“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.” Isaiah 26:3 NIV
Those who have suffered from panic attacks know how debilitating they are. The very suggestion of their onset can send shock waves of fear through a person’s system. Beads of sweat begin to form on the brow, moisture in the mouth begins to dry up and thoughts begin to careen out of control nudging your closer and closer to the precipice of terrified paralysis.
I share this from personal experience because I have had to battle panic attacks in my life. My bouts have primarily been triggered and associated with public speaking. Since I am a pastor, whose job it is to speak publicly with great frequency, this of course exacerbated my problem.
The panic attacks first surfaced during a period in my life when I was going through the stress of making some midlife career adjustments. I would get up to speak on a Sunday morning or at a wedding and find myself battling all the symptoms of panic. It so unsettled me that I would lose my train of thought and feel like the words I was forming were cleaving to my tongue. The accompanying self consciousness invariably triggered a hot flash and profuse sweating, and then an overwhelming fear of fainting would put it’s strangle hold on me. Mustering every once of strength and concentration, while inwardly rebuking the attack I would cry out to God for His deliverance. Each time He spared me from what I feared coming upon me, and helped me to recover my composure. Seldom were people aware of the inner struggle I was experiencing. But what a terrifying ride!
As I sought God for deliverance from these insidious attacks He showed me a two part strategy for warding them off. They are summed up in the verse from Isaiah 26:3 quoted above.
First I realized that peace is a product of a disciplined mind. Paul writes that “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (NLT) It is an exercise of will and God’s grace to reign in negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. I learned that the key to that is to focus my love and attention on others rather than myself.
My problem was that I was becoming pre-occupied with people’s perception of me and self-image management. All my thoughts were turning inward and focusing on my needs rather than the needs of others. With that understanding I decided that I would fix my mind steadfastly on my listeners and focus on communicating God’s love to meet their needs. I discovered the more I disciplined myself to concentrate on that, the less I thought about myself. As a result I crafted a simple prayer to breath to God just before approaching the platform to speak. “God you love these people and so do I, help me to communicate that love to them.” This approach made a marked difference in my battle with panic attacks almost immediately.
The second thing I realized from the Isaiah 26:3 verse was that I had to be more deliberate in expressing my trust in God. Peace is a natural by-product of trust in God. And trust is built up through confessing it with our mouths. “You will also decree a thing,” the Bible tells us, “and it will be established for you; And light will shine on your ways.” (Job 22:28) What a great promise! Declarations of faith and trust literally bring the light of Christ and dispel the encroaching darkness.
So I set my mind to developing some confessions of faith that I could use when I sensed a panic attack knocking at my door. As is so typical, one of the most powerful and effective ones comes right out of the Scriptures. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want, He makes to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters, He restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:1-3) Sometimes I would simply shorten it to “The Lord is my shepherd!” and just repeat it over and over. That made a difference!
Another phrase I used which helped me focus on the Lord and His peace: “I am at peace, I am at rest, the Lord is in control.” I must have repeated that confession thousands of times. It works!
God proved Himself faithful through the application of the Isaiah 26:3 promise and I can look back now and testify how He shepherded me through that trying time in my life.
He wants to be your panic attack shepherd as well. I pray that these simple truths will encourage and strengthen you to gain new victories in your life.
I welcome your observations, comments and additions to this conversation.
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