A panic attack is my definition of personal hell. It’s intense fear, experienced in the body and mind. You feel alone, stuck, off balance. You begin fearing fear. —Lucy Ann Moll
This is the third article in a four-part series on finding God’s solutions to ungodly fear. Read the first post here, the second post here, and the fourth post here.
“Drive into the ditch. Drive into the ditch.” My mind repeated these words over and over and over as my foot pressed the brake, slowing my blue hatchback on the highway ramp’s curve. I felt like I had no control over my thoughts. They jumped like jungle monkeys on a death mission but I didn’t want to die. I just wanted to get home, curl up, and cry. I hated my crazy fears.
I feared I might actually drive into the ditch.
I feared my racing heart might explode.
I feared I wouldn’t stop shaking.
I feared I might pee in my pants.
I feared passing out.
I feared dying.
I feared fear.
Not My First Panic Attack
This full-blown panic attack on the Eisenhower expressway, connecting Chicago to the western suburbs, was my second one. The first one happened during my freshman year at university. Wanting freedom to go out with other guys, I dumped my high-school sweetheart within days of getting on campus.
He cannoned back with awful names I cannot repeat here. I tried to forget what he said about me, but his disapproving words wormed their way into my memory.
A few weeks later, while walking from class to my dorm on a cool autumn afternoon, out of no where my heart beat so wild it jitter-bugged. My legs felt wobbly, my knees like Jell-O. Sweat messed up my makeup. My mind spaced. Lightheaded and scared, I managed to make it to my room.
The next day I phoned my mom. She had had panic attacks throughout her life. Like mother, like daughter? I hope not! She made an appointment for me with her psychiatrist.
I didn’t want to go. Only crazy people went to psychiatrists and I wasn’t crazy.
Yes, my fear experience topped the weird charts, and I never ever wanted that to happen ever again. Ever. Rationally I knew I had no reason to fear. How could an ex-boyfriend’s hate speech trip a panic attack? Just words, right? These words became thoughts, faithless thoughts, that reminded me of my greatest fear: people’s disapproval.
I wanted people to like me. I wanted them not to not like me. Did I care what God thought of me? He wasn’t on my radar.
The psychiatrist said I was fine. Little did he know.
Not My Last Panic Attack
The night of the Eisenhower panic attack, I determined I would face my fear although I still felt shaky. I took the car to work. The drive in? Fine. Inside I “Happy” danced.
The drive home? How I wish I could say it went well. At the exact same spot, just before Mannheim, fear enveloped me. I gripped the steering wheel and felt wobbly and lightheaded, and as I slowed on the highway ramp, I heard, “Drive into the ditch. Drive into the ditch.”
I swore. Not again. God help me.
Afraid and angry and fearing fear, this described my heart—my inner self that includes my emotions, thoughts, beliefs, desires, and motivations. Back then, I hadn’t heard of biblical counseling. I didn’t know I had an idol and that my idol was people-pleasing. I identified it two decades later after poring over books written by biblical counselors, especially Elyse Fitzpatrick, author of Overcoming Fear, Worry, and Anxiety.
How did I handle my panic attacks when they began?
I learned to compensate by avoiding highway driving. Soon even the thought of highway driving brought on panicky feelings—from fast breathing to sweating to the sensations of chest tightness and having “a lump” in my throat. My fear had become a specific phobia. This type of phobia involves a ginormous fear and avoidance of one particular type of object or situation.
I’ve wondered if I had had that horrible highway panic attack in an elevator, would I have feared elevators? Probably. My mind made this iron-clad connection between the two: panic and highways. And I lived short of the abundant life Jesus desired for me.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I (Jesus) came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10, ESV
Reassuring Truth About a Panic Attack
I detailed how I overcame my phobia in another post. I hope it helps you get relief if you too have had a panic attack or other types of anxiety, including general anxiety, social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Let me leave you with two hopeful thoughts:
1. God understands. He’s with you now. Yes, some Christians have panic attacks. This doesn’t make them—or you—bad Christians. Jesus himself was deeply troubled in the hours before his imprisonment.
And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’ Matthew 26:39, ESV
2. Most people don’t understand panic attacks; they are ignorant. They rarely know how to stop them, and sometimes they say stupid things. If you’ve suffered a panic attack, you know what I mean.
