I was having lunch with some friends recently when the topic of panic attacks came up. I shared a time when I experienced one a few years ago.
I was on a vacation with my family and we decided to go on a snorkeling excursion. Let me say up front snorkeling can be an awesome way to see the beauty of the ocean. I’m just not a fan. I’ve snorkeled several times and I like seeing the pretty fishies DOWN THERE, but I don’t like them to invade my personal space. I also don’t like how unnatural it feels to breathe in a snorkel mask. But I make the effort because my family loves it and I want to be with them.
This particular day, my husband and 4 adult children were already off the boat and swimming away. I think I said a quick “Lord help me” prayer as I descended into the water.
I swam toward my husband, occasionally putting my face into the water and looking for him. I noticed how many fish were all around – and how close they seemed. I could feel my heartbeat increasing and my breath becoming more labored.
As I reached my husband, I recall feeling out of control, fearful that a fish would touch me. Just the thought of it caused me to call out to him, “I can’t do this. I can’t do this.” I couldn’t breathe, my chest was tight, I was overtaken with fear.
At that point, I pulled my snorkel mask off and began to swim back to the boat as quickly as possible. One of the snorkeling guides helped me back onto the boat where I was able to calm myself. Once my breathing and heartrate returned to normal, I was ok.
The Mayo Clinic defines a panic attack as “a sudden episode of intense fear that triggers severe physical reactions when there is no real danger or apparent cause.” Read more about it here.
I don’t know if you have ever experienced a panic attack, or if you’ve had some type of intense fear engulf you to the degree that your mind and body severely overreact. My guess is that many of you have.
When looking back on that snorkeling incident, I see that my thoughts went from “I don’t like breathing in a mask” and “I don’t want a fish to touch me” to “I won’t be able to breathe” and “the fish will surround me and I won’t be able to escape”. Had I been able to bring those irrational fears under control, they wouldn’t have overtaken me.
So what do we do with the illogical thoughts and how can we battle the fear that threatens to overwhelm us?
The Word of God has a lot to say about fear. In fact, the command “Do not fear” is the most common command in the Bible.
In the Old Testament, God reminded his people not to fear when they were faced with:
An Insecure Present
So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. Isaiah 41:10
Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” Deuteronomy 31:6,8
An Uncertain Future
But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:1-2
An Unwinnable Battle
Do not be afraid of them; the Lord your God himself will fight for you. Deuteronomy 3:22
Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:9
An Insurmountable Obstacle
Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:13-14
In the New Testament, we’re told what to do instead of being anxious or fearful.
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
So when our minds start to run wild thinking about all the “what ifs” in our world today, bring those thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ. It doesn’t matter if our fears are real or exaggerated. God is with us. Pray and thank God for His promise of faithfulness to us and ask for His help in combatting our fears. And His peace will surround and protect our hearts and minds and we will be ok.
I sought the Lord , and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. Psalms 34:4