An Attack of Panic

A panic attack affects one out of 75 people, and can be quite disconcerting.  My panic attacks occur roughly once a month and last for about 1/2 hour.  When the acute symptoms first appear my first reaction is to resist giving in to it.  I get the “shakes” and start trembling.  For a long time, I didn’t know what caused them or more importantly what could stop them.

A panic attack is a sudden surge of an overwhelming fear that comes without warning and without any obvious reason. It is far more intense than the feeling of being ‘stressed out’ that most people experience. Symptoms of a panic attack include:

  • racing heartbeat
  • difficulty breathing, feeling as though you ‘can’t get enough air’
  • a terror, that is almost paralyzing, a seeming irrational fear
  • dizziness, lightheadedness or nausea
  • trembling, sweating, shaking
  • choking, chest pains
  • hot flashes, or sudden chills
  • tingling in fingers or toes (‘pins and needles’)
  • fear that you’re going to go crazy, or are about to die

You probably recognize this as the classic ‘flight or fight’ response that human beings experience when we are in a situation of danger. But during a panic attack, these symptoms seem to rise from out of nowhere. They occur in seemingly harmless situations–they can even happen while you are asleep.

In addition to the above symptoms, a panic attack is marked by the following conditions:

  1. it occurs suddenly, without any warning and without any way to stop it.
  2. the level of fear is way out of proportion to the actual situation; often, in fact, it’s completely unrelated.
  3. it passes in a few minutes; the body cannot sustain the ‘fight or flight’ response for longer than that. However, repeated attacks can continue to recur for hours.

A panic attack is not dangerous, but it can be terrifying, largely because it feels ‘crazy’ and ‘out of control.’ Panic disorder is frightening because of the panic attacks associated with it, and also because it often leads to other complications such as phobias, depression, substance abuse, medical complications, even suicide. Its effects can range from mild social impairment or to pretty much a total inability to face the outside world.

Is it a heart attack or a panic attack? Most of the symptoms of a panic attack are physical, and many times these symptoms are so severe that people think they’re having a heart attack. In fact, many people suffering from panic attacks make repeated trips to the doctor or the emergency room in an attempt to get treatment for what they believe is a life-threatening medical problem. While it’s important to rule out possible medical causes of symptoms such as chest pain, heart palpitations, or difficulty breathing, it’s often panic that is overlooked as a potential cause – not the other way around.

If there is any doubt at all, call 911 immediately. You can always call 1-888-NEEDHIM if you need to talk this out.

But when I am afraid,
    I will put my trust in you.
I praise God for what he has promised.
    I trust in God, so why should I be afraid?
    What can mere mortals do to me?

Psalm 56:3-4


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Further reading and help at:

The Lord of My Darkest Fear


“And you will feel secure, because there is hope;
you will look around and take your 
rest in security.”

 Job 11:18

“If you lie down, you will not be afraid;
when you lie down, your sleep will be sweet.” 

Prov. 3:24

Bedding down in the ruins of an old adobe church gave me a great deal of apprehension.  I was anxious because at night all the scorpions, snakes and tarantulas do most of their exploring.  Now I have an uncommon fear of tarantulas, at night I have seen them come out and the ground was churning.  But as a missionary in rural Mexico and I guess I figured that I ought not shirk my expected routine.  But I was spooked. I am a true arachnophobiac.

Job and the Book of Proverbs combine to correctly identify the personal security issues for the believer.  We’re most vulnerable when we lie down to sleep.  When you think about it, that’s when we are most accessible and open to assault.

But there are promises that are given to believers that reassure us and secure us.  It is a remarkably basic promise, that we can lay down and God will stand watch over us as we rest.  But I contend that there other times, times when He watches us and guides us through a myriad of unseen difficult things.  He secures us, and then keeps us.

My time in the Mexican desert taught me some incredible lessons.  I must admit though, that sleeping on the ground was an ordeal.  I had to trust that the Lord would take special care over me as I lay defenseless.  I could not defend myself, so I trusted Him and slept. I ‘shut down’ my imagination and trusted Him who I could not see.  (I didn’t even bother to look for tarantula ‘tracks’ around my bedroll in the morning.)

We live in a time of complex danger.  Bad things have become increasingly routine and we have come to the point were we just can’t protect ourselves, or those we love.  Jesus warned us that this would happen.

Paul writes of this intensification of evil things.