You see, overcoming panic attacks involves identifying your heart idols —those things you love more than God—and learning the truth about God and yourself as well as renewing your mind in line with Romans 12:2, Philippians 4:4–7, 2 Timothy 1:7, and other Scripture.
To overcome panic attacks, knowing what God says about fear is a step in the right direction but I had to take another step, a scary step: to act on what I believed.
And so I did. By God’s grace alone.
Two summers ago, I buckled my seat belt, turned up the praise music, waved good-bye to my family, and drove my Honda west, flying down highways, singing and smiling. Six hours later, I arrived at my destination.
Jesus took the wheel.
Jesus take the wheel
Take it from my hands
Cause I can’t do this on my own
I’m letting go
So give me one more chance
Save me from this road I’m on
Oh, Jesus take the wheel
~ Carrie Underwood ~
COUNSELING: Struggling with panic attacks? Please contact us at Biblical Counseling Center. We counsel the hurting and help churches care for people. Some of our counselors meet over Skype.
photo credit: jmawork via photopin cc
I had a total breakdown from years of severe trauma, first panic attack would not stop it was like the pedal was to the metal had to go to the emergency room my blood pressure was high I cannot remember how high but I do remember my pulse hundred and twenty they gave me Ativan and I have had to be on ativan ever since when I have gotten low I experience that feeling i ran out 2 times had to be taken to emergency room and still I have that problem if I don’t keep Ativan in my system I have a full-blown panic that will not stop and there’s nothing around me that is causing it I pray for a miracle healing I used to teach Sunday school. My doctor diagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder panic disorder and anxiety disorder I won’t go into the traumas that I went through in my life but there were a some major. two ho rriffic and then a continual cycle of verbal abuse 4 10 years prior to that we had good years when the children were growing up. I want this to stop and to be normal again. I can’t even watch my grandchildren or keep them overnight like I used to. He would go into Rages and i would have such fear and when my kids would come over I do my best to keep it hid I love my husband very much he is in heaven now I separated from him 5 years when I had the panic attack that wouldn’t stop I would really like to know something that could help me I do not want to be on drugs. Thank you and God bless you.
Lisa, thanks for sharing a bit of your story. You’ve faced many difficulties and are looking to Christ for the answers. May we encourage you to consider making an appointment with one of our trained counselors? We offer both Skype and in-person counseling. You can check out our counseling page at http://www.biblicalcounselingcenter.org/counseling
God truly cares, Lisa. We look forward to helping you.
Have you found help
Yes! Are you looking for help too? One of our counselors would love to walk you toward victory over panic and anxiety. Please consider making an appointment. We offer online and in-person appointments.
Dr. Lucy Ann Moll
Thank you so much for sharing! This truly blessed me!
You say here:
and “other scripture.
To overcome panic attacks, knowing what God says about fear is a step in the right direction but I had to take another step, a scary step: to act on what I believed.”
What other scriptures? I’m also dealing with this in my life. I’m seeking and hope you can provide some of thirst scriptures and what you mean by that.
I am also experiencing panic attacks.. 🙁 I am a repentant follower. But lately when I get stressed at work, I couldn’t function properly and the fear is very debilitating I just wanna quit and relax, or maybe try not even remember scripture. The words give me anxiety although I think I know about grace—I would even describe me as a prisoner of hope. But I hate it when these things happen. I wish the Lord just spoke to me or comforted me, Himself—not that I think I deserve it. I cannot comfort me.. I am afraid I would forget myself and then sin. Since I am kinda forgetful, too. Maybe it’s the nature of my work. and my own circumstances.. My heart goes out to those believers and non-believers who are struggling with daily anxiety and debilitating panic attacks.
I stumbled upon this this morning. My inner man has lived in fear for years. I’m 65 and worn out from holding back fear. When I was a new Christian it felt like the fear was gone but it slowly returned. I’m convinced i have unresolved issues with my Father.
Hi Steve, as you know better than most people, panic attacks are awful. Yet there is hope. First talk with your doctor to see if there is an organic cause for your panic attacks. If there is no physical cause, then why not receive biblical counselors. Perhaps there is a biblical counselor in your area. If not, many of our counselors meet with counselees by Skype. Let us not if you’d like to do that.
