Have you ever felt your life spinning darkly, spiraling out of control? Have you ever been overcome with dread, filled with a sense of doom? In other words, have you ever experienced a panic attack? Me, too.
A week or so ago, a friend called with an urgent request. “I need you to pray for me.” I could hear the panic she was trying to suppress. I know that feeling — as if the bottom is about to drop out and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. “Of course, yes!” I responded. In all sincerity, it’s an honor to lift a friend in prayer. But what she needed most was to know that God is near. He hears. And He has everything under control.
One of the worst panic attacks I’ve experienced in recent years occurred while on vacation. I’d completed a huge, high profile project just before leaving the country. My work involved a lot of data which required manual manipulation, so the potential for error was real. I did everything I could to get it right. But still, I awoke in the middle of the night a few days later in a full blown panic. Surely I’d messed it up! Certainly it would implode! In this age of connectedness, unfortunately, a minor mistake can blow up online in no time flat with exponential embarrassment. I couldn’t even revisit my work to ease my mind, given our remote location. There was nothing I could do.
At one o’clock in the morning I was convinced that my fate was fixed and I’d be fired by the time I returned home. I was overcome with dread, adrift on a sea of hopelessness. I turned to my playlist and selected a song to play over and over, praying, breathing, my way through the panic. Hours later, I finally fell back asleep. The Hubs was none the wiser for my tsunami of mid-night angst.
That was the most recent worst but not nearly the first. I’ve experienced many panic attacks — most especially as I’ve climbed the hill of middle age. One summer I was in the emergency room twice with symptoms I didn’t understand — each time misdiagnosed. I finally came to appreciate that I was experiencing panic, amplified.
I’d so often been irritated by exhibitions of irrational fear in others that I suppose there was an ironic justice in developing personal problems of this nature. If nothing else, I’m much more compassionate with panicked people suffering alongside me.
The good news is that we don’t have to suffer alone. God is near, very near. He does hear. Through my struggles, I’ve learned to pray and praise my way out of panic.* I use a combination of breath prayers and song to realign my spirit with my Heavenly Father. Only when I release control into His capable hands do I find peace. He has never failed to carry me across the abyss of my panic.
There are lots of resources available on breath prayers. My own approach is very simple. “Lord, Jesus,” I pray, breathing deeply in … “Grant me peace…” I pray, breathing slowly out. I pray as I breathe over and over, as long as it takes to settle myself. I vary the out-breath prayer as circumstances warrant, perhaps requesting healing, protection, or some other petition for divine intervention, whether for myself or another. If you’re new to breath prayers, you’ll find these resources helpful.
- Gravity Center: Breath Prayers
- Guideposts: 10 Breath Prayers
- Soul Shepherding: Breath Prayers from the Bible
- Patheos/Blythe: Essential Practice of Breath Prayers
Shortly after I spoke with my friend, I emailed a link to a song that helped me through that most acute distress on a mid-night ocean of fear. I hope it helps you, too.
Josh Wilson “Carry Me” (2013)
~ René Morley
*This is certainly not to discount anxiety medication, which may be a useful and necessary aid in some circumstances.