In an instant, my arms went numb and then my legs. My breathing shook and labored as if oxygen levels were too low to get what I needed. Fear engulfed me so completely I nearly passed out. I was too afraid to pass out, and fought through tears as fear continued to grow. Later, my counselor encouraged me that if I’d have passed out I would have been OK. My body would have had a chance to reset itself from emotional overwhelm. I had an anxiety attack.
It’s embarrassing to admit this, because for as long as I can remember I’ve wanted to please God and live with great faith. I’ve wrongly believed the enemy’s whispers, that to deal with anxiety is to be in sin. That anxiety indicates I’m too weak to be of value for Kingdom purposes.
It’s just not true.
Unresolved hurts, fears, and destructive belief patterns can cause anxiety to build. In some cases, to the point of an attack. For me, high stress and hyper-vigilant living contributed. Some people have overactive limbic systems or biological makeups which make anxiety more likely. From what I understand, symptoms and causes vary from person to person. I don’t pretend to understand the nuances for all of us; I share what I’ve come to know in hopes that it helps you too.
Anxiety is an emotion. Emotions in and of themselves are not sinful. They are indicators of something going on inside of us and they should promote us to action. When anxiety attacks, we can choose a course of action that fosters healing over destruction.
When I began counseling my anxiety got triggered frequently. I was given a few tools to help my brain and body settle so I could continue the work. Each of these interrupts the physiological reactions happening naturally inside of a highly anxious mind. In a calmer state, hearts are better able to receive God’s instruction and truth. Perhaps, if we consider and practice these tips in advance of an attack, they’ll become tools in our belt when and if an anxiety attack occurs. If you don’t struggle yourself, perhaps you know, or will know, someone else who does. These tips could help you help them.
5 PRACTICAL WAYS TO HANDLE AN ANXIETY ATTACK
1. Plant your feet on the ground. If you are sitting cross-legged, uncross and set your feet flat on the ground.
2. Breathe deeply. There are different recommendations for breathing deep patterns. Each one determines how many seconds to breathe in from the nose, how many seconds to hold the breath in, and how may seconds to let the breath out through your mouth. It could be four counts in, four counts to hold, and eight counts to release. Or, try another variation to find what works for you.
3. Attune your senses. Choose a color to focus on. Look around you and find ten items with that color. Another option is to use all five senses in succession. For example, ask yourself these questions, “What are five things you can see? What are four things you hear? What are three things you can feel? What are two things you can smell?”
4. Tap your body. left side than right. This one felt awkward at first because my therapist suggested hugging myself. What she suggested was crossing your arms over your chest and then tapping your shoulders, left side then right side. I’ve used alternating tapping elsewhere on my body depending on the situation and environment I was in when anxiety rose.
5. Recite memorized truth. When an anxiety attack is in full swing, I find it helpful to remember this. “I’m OK, my body just doesn’t know it right now.” Because what’s happening inside is a physiological response to fear which is greater than the truth of present danger. It’s not always easy to remember in the moment, but it seems to be the one thought that comes to mind when I’m searching for stability.
Memorizing something simple can be as easy as reminding yourself your OK, or scripture truths that remind you of what you need to know. God is with you. You are not alone. God is for you.
The above tips help your body recover when anxiety levels increase and flood your mind. It can take half an hour or longer for the brain to settle from a trigger before rational thinking takes place again. Having a few simple tools on hand can help.
I’m not an expert on anxiety attacks, but I am a woman who’s had them and knows the paralyzing impact anxiety has on the body and soul. I also know the powerful hope of healing as emotional responses prompt engagement with God at a soul deep level.
Once the attack is over, believers have an incredible opportunity to lean in closer to the Lord and work on spiritual root causes for fear and anxiety. God always has more for us to know about Him. Let anxiety and fear prompt you to the kind of action which brings healing and hope as you draw nearer to the heart of God.
A Prayer for One Who Struggles with Anxiety:
Father, thank you that you see and you are present, even when we can’t feel it. Thank you for loving us where we are. Thank you for loving us enough to not want us to stay where we are. You have so much more peace, joy, and freedom for every believer than many of us will ever know. Help us to know you more.
May the one who feels anxious today seek your Word for truth, comfort, and guidance. May they know your love for them in a deeper way today. May their anxiety and fear prompt them to seek you out. In Jeremiah 29:12-13 you remind us that you will be found. May we seek you with all our heart.
In our fear, grow our faith.
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