Going out to lunch after church is a tradition for our family. So it was no surprise when we found ourselves at a restaurant with a few church visitors we hadn’t seen in a while one particular Sunday. And as is often the case with large parties, it took a while for our food to arrive. When it did, it felt as if I couldn’t eat fast enough. Even after having consumed half my entrée, I looked down at my hands to discover they were shaking.
Maybe I didn’t eat enough for breakfast, I thought. I had eaten a couple granola bars over the course of the morning. Surely, that was enough, right? And I’m eating now. That kind of thing usually corrects itself quickly, doesn’t it?
Then an irrational thought occurred to me: Maybe I was having an allergic reaction to the turkey bacon I had yesterday. I have several food allergies, but turkey’s not one of them. And unlike most allergic reactions, mine usually occur about six to eight hours after consumption. Perhaps there was some unknown cross contamination, and I’m just now feeling the effects?
It’s been over 12 hours, my logical brain countered. That can’t be it.
But by that point, it was too late. My nerves had shot a full dose of adrenaline into my body and my heart began beating so hard and fast, it threatened to explode right out of my chest.
“Whew! I feel faint,” I told my husband. With a gasp, I said, “My heart is just racing.”
Then it clicked. I was having a panic attack.
There are a number of factors that can contribute to panic attacks, including low blood sugar, genetics, and environmental triggers, among others. I’ve had a few attacks before, but under more claustrophobic circumstances, making it obvious what it was, and never just sitting at the lunch table.
Take a deep breath and slowly let it out, I told myself.
“Are you okay?” my husband asked, concerned.
“Yeah, I am. Just give me a minute.”
I focused on breathing calmly and reminding myself nothing was wrong; I was safe. My racing heart slowed and the world came back into focus. I settled down and managed to finish my lunch without the rest of our party being any wiser.
But physically, I felt like I had run a marathon. It took about another 24 hours before I felt the adrenaline work its way out of my system and I was normal again. And spiritually, I felt like a failure. Didn’t Paul write, “God has not given us a spirit of fear” (2 Tim. 1:7 NLT)? I prayed, asking God the question we so often ask, “Why?”
He answered me over time in a way I can only try to paraphrase for you now:
Panic attacks are about feeling out of control. And yes, you are not in control. But you know that I am. And how you respond is much more important than the attack itself, because it’s an opportunity to apply your faith. It’s a chance to call out fear and face it with the truth of Scripture. Like Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” (2 Cor. 12:7), this is a way for Me to be glorified, and a way for you to better empathize with others—that you may “comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which [you are] comforted” (2 Cor. 1:4).
While we may not be able to control anxiety-inspiring events, as Christians, we can respond in ways that express our trust in the sovereign One who is always with us and who lovingly cares for us.
May you always experience His peace and comfort in your time of need.
Dr. Stanley teaches us how to handle stress and fear in his message “When Anxiety Strikes” airing today on radio.