We must trust Him who is unseen.  We are to be people that move toward ‘the wings’ to find shelter.  I believe this is a volitional decision.  We make a verbal commitment to our protecting One, that He will shield us from those who are evil and perhaps even deranged.

He loves us so much.  We can trust Him completely and fully. Even in the face of very big spiders.

“The only known antidote to fear is faith.”

Woodrow Kroll

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The Giant Mocks Us

Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1616
From 1 Samuel 17

Young David stood and looked at Goliath face-to-face.  Physically there was hardly a comparison.  Goliath was almost 10 feet tall, a warrior since birth, armed to the teeth, we read of his armor–he was like a human tank.  David was nothing,  a pesky boy, nothing more.  Goliath preened and strutted into the field of battle, and David was stepping up for his first try.

Goliath begins to blaspheme.  He boasts and mocks.  In his mind he is superior.  His arrogance knows no bounds.  The center of the universe is the Philistine army, and he is their champion.  Nothing can compare, the glory is his.

“As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet him.  Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell facedown on the ground”.

1 Sam. 17:48

 Goliath is a ‘human wood chipper.’  Everyone who has faced him has been destroyed.  There have been no survivors to speak of. But I find David to be powerfully exceptional.  His reaction to the ‘human mountain’ of Goliath was to run directly at him.  This is an astonishing faith.

Many of us face a giant called “despair”.

He has marched out on the field of battle confident of his ultimate triumph over us.  We have been tutored that there are enemies that can destroy us.  We’ve been indoctrinated to accept the inevitable slavery with a spirit of meekness.

The concept and milieu of going to war has not been something that didn’t get passed on to us.  The ‘enemy-giant’ of despair is real and brutal.  Our destruction is inevitable in his mind.  Despair believes he will destroy us.  Its just a matter of time.

So many believers, cowed and intimidated, surrender to the boastings of the giant Despair.  Hope, and faith are drained out of our being, and we become a empty spiritual shell.  The “warfare” dimension gets nullified, and soon irrelevant.  Despair reaches us and has the full intention of taking total control.

David ran to the battle.  He passed through the dark intimidation and influence to approach Goliath.  There was no passiveness or doubt to cloud his mind.  David took a spiritually aggressive position, he took on the confusion, and then ran directly at the giant Goliath.  His spirit was untouchable.

As believers, we struggle and David and Goliathpout.  We turn our hearts over to despair.  We become available to the enemies workings.  And the confidence we might have through faith is dissipated into doubt and confusion.  But the victory we have in Christ allows us the liberty, through the Blood of Him who defeats our own goliath of despair.

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Panic Attacks Understood


Anxiety (panic) attack symptoms can feel awful, intense, and frightening.  The good news is that while they can seem serious, anxiety attack symptoms aren’t harmful in and of themselves. That is sonething to remember.

Because there are many medical conditions that can cause ‘anxiety-like’ symptoms, it’s wise to discuss your symptoms with you doctor. If your doctor has attributed your symptoms to stress and anxiety, you can feel confident that your doctor’s diagnosis is correct. Anxiety attack disorder is relatively easy to diagnose and isn’t easily confused with more serious medical conditions.

Anxiety attack symptoms are NOT always indications of a serious medical condition. They are simply dramatic responses to being afraid. Being afraid causes the body to stimulate stress hormones. Since stress hormones are designed to prepare the body for action, the changes stress hormones bring about can cause the body to exhibit “symptoms” of this biochemical change. Anxiety attack symptoms are simply “sensory sensations” of this biological change. Again, they aren’t harmful, but they are letting you know that your body’s stress hormone levels are elevated.

Common anxiety attack symptoms include:

  • A feeling of impending doom, that something horrible is about to happen, that you are in grave danger
  • A strong feeling of fear, foreboding
  • An urge to escape, to get out, to run away from danger
  • Blanching, turning white, looking pale
  • Blushing, skin blotches, turning red
  • Burning skin
  • Choking sensation, tightening throat, it feels like your throat is closing
  • Confusion
  • Depersonalization (feeling detached from reality, separate from one-self, separate from normal emotions)
  • Derealization (feeling unreal, in a dream-like state)
  • Dizziness, lightheadedness, unsteadiness
  • Emotional distress
  • Emotional upset
  • Fear of going crazy
  • Fear of losing control, freaking out
  • Fearful thoughts that seem incessant
    Feels like there is a tight band around your head
  • Hot or cold chills
  • Inability to calm yourself down
  • Knot in the stomach, tight stomach
  • Nausea
  • Numbness, tingling sensations in any part of the body
  • Panicky feeling
  • Pins and needles feeling
  • Plugged ear(s), stuffed ear(s)
  • Pounding heart
  • Racing heart
  • Shooting pains in the chest, neck, shoulder, head, or face
  • Shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  • Sweating
  • Tightness in the chest
  • Trembling, shaking (visibly shaking or just trembling on the inside)
  • Upset stomach
  • Urgent desire to go to the bathroom (urinate, defecate)
  • Vomiting

