out, the whole thing feels a little like a distant dream except for very short-lived morning anxiety, not anything close to full-on panic. I love that panic attacks, like labor pain, seem to slide out of my memory once they’d done.
Is this it?
So, am I cured? Anxiety is a little like cancer, I think. It can show up again. However, while I can’t really control the physiological parts, I think it’s almost always triggered, at least that first attack, by my thoughts. I let an event scare me. I think of what might happen and worry about what I’ll do and how I’ll cope if this event turns out to be very bad. Worse, I find myself thinking God might not rescue me, that suffering is somehow tied to showing God how much I love him, that bad things happen because God loves me. (Yep, that was one lie I was happy to scrub out, and I have no idea how it got in there in the first place.). So I will keep on diligently taking every thought captive and replacing sinful, lying thoughts with the Words and Truths of God.
I will likely have more panic attacks in my life. Maybe even another bout like this. But this one was over quickly, so I feel victorious. I know I can do it, and I think I can do it faster next time. Some techniques work today but not tomorrow, I don’t give up on anything. I know to go for help. I know to say yes when someone asks to pray for me or to send me resources, as the Spirit used all kinds of ways to talk to me, and I don’t want to shut Him down. Mostly, I know Jesus walks with me through every agonizing minute, and He will never, ever let me go.
Back to the beginning
Oh, back to my son. By the time we got to the doctor’s office, three weeks after his health scare, he appeared fine. We’d been keeping some data at home, and when the doctor saw that, he didn’t even run one test. It seems my panic was for nothing. Yes, God can allow people we love to hurt and get sick. No, we have no guarantees of tomorrow with our loved ones. But the truth is, whether the news is good or bad, panic is always for nothing. It doesn’t fix a thing.
However, I was reminded yet again that God does love us. He loves me, and he loves my son, and I can trust that neither of us ever leave His arms. Trusting God with my children isn’t easy. I admit that. But this month I saw that trust grow. Still a work in progress, but God asks us to grow, not to show up mature in five seconds. If one day the news isn’t great for anyone I love, I hope I have developed skills to help me see truth and to trust fully.
Also, while my son walked into the doctor’s office super nervous, I did very well. I was tired by the end of that day, mostly the hours waiting for the visit, but I did better than I had expected three weeks earlier. Yes, it helped that my son’s symptoms were already gone. But even then, as someone with a chronic illness, I don’t enjoy doctor visits in the best of circumstances, and any parent knows a child’s health concern is NOT the best of circumstances.
So, that part of the story had a happy ending. Then there was war in the middle, fought with divine weapons that smashed strongholds. And I feel like my whole family has come through with a little more understanding, a little more faith, and a much better ability to wield weapons of spiritual battle.
Let God speak
Beyond the Corinthians passage, here are a few more passages about thoughts that might help if you need to start taking every thought captive. (You do. I’m pretty sure it’s not something you graduate from.)
These may not be new to you, but they are great for determining what to put in place of the thoughts we banish.
Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:8-9 We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away… Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. Hebrews 2:1 and 3:1 Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, “Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?” Matthew 9:4 You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water. On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. Psalm 63:1,6,7
Do you have any tips for dealing with panic? I’d love to hear them. Just share in the comments.