Panic attacks are caused by a variety of issues. It’s a multifaceted condition that varies from person to person. Everyone’s situation is unique, but there are patterns and common experiences that seem to trigger those unwanted adrenaline bursts.
Before understanding the cause of panic attacks, we need to understand what exactly a panic attack is.
What is a panic attack?
When panic strikes, it may feel like the entire world is crashing in around you. Your heart is pounding and your mind is racing. You become hyper-focused on your surroundings, and the desire to run or fight is very strong.
While it may feel foreign and terrifying, this experience is a very natural experience. God wired every creature with this built-in defense mechanism called “fight or flight” that is triggered by adrenaline. When faced with a dangerous situation, your body and mind respond with this “fight or flight” condition.
Imagine walking through the woods, hiking by yourself. You push your way through the thick woods and reach a clearing. There in front of you, drinking in the stream is a giant bear. He hasn’t seen you yet, but your situation just became very dangerous.
At this point, your body responds. Adrenaline is immediately pumped into your system. Your heart rate spikes. Your blood pressure increases. Your breathing gets shallow. Your body starts pushing blood to your hands for fighting and to your legs for running. Your eyes dart around efficiently searching for an escape. You are now in “fight or flight” mode.
In this situation, the danger is obvious. A bear. But for those experience a panic attack in the comfort of their homes or at a grocery store, this is terrifying because there is no bear. Your body is acting like there’s a serious threat to your life, but as you look around, there’s no threat. Often, we look inward:
- I must be having a heart attack.
- Things don’t seem real. I’m going crazy.
- This is a brain tumor.
- This must be cancer.
Panic attacks, in most cases, are a very natural response. But, too often, these terrifying experiences are associated with a painful wound in our past or a traumatic event that laid the groundwork for these experiences. It’s very important when working through the causes of panic to go beyond the physical symptoms and find those emotional and mental triggers that push you into panic.
What triggers a panic attack?
As we talked about previously, there can be certain foods and drinks that trigger panic attacks, and you should carefully monitor what you consume if you are highly sensitized because of anxiety. But, we should never stop at the physical. We must seek wisdom and counsel to find those triggers in our soul that send us into those panic experiences.
Trauma and traumatic events can trigger panic attacks
For decades now, I’ve talked with thousands of people who have experienced panic attacks, and it’s very common to hear stories of traumatic events. Trauma is a very common trigger for panic attacks. In a traumatic situation, your body goes into this “fight or flight” mode, and like a computer, the event gets programmed into your mind along with those sensations that come from the adrenaline rush.
Later in life, you may be sitting at home reading a book and all of sudden, that same rush of adrenaline sweeps over you, and those feelings of panic come rushing in but there’s no traumatic event happening at that moment. It’s hard to know what triggers those memories, but it’s a common experience among panic sufferers. Most panic memories are rooted in lies and agreements.
Lies and Agreements
Alan Smith, one of our freedom ministry pastors, said it best. He said, “If you’re struggling with something, it’s not because of what you are going through–it’s what you believed while you were going through it.” This is so true with panic attacks. They are often rooted in lies and agreements. Let me give you an example.
One day after school, you’re headed home on your bike, and your about to cross the street. Smash! You see a car accident right in front of you. The loud crash and the shock of the event immediately sends you into “fight or flight” mode. Maybe someone is hurt and maybe you see people bleeding or crying. It’s a very traumatic situation.
Our enemy hates us and he will even use traumatic situations in our lives to implant lies. While your body is experiencing this normal adrenaline-raised situation, he whispers, “You can’t trust God to protect you. He could take your life is a second.” If we’re not grounded in God’s truth or surrounded by wise counsel, we will agree with that lie. It all seems to make sense on the surface. And now, that traumatic event is programmed into your mind while being associated with the lie that you can’t trust God.
If the lie continues to grow deeper into your soul, it will become harder and harder for you to function in everyday situations. You could be driving your car to the store, and then a thought comes into your mind, “You could be in a wreck.” Then, the lie kicks in, “And you can’t trust God.” Those programmed memories rise up and your body for some reason goes into “fight or flight” mode. Panic hits. Yet, there’s no real danger, but the lie has been programmed by the enemy to create fear and panic.
Jesus came to set you free (John 8:32). He can help you re-program your mind to believe in the truth. Not only does he have the desire to do it, he has the power to do it. And the more we surrender to his power and his work in our lives, the clearer our thinking can become. And peace will follow.
“There must be a spiritual renewal of your thoughts and attitudes” (Ephesians 4:23).
Prayer: Father, help me reprogram my mind by the power of the Holy Spirit. Renew my thoughts and attitudes that I may experience your peace.