Anxiety is something we all experience from time to time. It is our body’s natural reaction to stressors or stimuli that may be harmful. Anxiety can often be simply an overreaction or an inaccurate appraisal of stimuli. This article provides a Christian counselor’s thoughts on how to accurately understand anxiety and panic. It seeks to offer hope and to suggest treatment that can help individuals to effectively manage anxiety and panic.
We React Instantaneously to Danger
When you are walking in the woods and you see a bear, you are pretty thankful that God designed your body with a natural mobilization reaction system that kicks in automatically. We often call this the fight or flight response, for you experience your sympathetic nervous system speeding up your heart rate and shortening your breathing rate as well as shutting down your digestive system as it prepares you for action. But a key difference between the experience of running into a bear, or a burglar in your home, and the experience of panic and anxiety is where your focus lies. The same physiological response occurs in both situations, but, while you focus on the bear or burglar in one situation, in a panic attack that intense focus tends to turn inward and creates a very different experience.
Our Context Affects Our Reaction
To return to the example of the bear in the woods, it is important to remember that God designed our bodies and minds to react instantaneously to things—including our own bodies—that we believe may be dangerous. So, if you are walking in the woods and you have reason to believe there may be bears around, you would be extremely attentive to any sight or sound that might signal a bear. Every crack of wood, smell on the wind, or movement in the bushes would be much more noticeable to you because you are attending to them very closely. That same walk in the woods with no suspicion of a bear would be much more peaceful. You likely would not notice the same signals you picked up in that first walk, even if there were those same cracks of wood, smells, or movements.
Listening for Noises Makes Us More Likely to Hear Them
If we translate this into a panic attack, the bear in the woods is the panic attack, and the signs, sounds, and smells are the physiological sensations you think signal the possibility of a panic attack. Given the acute degree of sensitivity to physical symptoms that signal a panic attack, it is likely that in your panic you are simply noticing the normal “noises” in your body that you would otherwise not notice. But sometimes you immediately become fearful because of these “noises.” In other words, the sensations often become more noticeable because you are attending to them, just as you did with the bear in the woods.
Christian Counseling Can Help You to Face Your Anxiety
Christian counseling for anxiety and panic can help to clarify and solidify some of this information as you come to understand how the fight or flight response can influence your specific symptoms. A major focus of mine is helping clients to recognize that they experience “sensations” rather than “panic”—and that these sensations are normal and harmless. There are a number of skills that can be taught to help clients to assess their bodily sensations. It is also important for them to learn to effectively control their breathing. Having learned such skills, clients gain confidence as they face repeated exposure to both feared internal cues and anxiety producing situations, and will be able to master their anxiety and panic.I would be happy to meet with you to answer your questions and develop a plan for effectively treating anxiety and panic.
From Flickr CreativeCommons: “Bear In the Woods” courtesy of Simon Allardice (CC BY 2.0); “Anxiety Pills” courtesy of Samantha Craddock & Vic (CC BY 2.0).