I have long had this post in my head, but have shied away from writing it, quite frankly because I’m not a medical professional. What I am sharing here today is just my personal experience. My hope is that I can help others who may be struggling with panic attacks.
If you want to read my post with all the details of my physical symptoms, you can find it here. Continue reading for the cliff notes version. :)
The bottom line was that I was having a multitude of symptoms that were stemming from a liver worn down from years of prescription drug use (which I am reliant on due to having my thyroid removed at age 10) and the over-use,on doctor’s orders, of ibuprofen to simply function for years until I finally got my celiac disease diagnosis. One of the symptoms that I have continued to battle is panic attacks. At this point,I have been having panic attacks for 6 years. Oh. My……that is the first time I’ve actually thought to calculate that.
Anyways, having dealt with these nasty little things for 6 years, I have learned some tips and tricks on dealing with them. Lately, I’ve been sharing my experiences with so many people and listening to them share about their symptoms. I am amazed at how many people are struggling with these things! It seems, ladies, that we tend to suck it up and not seek support, encouragement, and help in these areas. Why? Because we are still laboring under the delusion that we need to do it all and keep it all together, and having panic attacks or extreme stress is not part of that perfect picture. And, if you are anything like me, you might not be able to face the fact that you are stressed out and having something called a “panic attack” because that could be a reflection on your faith.
That is what I want to focus on today.
When I finally received a diagnosis from the ER that the elephant sitting on my chest was a panic attack, I was relieved. How could I not be??? Those meds they gave me took away every care I had in the world. And it was an awesome feeling! I never took those again. But once I came out of La La Land, I was crushed. How could I be having panic attacks? I was a Christian after all! I trusted in the Lord, the Lord was my strength, He was in control, and I was…I was…not truly trusting Him? If I was, I wouldn’t be having these stupid things, right?!?! I could only think of talking this through with a trusted mentor at church. The Lord put her on my heart, and I made a bee line for her the following Sunday. As I poured out my heart to her, the tears started flowing. Friends walked by and cast concerned glances my way. The Frazzled Mama does not cry. Especially not in public. What the heck was going on???? She gave me the best advice ever, and I want to pass it on to you mingled with my own thoughts now 6 years into this journey.
First, your body is physical, and will wear out under pressure. Outside of the Lord working a miracle, your body has parameters in which it can function. Don’t eat enough, you have a problem. Don’t rest/sleep enough, you have a problem. Don’t get hydrating fluids, you have a problem. Too much stress in your life, you have problem. Panic attacks, I have learned, can be caused from many different sources! In my instance, it was poor liver function, resulting in adrenal fatigue. It can be many other things as well, such as chemical imbalance, stress/lifestyle, hormonal changes, thyroid issues…the list goes on and on. The bottom line that I hope you can grasp, dear one, is that we are spiritual beings attached to a physical body. The physical wears out, and doesn’t necessarily give an accurate reflection of our faith! That said, we must care for that physical body in order to do the work the Lord has set before us. If that means sleeping in, great! If it means taking some herbal supplements, fine! If you need a prescription, go for it! Don’t be ashamed to care for the physical body God gave you. It is His temple, do what needs to be done to care for it, and choose to reject the stigma that you are somehow less of a person if you need supplemental or prescription help to balance out your body. One of the best things ever said to me during the first year of having panic attacks was this, “The Lord is growing you spiritually, and your body is having a hard time keeping up.” Wow! That was so profound and healing to me, as I had immediately jumped to the conclusion that my faith wasn’t very deep if I was having panic attacks. Growing spiritually is often stressful. I can’t tell you how much my spiritual life deepened while dealing with Sugar Belle’s accident, but talk about stress!!! Looking back, I wouldn’t change a thing about that time in my life, but I have a feeling my body would :) Remember you are a spirit, you have a body.
