How I’m Overcoming My Panic Attacks With the Help of the Holy Spirit

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Breathe, breathe, and breathe again! My heart raced like I was running a marathon, but I wasn’t. I was dying, gasping for air. Panic swallowed me in a deep dark cloud. There was no one to call out to! I was in a place of anxiousness and fear. My brain chemistry had set off a red alarm that put my body in panic mode.

The first panic attack I can remember occurred at the age of 10. My experience with panic attacks continued as I grew up. I would hyperventilate so much that once when driving on the interstate with my mother sitting in the passenger’s seat, I had to pull over and get a grip. And I was only 17. The old English origin of the word “worry” is wyrgan, which means “to strangle,” and anxiety was choking me with worry.

We all have our reasons to be anxious — family, job, health, and money are enough, but it does not stop there. We have threats of terrorists lurking to attack in both large and small communities. In fact, it appears we cannot hide our anxiety. According to WebMD,  75-90% of doctors’ visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.

I began to be a frequent flyer to the emergency room at the age of 18. I was certain each time that I was breathing my last breath. The medical staff quickly determined the cause of my problem as anxiety and would hand me a paper bag and say, “Breathe, honey, and relax.” My shaking hands took the bag and began to breathe in and out trying to slow down my breathing. Good grief, it was embarrassing! My doctor just told me I didn’t need to take life so seriously, especially since I was so young. I found myself alone with my problem. I was literally standing outside the hospital with bag in hand.

Experiencing Anxiety as an Adult

Anxiety is a silent killer, because it robbed me of many blessings and kept me from living life the way God wanted me to live. It continued into my adulthood and impacted my body physically. During my stressful, anxious moments, I over-ate and would consume large bags of chips. Anxiety not only impacted my body with weight gain, but with racing heartbeat and trembling hands. My husband and parents stood by with helpful advice but really couldn’t understand what I was experiencing.

I hit rock bottom when I lost my first child. She was born premature and lived three days. I did like most and blamed myself. Grief sucked me up into a tornado of worry and fear. When would my attacks stop robbing me of peace? How was I going to ever live my life when I walked in fear? I was desperate to find relief. I believed in God but was not a devoted follower at the time, and church was not a part of my life. I was relying on just a smidgen of faith from my early childhood. However, when I lost my heart to a little girl, I was directed by her short existence to turn toward my Heavenly Father. Some run away with a broken heart from God, but I didn’t. I chose to turn toward him for comfort. When I turned to Him, my panic attacks became less dramatic and frequent. I wish I could say that those nasty panic attacks left completely, but no, they continued.

In looking back at this season after I lost my child, I realize I wasn’t the only young woman who struggled with panic attacks. In Neil T. Anderson and Rich Miller’s book Freedom From Fearthey state that about 75% of panic disorder sufferers (those who suffer from frequent panic attacks) are women. Most attacks are not caused by physical issues, but to make sure there is no physical cause it is important to see a doctor. I had no physical cause, and I realized that my worries focused around either my thoughts of yesterday’s failures or tomorrow’s expectations.

Some people find that they get panicked about their “today” because their schedule is packed and they can’t do it all. Others worry about tomorrow because tomorrow has a presentation due or deadline for a project, etc. Looking closely into my panic attacks helped me discover what was going on in my head. I realized there was a battle going on and those evil panic attacks were winning.

When those fearful anxious thoughts tried to push my anxiety button, I learned to looked to Scripture. Psalm 34:4-7 (MSG) says:

God met me more than halfway, he freed me from my anxious fears. Look at him; give him your warmest smile. Never hide your feelings from him. When I was desperate, I called out, and God got me out of a tight spot. God’s angel sets up a circle of protection around us while we pray.

As a young woman, and even now as a seasoned woman, I have realized that when I use the Scriptures, God’s knowledge is revealed so I can find the solutions to my daily problems. The words “fear not” (which are significant as I discovered fear is the root of my anxiety) are used 365 times in the Bible. God knew we would need to be told over and over again not to fear because His Word is full of reassurance. When we are under attack, He is the solution! I found that I was allowing the enemy to control my thoughts and my body’s response to those thoughts.