There is a long list of anxiety symptoms. But because each body is somewhat chemically unique, anxiety affects each person differently. Consequently, anxiety symptoms vary from person to person in type or kind, number, intensity, and frequency. If your symptoms don’t exactly match this list, that does not mean you don’t have anxiety. It simply means that you body is responding to anxiety slightly differently.

For example, one person may experience only a few minor symptoms, while another person may experience the majority of symptoms to great intensities. All combinations are possible and common.

Anxiety attack symptoms can range from mild to severe, from only one symptom to all of them, and can be sporadic, frequent, or persistent. Again, all combinations are possible and common. My own attacks are intense, but I know they’ll go away in time.

Sometimes all we can do is accept the issues that anxiety brings.  We must understand that the Holy Spirit knows us fully, and that He will bring us through.  Be confident in His grace and receive His mercy.  The reality is that Jesus will carry you the distance.

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Rip Tide Lessons

In the late 1990s, my wife Lynn and I were based in a mission station about 200 miles south of Tijuana, Mexico.  We would be working in Baja in the sleepy little village of San Telmo.  It was hard work, but we would take day trips to a beach on the Pacific Ocean.  One beach in particular, was a favorite place for surfers.

One day we headed out for some sand, surf and sea.  Little did I know that day, that I would almost drown.  Yes, the waves were bigger then usual, but we set up camp and our two children combed the beach, under our watchful eyes.  After a while, I gathered up my ‘boogie board’ and headed for the water.

I had caught several nice waves, and was having a wonderful time. But all of a sudden things got scary.  I was working the waves on the north side of the beach, when suddenly– I lost control.  The current began to pull me away from the shore.  I doubled my paddling efforts, but still I was being pulled out.

I became really afraid.  (Actually, I was panicking.) The beach was getting very small, and I still was being pulled out.  It was at this point, I began to pray.  I had never experienced a rip tide.  I really wasn’t sure what was happening.

In retrospect, I was being ‘schooled.’  I learned more in 20 minutes of stark terror, then in many months of classroom teaching.

1) I learned that I’m not in control of my life, there are things completely beyond me. I had zero control over what was happening. But often life is like that.

2)  God can take my life whenever He chooses.  He decides when I leave this earthly existence.  “My times are in His hands,” the psalmist declared.

3)  I needed to admit my profound ignorance of many things that are intensely important to know.  These gaps in my knowledge will often take me where I don’t want to go.

4)  Stay on your board!  Cling to it.  You WILL drown if you get separated from it.  You can also use it to rest on when your arms feel like they are going to fall off.

5) Start to swim parallel with the beach, NOT toward it!  The current is very likely 30-40 yards wide.  The rising panic will probably keep you focused on the  beach. You cannot overcome a riptide by trying to paddle harder.

6) If you make it through this, the beach is beautiful.  You will be exhausted.  Your friends will not grasp how close you came to drowning.  They have no idea what has just transpired, and you realize you can’t explain what just happened.  But all of a sudden, you have lost all enthusiasm for the board and the waves.

Often it feels like my mental illness is a massive riptide.  To fight it directly is disastrous, and pulls me away. I look back and realize that my experience has given me valuable things, an understanding that nothing can replace.


Anxiety: Strength Emptied

“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.”

Charles Spurgeon

We wrestle with amazing issues, they parade like certainties.  That is part of their strength.  Anxiety over our future, is a very difficult thing to separate from.  The dictionary has a simple definition,  “distress or uneasiness of mind caused by fear of danger or misfortune. a state of uneasiness or tension caused by apprehension of possible future misfortune, danger, etc; worry.

We can define it in a sort of abstract form, but anxiety has a vicious bite.  I believe it is the most common enemy of our souls.  (Maybe “pride” would be the most challenging?)  However our anxiety affects our children, finances and our status in this world.  We are so edgy, and have been for so long that it seems very normal.

