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"The entrance of thy words giveth light (Psalm 119:130)."

Panic Attacks

If you've ever had a panic attack, you know that you've experienced something very different from anxiety or stress. Here's the definition of a panic attack adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Of Mental Disorders (DSM 4 TR): A discrete period of intense fear or discomfort, in which four (or more) of the following symptoms developed abruptly and reached a peak within 10 minutes:

  • Palpitations, pounding heart, or accelerated heart rate.
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Sensations of shortness of breath or smothering.
  • Feeling of choking.
  • Chest pain or discomfort.
  • Nausea or abdominal distress.
  • Feeling dizzy, unsteady, light-headed, or faint.
  • Feelings of unreality or being detached from oneself.
  • Fear of losing control or going crazy.
  • Fear of dying.
  • Numbness or tingling sensations.
  • Chills or hot flashes.

In terms of causation, there are medical issues that need to be ruled out by a doctor. This is a necessary first step. There are medical conditions that cause panic attacks. Panic attacks can also be a side effect of prescription or street drugs. They can also be the result of withdrawal when the use of alcohol, some street drugs or some prescription medications are reduced or discontinued. Caffeine withdrawal can also cause panic attacks in some people.

What a layman might view as a panic attack may actually be a life-threatening medical condition like a heart attack. This is another reason why they should be promptly evaluated by a physician.

Panic attacks thrive on fear. A panic attack feels scary, but it is nothing to be afraid of. If you allow yourself to entertain panicky thoughts, the panic attacks will become stronger and more frequent. Phobias will likely develop since the panic attacks will occur in some context.

I've only had one panic attack in my lifetime. I remember standing by myself just outside of the library at San Diego State University. All of a sudden, I had this tense scary feeling. I knew what it was. And I just said to myself something like "It's just a panic attack. It's no big deal." I chose to not be afraid of it. It passed after about ten minutes. I never had another one. This happened long before I became a Christian.

The spiritual cause of panic attacks is less straightforward than anxiety or depression. I could speculate that a panic disorder involves a class of demons that can only thrive in the presence of fear. But it really doesn't matter since the cure for panic attacks is really simple:

  • Allow yourself to feel the bodily sensations.
  • Don't be afraid of them.

Distract yourself: Find some way of focusing your mind on something else. This is a part of not being afraid.

Every time you experience the panicky feeling but choose not to be afraid, the spiritual foothold that is the basis of your panic disorder will become less powerful. The panic attacks will, in time, become less powerful and less frequent. Eventually, they will disappear altogether.

You can never learn to get rid of your panic attacks if you are taking psychotropic medication to treat them. Remember that the cure involves both experiencing the bodily sensations and not being afraid of them. Furthermore, if you are taking psych meds for a panic disorder, you will be fueling the idea that you need these medications. Almost nothing could be worse.

The Bible says "Be anxious for nothing (Philippians 4:6 NASB)." Not even a panic attack.

Note: Make full use of the other articles on this site. Anything that reduces your your stress and anxiety will be helpful.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor. Discuss medication issues with your physician before making any changes.

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