Learning About the Holy Spirit to Help My Anxiety

I didn’t understand that I had the power and authority through Christ to overcome those negative thoughts. Sure, I knew that Christ died on the cross to save me, and I had made a transaction at salvation to repent and turn away from my sins. But when I left the cross promising to live a life for Christ, I didn’t fully understand the power and authority through the Holy Spirit that Christ had given to me. I thought the Holy Spirit existed to prompt my conscience to make good choices so I could live a less sinful life or give me a warm feeling in church. And yes, He does do those things, but He does more. I began to want to know more about the gift of the Holy Spirit, so I prayed and read my Bible to find answers to my questions.

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures. And He said, ‘Yes, it was written long ago that the Messiah would suffer and die and rise from the dead on the third day. It was also written that this message would be proclaimed in the authority of His name to all the nations, beginning in Jerusalem: “There is forgiveness of sins for all who repent.” You are witnesses of all these things. ‘And now I will send the Holy Spirit, just as my Father promised. But stay here in the city until the Holy Spirit comes and fills you with power from heaven.’ (Luke 24:45-49, NLT)

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit directed men such as Abraham, Moses, Noah, and many more, but the Spirit was not with them all the time because Christ had not died on the cross. The presence of God came in the wind, clouds, fire, and dreams.

After Jesus died to redeem and restore us back into a healed relationship with God, He ascended to heaven but left behind a resource that dwells within us upon conversion and helps us stay connected to God: the Holy Spirit. Think of it this way — the Holy Spirit is like a cell tower that is always on. He assists us in praying to God and receiving His guidance. You stay connected 24/7 to your friends, family, and the world by the use of a technology (cell phones) that most of us don’t fully understand but we use.

Some people excel in the use of it while others learn it at a slower pace. The understanding and the ministry of the Holy Spirit grows when we are willing to pursue God by spending time with Him and reading His Word. Doing these things and acting in obedience to Him produce a natural release of the Holy Spirit in our lives. My anxiety was getting to me even though I had asked God for help. I went back to the Scriptures and saw the same words which declared to me that once a believer I received the gift of the Holy Spirit. It truly takes some people longer to understand something, and I was one of those people. I came to comprehend that the Holy Spirit was a divine gift Christ gave to me in order to restore my life to the original design God created me for and help me live in the way Christ would want me to live.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, NASB)

It was like the lightbulb of truth came on! I was not made for panic attacks and brown bag breathing. Finally I understood it was as the Scriptures declared for my mind was opened to understand His power and authority. In Mike Riches’ book Living Free, he states, “As believing followers of Jesus Christ, we will discover that to be whom we are meant to be, to live the way we are meant to live, and to do what we are meant to do require God’s supernatural power in our lives.”

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you. And you will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere — in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. (Acts 1:8, NLT)

And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons and to heal diseases. (Luke 9:1, NASB)

Controlling My Attacks With Holy Spirit Power

I discovered I could control my attacks. God didn’t create me to walk around with a paper bag in my hand and to have endless days of sleepless nights. My solution was so simple but complex at the same time. I had to believe it — really believe — that with the Holy Spirit I could win the war in my mind. I started by taking captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5). Each time an anxious thought would come, I asked myself, “Would this be a thought from my Heavenly Father or would Jesus say this?”

When I felt my heart racing, I would begin to sing the simple song, “Jesus Loves Me.” I turned my thoughts toward my Creator, and He would calm me down. Many of my attacks came at 3:00 a.m. while I was sleeping, causing me to wake up gasping for air. So I began to use the time to dial up my Heavenly Father in prayer and talk to Him. I would listen for his voice, and I would hear it reminding me how much He loved me. During the day when I would feel a wave of panic, I would sing a praise song or say the name of Jesus out loud, and peace would come. When I was tempted to check on my children after I had already looked in on them, I would pray and peace would come. When I stood before a crowd as a principal of a school, I would smile and pray as I moved forward to speak.

I allowed God to take control of my life instead of the enemy. Satan’s plan was simple — to keep me distracted by my thoughts of fear and worry. Ironically, when I look back to all those moments of anxiety, I cannot tell you the specifics of many of them, so the things in my mind that got my heartbeat and breathing racing were not important and they were aging me! Matthew 6:26-27 says this about worry, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

If you find yourself struggling with the demands of life’s distractions, don’t rush to grab the paper bag to breathe into but stop and breathe in the Holy Spirit that gives you the power and authority to overcome them.

