By Rebekah Lyons, Crosswalk.com
You gain strength, courage, and confidence with every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” You must do the thing you think you cannot do (Eleanor Roosevelt).
It was an eventful October weekend in Chicago, and my friend Angela and I scurried to our flight.
Taking my seat in the back of the plane, I slipped my AirPods in and relaxed the only way I knew how after a weekend of sensory overload — soft music and a book.
I was so immersed when we landed that it took a while before I finally looked up to realize we’d been sitting on the runway with no movement. Angela informed me we would be there for another 30 minutes before we’d arrive at the gate to deplane.
1. Tell Yourself That Panic Attacks Don’t Last Forever
This was how my first panic attack happened 12 years ago — back of the plane, fear of being trapped, unable to exit. It had been years since I’d had a panic attack on a plane, but because the brain can’t tell time, my trauma sent me right back to that initial moment of panic disorder all those years ago.
Within seconds, I felt acute triggers consume my entire body. My heart rate accelerated into the upper 160s, and I began to grip Angela’s hand. I immediately looked at the ground and began to do deep, slow breathing, whispering “Jesus” repeatedly under my breath. There was nothing else I could do but steady my breathing through the duration of the panic attack.
After what seemed like forever but was only eight minutes, my heart rate began to slow down, the trembling subsided, and my breathing regulated.
As my body relaxed, silent tears began to fall down my cheeks. I felt a physical release now that the threat was over. The crazy part? We still had to sit in that exact spot for 30 more minutes and I was perfectly fine.
Just eight minutes. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) confirms this:
“Although anxiety is often accompanied by physical symptoms, such as a racing heart or knots in your stomach, what differentiates a panic attack from other anxiety symptoms is the intensity and duration of the symptoms. Panic attacks typically reach their peak level of intensity in 10 minutes or less and then begin to subside.”
In the past, I always tried to remove myself from situations of panic, feeling a compulsion to run or escape. Yet this time I didn’t have the option to hop off the plane quickly but had to allow the panic attack to roll through my body.
To my surprise, it didn’t take me out. I learned something profound that day. The attack itself isn’t the bully; it’s the fear and shame I feel during the attack that makes me avoid circumstances that threaten it.
Ed Halliwell, mindfulness author and teacher, writes,
“When gently turning towards pain, people report that they experience less of it, and their resistance usually decreases. They may not get so caught up in the negative stories and evasive reactions that tend to accompany pain but do nothing to stop it (and, indeed, may increase the mind’s perception of it). This may be why people with chronic conditions have reported reductions in pain after training in mindfulness, even though they still suffer from the illness.”
“Sometimes our experience is painful and difficult. And there may be little or nothing we can do about the arising of the pain or difficulty. In these cases, we may be able to work with what’s happening skillfully by exploring our relationship to it. Most of us have a habitual pattern of turning away from problems or trying to get rid of unpleasant events. Unfortunately, this often seems to increase our sense of stress, because if pain is already present, you can’t get rid of it by trying to run away from it. In mindfulness practice we gently experiment with reversing this habit by turning gently towards difficult experiences that come up in our meditation.”
There are plenty of places we can focus our attention when we’re plagued by fear, anxiety, or panic, but as Christ followers, we are urged to follow the examples in Scripture.
2. Rest in God’s Word
God tells us to meditate on his Word, and research shows how this rewires our brain. This is where science and faith collide.
I began to meditate on the truths of Scripture. I was a daughter of God, loved just as I was. There was no accomplishment, nothing I could do, that would make me any more worthy.
There’s much to learn from pressing into the pain and asking why. Through pressing in, we come to realize that our fear, pain, and anxiety have something to teach us. They drive us toward God and ask us to meditate on his truths.
In preparation for taking God’s people into the Promised Land, God told Joshua, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8).
The psalmists meditated on the Lord day and night, too.
My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises (Psalm 119:148).
May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Psalm 19:14).
My mouth will speak words of wisdom; the meditation of my heart will give you understanding (Psalm 49:3).
I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done (Psalm 143:5).
3. Ask Yourself These Questions
- In what areas of your life are fear and anxiety always present?
- What does God’s Word say about your particular struggle?
- What counselor or friend can help you develop strategies for dealing with pain?
No matter what your anxiety is, invite God into it. As you do, you will experience greater levels of freedom and build a more resilient life.
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Rebekah Lyons is a national speaker and bestselling author of Building A Resilient Life: How Adversity Awakens Strength, Hope, and Meaning, A Surrendered Yes: 52 Devotions to Let Go and Live Free, Rhythms of Renewal: Trading Stress and Anxiety for a Life of Peace and Purpose, You Are Free: Be Who You Already Are, and Freefall to Fly: A Breathtaking Journey Toward a Life of Meaning. An old soul with a contemporary, honest voice, Rebekah reveals her own battles to overcome anxiety and depression—and invites others to discover and boldly pursue their God-given purpose. Alongside her husband, Gabe, Rebekah finds joy in raising four children, two of whom have Down syndrome. Her work has been featured on TODAY, Good Morning America, CNN, FOX, PARADE, SiriusXM, Huffington Post, Hallmark Home & Family, and more.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
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