The other night I woke up with my heart racing.
No bad dreams. No scary sounds.
Sometimes the ice maker sounds like footsteps.
But, not really.
I just woke up for no reason, feeling like I had three shots of espresso: shaky, buzzing, and short of breath. A classic panic attack.
Until that night, I hadn’t had a panic attack in years.
I used to have panic attacks about every other day. Back then, I didn’t know what they were. I thought I had heart problems.
I would get shaky and tense. I was afraid, but I didn’t understand why. I was washing dishes, working, walking, just doing daily life, nothing scary about it.
A wise woman I knew asked me what my thoughts were like immediately before the panic attacks.
I had not been aware that I was thinking anything before the attacks, but I started paying more attention. I realized, as the panic attacks triggered, that I wasn’t always thinking only about washing dishes, or working, or walking, but that I also had a running storyline playing in my mind as I was doing these other things.
I had developed a bad habit of playing out all my motherly fears in my mind. For example, if I was afraid of a child getting hit by a car, I would play it out in my mind like a movie to the bloody, bitter end.
And it had become such a bad habit, that I ruminated on negative and terrifying things constantly without being aware that I was doing it.
So. The next time I spoke with my friend, I told her that I was more aware of my thoughts. And I realized that I was playing out all these horrible scenarios in my mind.
She said, “Yes, that’s what I wondered. Those are fear fantasies.”
She said that most people don’t think of fantasies as being negative, but that we can still fantasize about fear. She said we do it for two reasons. 1) Because we want to see if we could handle a certain scenario. We want to test ourselves, our inner strength, our coping ability. And, 2) because we want to practice in our minds how we would handle something if it happened, like a tornado or fire drill in school.
But fear fantasies don’t really work that way.
Tornado drills and fire drills are helpful because they deal with situations that are likely to actually happen, and they finish by giving the participants a practical skill they could use if they did.
Fear fantasies are different because they dwell on extreme terror more than they focus on a resolution. And they leave the mind in a fearful, hopeless state.
A state that can result in a panic attack.
Ten years ago, my last major panic attack took place in my laundry room. At the time, a major court case regarding a violent criminal was playing out in the state where we lived. I watched all the news coverage about that case, every day, for months.
As I stood in the laundry room, some of the details of the case came to me. I thought of my two babies, in different rooms in the house, and it occurred to me that, if something bad happened in that moment, I could not protect them.
I felt so vulnerable. And I started to panic.
So much so, that before I knew it, I was bent over double, clutching the countertop and gasping for air.
I felt like I could choke. My heart was pounding. I broke out in a sweat. Sick all over.
I knew that I could say scripture out loud and that was supposed to help. I thought, “the 23rd Psalm, the 23rd Psalm…”
But, even though I had known that scripture since I was a child, I couldn’t think of the words.
The blankness of my mind scared me even more. And the panic increased.
My heart cried out, “JESUS.”
If I couldn’t think of scripture, I could just say, “Jesus.”
I said, “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.”
Over. And over. And over.
And the panic left.
I could breathe. I could think.
I had always known there was power in that name. There are songs about it. But I had not seen it in my life until that day.
One way to say “No!” to panic attacks is to just say “Jesus.”
Of course, over time, I learned other ways.
Obviously, I had overloaded myself with scary news stories. And I had a bad habit of indulging in fear fantasies.
I stopped watching so much news. Honestly, you don’t need to watch the news every day to know what is happening in the world. Events have a way of making themselves known.
I stopped allowing my thoughts to run away with me. And one way I did that, when I realized my thinking was turning into a fear fantasy, I would say “Jesus.” I would also immediately replace those thoughts, saying scriptures out loud, or saying things like “God’s got this, God’s got this!” Out loud.
I learned to get my thoughts under control.
I learned to raise my voice in a positive, powerful way.
I did that again the other night. I just said, “Jesus.” And I asked Him to take the fear. And He did. I really don’t want it anymore.
This is an example of one way to deal with panic attacks. It has worked for me repeatedly. If you have panic attacks, you may need to seek counseling or a doctor’s help to deal with all the possible roots. This page is in no way intended to provide diagnosis or prescriptions or take the place of professional care.