What can you take away from my experience?

  1. First, believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior. He came to redeem and restore you to the life God created you for.
  2. Believe that Christ gave you a gift of the Holy Spirit — your lifeline to heaven, available 24/7.
  3. His Word is full of guidance and answers to all your life issues.
  4. He has given us the power and authority to stand against the enemy, who wants to make our life full of fear and anxiety.
  5. Taking captive every thought can set you free.

Related Resources:

Want to hear Sheila’s testimony? Tune in to the corresponding podcast on Soundcloud where we explore Sheila’s experience with panic attacks (in Part 1). You don’t want to miss next week where we continue with Sheila and talk about what she learned about tapping into the Holy Spirit’s power to overcome life’s challenges such as anxiety (in Part 2).

In Sheila’s article, she mentions Mike Riches’ book Living Free. Mike Riches is a pastor of a non-denominational church in Gig Harbor, Washington, and is head of the Sycamore Commission, a ministry committed to modeling Christian life and ministry after that of Jesus Christ. Living Free is one of several resources he has authored and is designed to help people know God’s original design when He created us, how Satan has attempted to thwart that design, and how to live “free” and healed — recovering areas of our lives (in terms of our emotions, health, relationships, etc.) that the enemy has stolen from us. If you are interested in learning more about how to live free of bondage and strongholds, click on the link to learn more!

Interested in salvation but want to read more? Check out our Know God page or contact us through the Contact page.

*Updated January 20, 2018.

 

Sheila Michael

Sheila Michael

Sheila is a retired elementary school principal and educator. She spent over thirty years in education and has a specialist degree in educational leadership. She is also a wife, mother of four grown children, and grandmother of 12 amazing kiddos. Sheila enjoys cooking and teaching her grandchildren how to cook. Family gatherings are essential to the Michael “herd,” as they gather to share life with each other. Residing in Georgia, Sheila calls herself a “Southern belle with a twist,” since her husband is from Iowa. Sheila’s personal journey with God has created in her a desire to write and share the “God moments” she has experienced in her life. She loves mentoring young women in their walk with Christ and encouraging families to serve and love the Lord and each other as they navigate through life’s challenges.

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2 Strategies for Fighting Against Anxiety

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People with anxiety have fear. They have worry. I think some people are born with anxiety. Like me. Stories of my childhood depict me as difficult, even as a baby. I even sort of felt disliked. Sometimes I still do.

Anxiety is also sometimes an inner conflict resulting from choice. When I make choices that go against the person I believe I should be and what I know is God’s best for me, the anxiety is a self-inflicted wound.

Anxiety crippled my decision-making ability in high school. How I wish I had known the Lord during that time, so that I might have lived a life that was a model to my friends. Instead, I am left to wonder if my friends made it safely into the Lord’s ways or if they were not able to turn away from the poor influence I provided. I can only hope that is giving myself too much credit.

Anxiety followed me into my marriage. It has hurt my boys. I was in my late 20s before I realized that I was living a life under constant condemnation. For me, with anxiety came suicidal thoughts. Even as a child, I didn’t have the will to truly live. Living, for me, was more like hiding.

I believe my anxiety was the root of my suicidal thoughts. Once when my oldest child was but a young child, maybe six or seven, he and my husband left our home for a simple visit to my in-laws. I remember being in the bathroom alone, running some water in the sink, and hearing, “Now is the perfect time. They have left you. They don’t need you, and they don’t want you.”

But that is one way anxiety consumes people when they are not suited up. It was a big moment for me.

Aloud, I said, “No!” It was my first real attempt at fighting evil and kneeling in surrender to God. I found my will to live in this endless moment, though it wasn’t really about me. It was about Him. Except that, to Him, it has always been about me. And about you.

Anxiety as a Christian

It is hard for those who suffer with anxiety to properly perceive how others react to them. At times, their thoughts are turned inward, and they don’t care about others. In certain scenarios, they can be paranoid with fear and worry, turning small things into rejections. If you have anxiety, your struggles may look like mine. They may not. But there is a common thread to anxiety and Satan’s other chief ploys and that is to keep us from God.

If anxiety is a reality for you, then it is time to enlist. You must train, and you must fight, not only for yourself but for those you love (and who love you whether you believe it or not).

