Emily Greentree, Senior Anchor Intern
The worst place to have a panic attack might be in the middle of Mass. While I am praising the Lord’s name and listening to his word, my anxiety sits in the pit of my stomach, making me feel like I am at the edge of a cliff. I know that I am safe here in the Lord’s house; I know that God loves me, yet my body and my emotions are convinced that the world is crashing down around me as my hands start to shake and my breath catches in my throat. Forcing myself to take a deep breath, I try to focus on the things I know to be true: I am safe, I am loved, I am breathing, I am sitting in Mass, I will be ok. I continue to repeat these thoughts until the anxiety that was creeping up the back of my neck recedes and I feel normal again.
Generalized anxiety is a mental disorder that is characterized by excessive worrying about a number of things. The worry is out of proportion to the impact of the events that are causing it. This means that something as small as wondering if my friend had a good time when we went out can cause me to physically panic with worry that I failed them unless I was personally ensured that they enjoyed themselves. My emotional response to everyday situations can be over-the-top and physically painful. But through my faith in God, I can always find ways to cope with the gap between what is truly happening and my emotional response. My faith acts as a bridge connecting how I feel to my belief in God and His plan for me.
When I experience a panic attack, my thoughts will race. With no control over what I am thinking, negative statements start playing over and over in my mind tearing me down. This is usually when I start to pray. Not trusting my racing thoughts, I often just pray the Hail Mary repeatedly as a plea for God to grant me peace. The rhythm of familiar prayer helps slow my thoughts down just enough that I can gain some small measure of control. Then I list out the things I know to be true:
- There is a God.
- God loves me.
- My worth comes from God.
- My worth cannot be diminished by anyone but God.
- My worth to God does not change because I made a mistake.
- I am not any less loved by God because I made a mistake.
By focusing on God’s love for me and the worth his love gives me, I can begin to slow down my breathing and my thoughts. Taking deeper and deeper breaths, I begin to focus on the truth of my situation, whatever they may be. Whether I got a bad grade, or embarrassed myself in front of the class, or simply felt overwhelmed by the amount of work I must get done, I can now start to look at it for what it is: a situation that I can handle with God’s love to strengthen me.
This knowledge does not always mean that the feeling of panic goes away. My body may still feel as if I am being physically attacked, even though mentally I know everything is fine. My heart may still be beating fast, my stomach may still be in knots, and my hands may still be shaking. By focusing on God, my faith keeps me on the bridge between how I physically feel and the truth of the situation. Faith is my bridge between anxiety and reality.