Panic attacks—they are crippling. Your mind spins, your pulse is out-of-control fast, the world fades, and you feel like you are sinking into it. If this is happening to you—I am so very sorry.
I understand that you have likely spent significant time praying and yearning for a remedy. I understand that you cannot envision your life like this—tomorrow or years ahead. And I understand that when you hear the words “worry,” “fear,” or “anxious” from others applied to your brand of panic and anxiety, you often cannot relate to what is said next. I understand that you would stop the panic attacks if you could, that they cannot be resisted like sin can be resisted. And I understand that you have trouble feeling normal.
Yet, this is your normalcy even now. Your goal today is as it has ever been—to be faithful to your God by being a keeper of his Word, and to endure with him, in his presence, until the day he sovereignly brings you relief, whether now or in eternity. Until then, endure well by remembering his Word to you.
Here are five perspectives to help endure panic attacks well.
1. A day with panic is not a bad day.
My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever…for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. (Psalm 73:26, 28)
If you cannot do everything today that you did yesterday, lament this before the Lord. And then move forward. Even more, move forward as the Psalms do—to praise.
There is much you can do today. You can praise and honor the Lord God. He is with you. So this day is very precious. If you had a panic attack today and all you can comprehend is recovering, then recover to his glory. Recover in his presence. Ask how you can worship your way through recovery, acknowledging in your heart and to those around you his good works. Or, if you can comprehend doing more, though still not as much as you would like to do, then lament that too. Lament what you cannot do this day, and move forward to praise in what you can do.
There is much joy to find—even if you wish the day could feel different. No day is a throw-away day when you can still praise God in what you think, love, speak, and do. This day may not be your ideal. But this is a beautiful day. This is a good day. Enjoy it as a gift. And every day is new and independent of the last; start anew each day.
2. The resolution is not up to you.
When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, you knew my path. (Psalm 142:3a)
You do not know the plans God has for your life. Believing that a good day is only one in which you are cured of panic attacks and anxiety is just as unwise and untrue as determining for yourself that panic attacks and anxiety will be with you for the rest of your days. You simply do not know. You do not know what change or progress God might bring.
But when the foundation of your life is God’s sovereignty, you do not need to know. He has a plan. As you continue to be faithful to his Word and ways, he will enable you to fulfill his plan for your life regardless of whether panic attacks and anxiety come along or not.
He is gracious, loving, caring, generous, infinitely thoughtful, and gentle with you. He knows how you feel, truly. Christian, he knows your heart, he sees every longing to honor him still—and that you wonder how this will be possible. Trust his sovereignty; don’t make plans for three or thirty years from now that you do not have enough information to make. Don’t spend your thoughts on what you do not know. Instead, ask God for ways to honor him—ask that you might fulfill every good purpose he has for you. He knows your path—even on the days when you cannot think too deeply, and even concerning the aspects of the future outside of your present comprehension.
3. God protects you.
Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who hope in the Lord. (Psalm 31:24)
Panic attacks and anxiety impact your life in legitimate, practical ways. I understand the barriers before you to overcome—that the grocery store, or the place where you experienced your first panic attack, or that flight to a vacation you want to enjoy, feel out of reach. I understand that taking a step too soon can be unwise, bringing an experience of panic that will then require even more from you as you move forward. Most of all, I understand that what is simple for another person is, for you, completely courageous.
So pray for wisdom to know simply the next step of faithfulness. Don’t concern yourself so much with an end goal, and don’t forget that your anxiety about that next step is often worse than the experience itself. You do not know how you’ll feel then, but you can trust now. Take just that next step and don’t categorically disqualify yourself from any experience in the future. Be patient with your progress.
God is already protecting you. So be wise and prayerful without believing the lie that you are sovereign over your own protection. God leads your progress and your life. On this earth, God will act to protect you as he sees fit; no matter what happens, he will protect you straight into eternity. And he knows your heart and your mind already—and perfectly. So be courageous, prayerful, wise, and patient, even as you have already been.
4. Use this opportunity to examine your life.
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)
When panic attacks and anxiety come, all of life’s concerns and discontents are magnified. Your internal processing is intensified. What comes to mind? This is an opportunity. Use this time to identify what is presently most concerning to your heart in order to grow in holiness and loving obedience before the Lord. The cares of this world are passing away—to which ones do we cling? What sins are we cherishing that we can confess and turn from? What weights can we lay off and entrust to him?
While there is opportunity for self-examination, let it also reach its natural end. This is not to say that there is an end to sin in this life. But this period of life and the reflection it allows can be directed in prayer to the God who leads you on according to his everlastingly good ways. During times of panic and anxiety, we tend to fixate ourselves on finding a cure. The temptation here will be to use opportunities for increased righteousness as a way to be cured, or even to bargain for a cure, instead of as a way to purely honor God.
Your reason to grow in holiness is not for the purpose of ridding yourself of suffering, but simply for the purpose of growing closer to the heart of Christ in what you think, love, say, and do. Once you have confessed your sin and repented, trust in Christ’s forgiveness and move forward from it with him.
5. Peace can dwell even in the midst of panic.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
You will find ways to grow and be stretched in loving obedience to God in the particulars of your panic attacks and anxiety. Through self-examination and receiving God’s forgiveness, and through perspective and holiness in this trial, you will find a renewed experience of peace. Your experience of peace is possible because of the genuine and unalterable peace that you have been given with your God.
Be at peace with how you choose to live amidst panic attacks and anxiety. Feel also your firm, already-accomplished peace with God in Christ. You have this; it cannot leave.
Now, you can have this rest—salvific peace with God and experiential peace in your heart and mind—while still going on to experience a panic attack outside of your control. Peace can dwell within that experience, saying, God, my peace is you, and I live in peace before you, though still this panic comes over me. Please do not be discouraged in your faith, as if a panic attack disqualifies you from knowing peace. Endure now and take heart—press on and know confidently that you have the crown of life waiting for you (James 1:12).
God’s presence with you enables you to endure panic attacks well. He is solid, like an unbreakable rod in the center of who you are that connects you to him. Cling to him. Remind yourself, continually if needed, the perspectives he teaches. They will always be there for you; his Word never fails and you have access to him always. Look to him, “to the rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2).
As you do, whether or not your panic attacks and anxiety are removed, so much will be added to you.