Quite expectedly, Wikipedia gives us this explanation.  “Worry is thoughts and images of a negative nature in which mental attempts are made to avoid anticipated potential threats.  As an emotion it is experienced as anxiety or concern about a real or imagined issue, usually personal issues such as health or finances or broader ones such as environmental pollution and social or technological change.” 

Ok, well, that quote is a bit intense and perhaps a bit complicated.  But as I read it, the phrase, “an anticipation of evil things”  pops into my mind.

I guess there is an effort on our part to somehow equalize the pressure.  But typically it’s only enough to make us “humanly” passable, and acceptable to our dear ones.  But the truth is, we fear way too much.  Our anxiety over the future has a corrosive effect, it just eats us up.  We are like ships, who periodically come into port to have our hulls cleaned.  Somehow, if we decide to forego this, we will find that it diminishes us, and often drastically.

Anxiety is a weight that pulls us down: spiritually, and emotionally and even physically. It is worry that has gone viral in our thinking. We can think of nothing else.  There exists something that our psychologists call an “anxiety disorder.”  To be blunt, today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday. Worry, doubt, fear and despair are the enemies which slowly bring us down to the ground and turn us to dust before we die.

There is not much more I can say.  As we grow more and more anxious, we will drive a simple faith in Jesus away.  Simply put, worry, and the presence of Jesus can never truly agree.  They are on opposite sides of the spectrum.  One will rule, and the other won’t.

“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength, carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”

Corrie Ten Boom

Worry needs to be considered as if it were ‘armed and dangerous.’  Lust, pride, and apostasy are certainly thought of as dark, and evil. But worry has got to rank up there.

Our anxiety is a declaration of God’s unfaithfulness.  It is a “neon sign” that blinks out His perceived negligence and His ineptitude.

Please dear one, shake off this deep deceit.  Renounce your worry, your anxiety.  The One who feeds the sparrows, couldn’t forget you.  You are His, by blood.  He has gone far beyond the extra mile to obtain you to be His own.

“Don’t fear, little flock, because your Father wants to give you the kingdom.”

Luke 12:32, NCV


Star Witnesses


“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.

But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Luke 2:8-11

These shepherds were watchful.  They are careful, and very much on guard, as they look over the flocks.  (Actually, this is quite marvelous in itself. There is a ‘brain-numbing’ issue that afflicts shepherds at 2 in the morning.)  They see everything this deep. dark night. They will make excellent ‘star’ witnesses.

The angels carefully watch as well.  I’m guessing the ‘appearance’  frightens in a very deep way.  The Bible uses this powerful word–terrified‘.  (Doesn’t that word just push through, and make it seem as though we no longer have control over reality?)

All of a sudden, an angel appears and things start getting strange.  The weirdness quickly grows, and fear begins to push through.  Fear is a very good way to a deep understanding of things that are pretty much out of our league. Reality is now going to be interpreted God’s way, under His terms. We fear first, and faith follows. That seems to be the pattern.

The angels are very quick to ‘defuse the fear.’ They need to do something to stem the urge to panic.  One of the things they do is to speak a deep and penetrating word of promise and hope.  And the shepherds are like dry sponges,  and they truly absorb all that happens. They are the ‘official’ witnesses to this night’s events.

The ‘angel’ has carried a very significant message to our souls. “‘Have absolutely no fear’!  I carry to you, an awesome word, that all of your nasty, evil sins, are quite forgiven.  There is someone special, a savior. This baby is the Messiah, Christ the Lord.'” Needless to say, the shepherds are pretty scrambled.

“A Saviour is born”.  He hasn’t ‘appeared,’ or even ‘arrived’ as full-bodied man, but He has been born.  This reliance on ‘old-fashioned’ approach, brings a much slower development to His message.  A birth slows everything down. It’s like ‘slow motion’ TV.  It forces things to develop in a slower, natural and a timely way. Everyone waits.

But He has been ‘born’.  But have no doubt, He is the ‘Messiah” and He is the King of Kings, He is the One who has been eternally chosen.  Just wait and see.

“The Christmas message is that there is hope for a ruined humanity–hope of pardon, hope of peace with God, hope of glory–because at the Father’s will Jesus became poor, and was born in a stable so that thirty years later He might hang on a cross.”   

J.I. Packer

***ybic, Bryan