Which leads me to my next point, having panic attacks does not necessarily mean your faith is waning or lacking. During times of stress and anxiety I think it’s a good idea to evaluate whether or not you are not fully surrendering a situation to God. You may find that, at times, that is exactly the cause of your anxiety. There was a particular situation going on shortly after the onset of my panic attacks that I would give to the Lord, and then take it back. “Okay Lord I am trusting in you to resolve this situation.” Five minutes later, my mind is obsessing on fixing the situation….Yeah. I think that panic attacks are a great reminder that we need to cast our cares upon the Lord. Having said that, could it be that we tend to think that if we just had more faith panic attacks would not be an issue in our lives? I know I’ve struggled with these thoughts. They went something like, “If I truly trusted God, there wouldn’t be a knot in my stomach, an elephant on my chest, and a dizzy feeling in my head.” I’d like to suggest, that if you have searched your heart and find you are still devoted to the Lord, and you are making every effort to trust Him, that perhaps that is the enemy attempting to trip you up, the enemy outside, or within…our flesh. Please, dear one, don’t use a panic attack as a barometer of your faith.
Did you know there is such a thing as “good stress?” There truly is, and that is a fact I had not embraced until very recently. The problem is, our bodies cannot discern the difference between good stress and bad stress. Our bodies are wonderful intricate things, but they function in black and white terms. Stress is stress. I can vividly remember walking through the exhibit hall at our state’s homeschool convention and having a panic attack. Really?!?! That place is a homeschool mom’s dream! I came to the conclusion that the overload of stimulus, and the excitement of it all threw my body into a panic attack. I seriously looked at Mr. OverKill and said, “I want to go home.” My point is this, my body can’t differentiate between good stress and bad stress. Example, good stress = raising 4 super active kiddos, bad stress = not having enough money to pay bills. Get my point? Raising kiddos is stressful, but it’s good. It’s busy, it can be intense, but it’s good. Not having money to pay my bills, that’s bad stress. No two ways about it. Our bodies don’t differentiate between good or bad stress, even if out minds do.
Finally, we need to accept that raising kids is stressful. It is not always a fun walk in the park. Somehow, somewhere along the way, we’ve gotten it into our heads that if we call motherhood stressful we have failed somehow, or we aren’t enough, or….fill in the blank with your own brand of demon. But guess what? It is stressful. It is hard. It is dirty. It can be painful. But it’s good too :) You heard it here first, motherhood is stressful and it’s okay to say so!
Now, what can you do about it?
1. Meditate on God’s Word. That is why I make so many Bible verse cards. I hang them around my house to remind me of Whose I am, what my purpose is, and how He will help me accomplish it.
2. Take time to pray. During the time when I was having intense panic attacks (I’m talking 8 or more a day) each evening, no matter what time it was when I finally got to it, I took a nice soothing hot shower, and I prayed. I also took time to be still before the Lord and remind myself of Who He is. I truly don’t think I could have made it through without these times. He would often bring scripture to my mind during these times which gave comfort or answers to things I had prayed about. One of my favorite scriptures to pray is Mark 9:24, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”
3. Cut yourself some slack! Why, oh why fellow Mamas, is it so hard for us to say “No!”? It rolls easily enough off the tongue when our children are involved. But let someone from the children’s ministry at church ask something of us, and it seems that word is suddenly erased from our vocabulary. Use it Moms! If you are struggling with health issues, stress/panic attack related or not, you’ve got to cut back on your commitments. You need to let your body heal, and it isn’t going to do a great job of that if you don’t find some down time for yourself. You’ve also got to cut yourself some slack when it comes to the thoughts in your mind. You are not a failure because you need to take a nap in the afternoon. You are not lazy if you choose to sleep in because you were up with your heart racing all night. Speak truth to yourself!
4. Come back and read my next installment where I share what supplements, exercises, and lifestyle changes helped me. :)
I dearly love each of my readers and I pray that this post has helped some of you feel that you are not alone. For whatever reason, panic attacks have been a taboo topic, and stress given the brush off as the cause of many physical ailments. Mamas, let’s love one another, meet each other where we are, and encourage each other, even if it is uncomfortable at first. If you have been struggling with panic attacks, don’t walk that path alone, confide in someone you trust. You may just find you are not the only person in this particular boat. Or contact me, leave a comment and I’d be happy to correspond with you.