For me and for many people I have worked with as a therapist, this battle with anxiety is a life-long one. Luckily, the armor of God is available to us all. These powerful verses are long, but stay with me. It is a part of God’s battle plan for believers. Ephesians 6:10-18 states:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

One morning at church a year or so ago, I must’ve looked bothered while I was waiting on my family to meet me. A man I have seen frequently greeting other people came up to check on me. He talked about worry. I was impacted by his concern, though nothing he said was new to me, until he said, “Well, you know what Bob Marley said.” I had not. He quoted Marley: “Worrying is worshipping the devil. “

I can’t say I have ever confirmed that Marley actually said that. Whether or not he said those words, even if they sound drastic, I see truth in the statement. God tells us not to worry. Therefore, worrying can’t really be worshipping Him, can it? I think of that saying often, and it propels me to fight back. To fight for the Lord instead.

How to Treat Anxiety

We can treat anxiety through teaching ourselves to think differently by the way we choose to perceive thoughts and events. This means we meditate not on anxious thoughts or what might happen, but instead focus on what is good and positive in the moment.

While the word “meditate” is often associated with Buddhist or New Age practices, it simply means to contemplate something or clear one’s mind, and is a spiritual discipline found in Scripture.

Psalm 19:14 (ESV) states, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” (emphasis mine). At my previous church, we said these lines at the conclusion of every service.

In focusing on what is good, we overcome our negative thoughts. Jesus redeems us, and His redeeming power extends to our thoughts about ourselves, our problems, and our world.

For instance, I could choose to remember that I was made fun of as an awkward 4th grade child with the wrong clothes. I was unpopular and shy. One day when my socks didn’t match my outfit, multiple peers laughed at me; it felt like the entire school was laughing. However, in meditating on the good from this experience, I can instead recall the kindness of Mrs. McSwain, a teacher that made me feel loved and unique in spite of my wardrobe inadequacies. It still hurt to be laughed at. But it also taught me how it feels to be ridiculed, so that I can now protect others from feeling that pain.

Again, in this situation and others — even reflecting back as an adult — I get to choose my attitude. An attitude focused on this world leads to anxiety. An attitude focused on God leads to peace.

Clearing your mind from negativity and focusing on what is real and good cannot be credited to Buddhism or any other false religion. A healthy attitude comes from God; it always has and that won’t change. Philippians 4:8 (NASB) says, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

Another way to combat anxiety is to focus on others. Anxiety can stem from internalizing your thoughts, even to the point of making everything about you. When I am focused on helping others, there is no place for anxiety because I am not thinking about myself, going over the long script in my head of everything I said and did that was wrong.

Conclusion: Being Free From Anxiety

In writing this, I am not trying to say that I don’t still have anxiety. I do. There are occasions when it is even quite severe. I have worked with some people who cannot leave their homes because of anxiety. They are too afraid. I can relate to an extent. Meditating on good rather than bad and focusing on others are two therapeutic avenues that can help.

The difference between myself now when I experience anxiety and the person I used to be is that I am aware of and utilize the armor provided by God. I fight to live the life God created me to live. Though I may fail me, He never will.

If you have anxiety, decide to fight. This might mean making an appointment with a pastor or counselor or setting aside time each day to give it to God and rest in His peace. It might mean getting out of the house, even if the first step is simply onto the front porch. You simply have to be a willing vessel God can use to gain the victory.

2 Timothy 1:7 (NKJV) says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” You don’t have to lose the battle to anxiety and fear. With God’s help, you can overcome.

Rebecca Lindsey

Rebecca Lindsey

After “retiring” from teaching in 2013, Rebecca is currently back at it as a high school Teacher on Assignment where she is able to help students identified as at-risk for not graduating on time. The in-between years, she worked as a therapist in private and public practice. Her interests are in helping others, hiking, kayaking, gardening, dancing, and reading. She loves exercise, nutrition, and natural healing. After completing her doctorate in organizational psychology, she plans to lead others to improve leadership, career, and personal life-skills and maybe even author a few works. In every role, she feels there is an opportunity to model the grace and redemption given to us by Jesus. Rebecca lives in Dallas, Georgia, with her husband and three boys (the middle child is a Weimeraner).

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