Christian Counseling: Managing Anxiety and Panic Attacks

The Doctor Is In question:

Can you offer some coping techniques in dealing with someone who has anxiety attacks?

The Doctor Is In response:

Yes! I am unsure if you are referring to moments of strong anxiety or the more debilitating panic attacks.

By virtue of living in a broken and, in many ways, unsafe world we all have some anxiety. Jesus experienced this at the Mount of Olives when He was severely stressed before His arrest and crucifixion, as evidenced by broken capillaries and blood oozing from His pores (hematidrosis). This anxiety is not sinful. What we do with it thereafter could be.

Spiritually, Philippians 4:6, 7 tells us what to do with our anxiety—“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything be prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God, and the God of peace, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” From this translation many have wrongly concluded that all anxiety is sinful. A better translation of “Be anxious for nothing” is “Don’t give yourself up to over thinking or over caring about anything.” When we dwell on an anxious thought we feed it, it grows and, like a fast growing vine, overtakes us and strangles the joy in life out of us. Strong emotional praying; that is, letting go completely of our emotions, until we are prayed out in words and strength can help us find the God of peace. However, once anxiety or panic attacks have repeatedly overwhelmed a person, additional helps may be necessary.

Psychologically, there are cognitive, behavioral, insight-oriented, and pharmacological treatments that help remedy these ailments, especially panic attacks (lots of physical symptoms that accompany the fear one is dying). Helps include relaxation, meditation and breathing exercises, autogenic training (warming hands and feet or learning to control smooth muscles of the body—contraction/dilation of blood vessels), and correcting false beliefs surrounding anxious thinking. There are also pharmacological helps available for more severe anxiety and panic attacks, which can be effective. However, medication rarely cures the problem, as it tends to only mask the symptoms. Finally, gaining insight helps sufferers understand their own unique underlying or unconscious issues which drive anxious feelings and behavior.

It appears most who suffer from panic attacks or long-term anxiety are unable to overcome the disorders on their own. Professional help is a valuable alternative to self-help when it proves to be ineffective.

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