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This is a really complex topic that often alienates people in shame. Panic attacks are rooted in paralyzing fear, but that fear is not always a result of personal sin, although it grows into that as time goes on when fear grows bigger than God. Sometimes panic attacks come from original feelings of helplessness and aggressive self-defense as in the case of sexual and domestic abuse, but very quickly transitions into triggers of any situation that makes the individual feel helpless even if the situation itself is not connected or dangerous. Which leads to fear, anxiety, control, ptsd-like symptoms, and panic if the original situation is not dealt with biblically. The answer is not found in belittling fear, but rather in bringing our fear to God and knowing how He relates to our fear, and ultimately our shame. Ed Welch’s books, Running Scared: Fear, Worry, and the God of Rest, and Shame Interrupted, were highly influential in helping me see that God is not disconnected from my fear and it is only by knowing Him and seeking Him that fear fades in light of who He is and what He has done for me. I would also highly recommend PTSD: Biblical Perspective for Hope and Help by Henry Beaulieu.
I am suffering with panic attacks once more in my life! I am told give the fear to God! I try but it’s there. I have been off of work for a month and am thinking of retiring but my husband just doesn’t understand. I wish I could just lay all day and cry and do nothing.
Hi Karen, your friend probably meant well when advising to “give the fear to God,” but we at BCC have found that many people need someone to walk with them in their pain and give good counsel leading to renewing of the mind and to victory. However, sometimes panic attacks have a physical cause so please consult your medical doctor.
If you’re interested in working with one of our biblical counselors–in person or by Skype/FaceTime–please contact us.
Before you read this, understand that one size does not for all. I get that. But this is my story: DO NOT GIVE UP HOPE. Seriously. Really. As a Christian, I suffered from untreated panic disorder for 24 years. I begged God to cure it. He did not for a very long time. I don’t need to tell most of you what the effects of that period were. -Others just likely do not know. People who have not had this condition for a long period just may not understand. That’s ok. Accept that. That’s how the lack of experience goes. Lots of guessing. Lots of possibly hollow encouragement. For you, maybe lost hope in people you trust. The bottom line is that God made fear. Many times, fear is great. Search your bible for that. Other times it’s bad, irrational, ungodly. But don’t assume that just because you are panicked that it’s bad, harmful and evil. I learned 3 things that saved my life in that near quarter of a century: 1, God is not always primarily interested in making our pain go away. His plans are huge! 2. Fear is seldom harmful. Don’t you dare believe all the stress hype! I had unrelenting panic for over 2 decades- I have bad zero longterm health effects,-I swear. 3. You, my scared brother of sister, fear primarily fear. That’s it. So face it. Allow it. Obey God’s command. Face your fears with full confidence as a child of Christ -even if it is fear itself. That’s what God wants: Don’t be afraid of your emotions. I know it’s very uncomfortable- even painful. But the way out is utter courage. Walk through your panic. It is ultimately a paper tiger. -Only you give it power by fearing it. God wants you to fear harmful things: (The condemnation of God, authorities when you do wrong). Those things can hurt you., and fear helps you to avoid them. God does not want you to fear hollow threats like the symptoms of anxiety. I am so thankful that Jesus taught me these things. The world would have you fear mere feelings. God would have you fear only God. Lol. What a distraction panic can be. I know it’s hard!!!! But is it doable- especially for a son or daughter of Christ like you.
hello guys i am also suffering from anxiety myself it has been really hard on me the past year and a half, i am 22 years of age and have one 2 year old, i hate when she’s seeing me cry so i try to go to other rooms but she always follows me and i try to be strong for her but honestly its hard, i do believe in god but this is my story… i started my first anxiety attack or panic attack back in Feb of 2021 because i got a message from one of my high school friends saying one of our close friends had passed away from cancer, mind you i didn’t really keep in touch with my highschool friends after graduating so when i got a message saying such thing i got in such a panic mode that i felt like i was literally about to die. I got flashbacks from my cousin who died of head stroke at age 25, all that kept coming back like when he actually passed on i didn’t grive as much because i kinda didn’t believe it at that time that he had actually passed away so now at this current time, i am always thinking wow how could i have felt so bad about a friend passing away and not my own cousin. Now i am always scared of strokes or head related
i get symptoms such as dizziness, headache, nervousness, tingling, numbness, short breath, off balance feeling, etc
i have had an MRI done and blood work, you name it. Thank god i always come back good on everything