When it comes to anxiety and panic attacks, I’m often asked if it’s a physical experience, a mental struggle or a spiritual battle. In my own experience and what I’ve heard from others, it’s rooted in all three areas.
Think about water for a moment. It can exists in three distinct states — liquid (water), vapor (steam) and solid (ice). Like water, our being consists of three distinct elements–physical, mental and spiritual. Paul closes out his first letter to the Thessalonians with this encouragement, “May the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (v5:23, emphasis mine). That is my prayer over you as well, that God would help you find freedom in your spirit and soul and body.
I hear many stories from those struggling, and very few pursue healing in all three areas. Often, people will pursue a bodily solution (like medication and exercise), but neglect the mental and spiritual aspects. Others may combine body and soul (like exercise and counseling), but neglect the spiritual. And, even faithful believers may focus primarily on the spiritual side of freedom (prayer and deliverance) but neglect the physical and mental aspects.
True freedom comes when you address all these areas.
Panic attacks are a very physical experience. Your body responds with increased adrenaline, rapid heart beat, shallow breathing and increased blood pressure. It’s getting ready to run or fight. Blood is pumped to your arms for fighting and legs for running. (Ever notice your hands tingling or getting cold?) Acid is released in your stomach to quickly digest food for energy. (Ever get butterflies in your stomach?) Your body is responding to a threat, either real or imagined.
There are certain triggers that can escalate that fight or flight mode, like caffeine or sugar. And, there are physical things you can do to reduce the anxiety, like exercise or medication. Early in my struggles, I found some peace with medication, but today I’m medication free by focusing on diet and exercise to help me release that excessive adrenaline. You can read more on my story about medication. (There maybe other medical triggers causing the anxiety and panic attacks. While it’s very rare, you should talk to you doctor.)
The soul is your mind, that part of you that makes choices. The soul is where your memories live and your emotions are experienced. It’s an incredibly complex system of thoughts, ideas, choices and perspectives.
It’s also where anxiety and panic attacks are triggered. Just like the body can trigger those terrifying feelings, so can your soul. Maybe it’s a traumatic memory or a painful parental wound, the soul can initiate those experiences with fear.
When I was in college and the “episodes of fear” were rampant in my life, I made an appointment with a counselor who began sharing with me information about a term I had never heard before: “panic attacks”. A few years later, I began meeting regularly with a pastor who had experienced the same thing, but was now free. He began to teach me about my thoughts and choices, and how to renew my mind (Romans 12:2). But, he didn’t stop there. He began to teach me about…
Understanding the spiritual side of panic attacks changed everything for me. I believe it’s what gave me the edge to find true, complete freedom. Sadly, I believe it’s where most people fall short. The more I began to understand the truth, the more freedom I began to experience. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (Romans 8:32).
Regarding the spiritual side of fear and panic attacks, here are a few of the key topics that were incredibly helpful:
Understanding the finished work of Christ and all he has done for us has revolutionized my relationship with God. Here are a few messages I wrote about grace:
- Grace: How Perfect Love Casts out Fear
- Grace: Moving from the Old to New Covenant
- Grace: From Sinner to Saint
- Grace: Do I Have a Sinful Nature?
- Grace: The Freedom to Laugh and Enjoy Life
Even today, I don’t completely understand all of the authority that we truly have as believers. God has given us amazing authority here on the earth (Luke 10:19), and I believe the enemy’s greatest strategy is to keep us blind to our authority.
If we truly knew how big and powerful we were and just how small and powerless the enemy was, it would change everything.
Combining all that I learned about the spiritual side of freedom, I chronicled my journey in this series of articles:
Prayer: Father, help me understand the importance of all three areas — body, soul and spirit. Teach me to put all my trust in you, and help me to know the truth so that I can walk in true freedom.