Anatomy of a Panic Attack

There is little doubt that a panic attack is a terrifying thing to experience.

Imagine that you suffer with anxious thoughts. On this particular sunny summer day you have to go to the mall to buy a birthday gift for a friend. It is a mall you are familiar with, in a neighborhood you know well. As you get ready to leave the house you begin to experience anxious thoughts about this little shopping trip. You begin to wonder if you will find a gift, and if you find a gift for them, will they like it? You think about all the possibilities of gifts to choose from for your friend, and wonder if anything you can afford will be good enough take to the party.

As you finish getting ready you begin to feel a little dizzy and realize your heart is beating a little faster than usual. You wonder if this is normal or if something is really wrong with you this time? You try to get a grip on yourself and realize that now you may feel a little dizzy and are a little short of breath.

You try to shove these thoughts away and grab your purse to head out the door toward the car. You wish your heart would stop beating so funny, and wonder if maybe you have that irregular heart rate that causes some people to just drop dead! You think about that news report you recently saw about the otherwise healthy athlete who collapsed on the gym floor, and then think about your own inactive lifestyle. Are your pants a little tighter than the last time you wore them? The dizziness seems worse, doesn’t it? And, are your hands shaking as you tightly grip the wheel and try to breathe normally? You wish you could get a good breath…

Maybe going to the store isn’t such a good idea after all… you are really not feeling very well, your stomach is upset and you might get sick in the mall! You wonder what you would do if you vomited in the mall. That would be horrible! What would people think if they heard you throwing up or having diarrhea in a public bathroom? You realize you are now having chills, but you are sweating and just can’t seem to get a good breath…you feel like you are suffocating and your hands and feet are all tingly now. You think about skipping that party for your friend and start to create excuses to not attend. Besides, you might not feel good that day anyway.

You think, something has got to be wrong with you! This can’t be normal! Didn’t this just happen last week when you were at church? You had all these same sensations and ran out of church. That doctor you saw a few months ago for these things didn’t really know anything because he said nothing was wrong with you. Obviously he wasn’t a very good doctor. But the other doctors that you saw, well they couldn’t find anything either…started telling you that maybe it was all in your head…one even wanted you to see a Shrink! You just haven’t found the right doctor yet; surely there is someone out there who can diagnose what is wrong with you! Maybe you need vitamins or something or have a food allergy…there has to be something wrong here!

You begin to get a sensation that you have to escape, that you simply can’t stay where you are one more moment! You have to run! Get UP! GET OUT OF THE CAR AND RUN INTO THE HOUSE! Your heart is pounding like it will burst out of your chest; you are sweating, sick to your stomach, dizzy, terrified and think you are going to die.

You are experiencing a panic attack.

Those who have experienced these will say that my little drama is not even close to the way a person feels in the midst of the moments of the attack. It is no wonder that such a person thinks there is something very, very wrong with them and why they are willing to take any pill given to them to make these feelings go away.

Our Lord has the answer to this problem, dear reading friend! Please do not lose hope or think that there is no cure for this aspect of anxiety. You do not need to live in fear of the next attack or be a slave to a diagnosis for the rest of your life. Next time, we are going to look at what is behind a panic attack and how the heart plays into even something like this.

Many blessings.