Anxiety Attacks Don’t Exist, but Help for Worry Does

Anxiety Attacks Don’t Exist, but Help for Worry Does February 7, 2018

“I’m having an anxiety attack!”

Have you ever heard those words from someone…maybe even coming out of your own mouth? I’ll share a mental health pro’s insider secret with you: Anxiety attacks don’t exist.

Let me clarify: The term “anxiety attack” is not a clinical term. It is a term that someone came up with to describe an experience. You won’t find this term in the Diagnostic Statistical Manual (the book that explains mental health diagnoses). Instead, you’ll find terms like anxiety disorder, panic attack, and panic disorder. Although many people use the term “anxiety attack” and “panic attack” interchangeably, they really aren’t the same thing.

But. I completely hear you when you cry out about that “anxiety attack”. Those moments of excessive worry, shortness of breath, changes in body temperature can make you feel like you’re going crazy.

Don’t worry – You’re not.

The National Institute of Health reports that over 18% of adults in American have an anxiety disorder. See? You really aren’t alone. The ongoing symptoms of anxiety that include worrying about everything from family to finances, trouble with sleep, and irritability can all be a part of this type of disorder. But those feelings that I described a moment ago? The ones that include feeling like you’re going crazy? It’s more likely that those are panic attacks. And recurrent panic attacks with fear of having more may mean a panic disorder.

Here’s the thing: all of this is on a spectrum. A spectrum that includes worry, fear, anxiety, panic…and more. The symptoms and their impact vary from mild to serious, and there is great treatment available regardless of where you fall on these spectrums. You don’t have to suffer in silence.

Whether you have occasional panic attacks or anxiety…or if you suffer from an anxiety or panic disorder…there is hope. Whether you’re overly concerned about issues you know have little consequence…or if you are extremely worried about serious happenings in your life…there is hope. Whether you understand what is going on inside of you…or if you really have no clue why you feel like you’re losing it…there is hope. There is always hope.

I love the words of Jesus in Matthew 6. He knew that worry was (and would be) a problem for folks, so he devotes 10 verses to worry:

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[a]?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendorwas dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

What can we learn from this rich passage? I believe we can boil it down to two major points:

  1. Worry does not solve problems. It does’t give life. It doesn’t meet our needs. It doesn’t help us in any way. In fact, it hurts us. It causes us emotional and physical turmoil. It messes with our hearts, minds, and relationships. It’s useless and a waste of time.
  2. We must seek God. Seek God first. If we keep ourselves focused on Him, His Kingdom, and His righteousness, He will meet our needs according to His will. No worry needed.

If you are struggling with anxiety, you can learn more and find help here:

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  • rtgmath

    Ahhhh, the same old, “Don’t worry. Just have faith.” God knows your need.

    So God knows your need. You are trying to find a job. And in the mean time, you lose your house to foreclosure. God knows your need.

    Or you are being abused. You pray to God for help and relieve and justice. And your attacker just keeps on getting away with it. God knows your need.

    He takes care of the birds. Not one of them falls but that the Father in Heaven notices. Not that the Father in Heaven keeps them from falling, mind you. God just notices. He doesn’t stop the tragedies. He doesn’t even mitigate them.

    Worry is natural, when you realize God doesn’t really have your back. Worry may not solve problems, but people worry because trusting God isn’t solving their problems, and they need their problems solved.

    Want to solve worry? Help people solve their real problems. Having hungry children is a problem. Being sick without the money to see a doctor is a problem. There are lots of problems. Worry is not a root problem. Worry is the result of other problems without solutions.

    I suppose God could solve problems, and people would see that and trust. But he doesn’t do that any more, now does he?

  • I have read a number of your writings in assorted comment sections on Patheos, from evangelical to progressive blogs. You have trodden far down the road of unbelief. It is a cul-de-sac. I hope you will turn.

  • The physiological sensations (or feelings) associated with anxiety may not always be related to consciously worrying or indulging in doubts concerning God, his word, and promises of provision. I would be interested to read what your thoughts are on sufferers of abuse/violence, extreme stress, and trauma. I do not believe that a glib citation of Matthew 6.25–34 will either heal or soothe their ailments.

  • rtgmath

    Ahhh, but you don’t answer any of the questions. You just demand belief (in your way as if that is the only way!). As Job described his three “friends,” “you are all miserable comforters.”

    The questions are honest ones. The point is valid. And, if I may make a prediction, some day you will be in the same place, asking the same questions. “Belief” needs assurance, demonstration. Belief needs prayers answered.

    So answer the questions or shut up.

  • In case there is any confusion, I will clarify that I am not the author of the article you have responded to.

    I do not deny that great sufferings, tragedies, and trials exist in the present age; they are the lot of believers and non-believers alike.

    In terms of definitions, I understand faith in God and his promises to be more than cognitive affirmation, though it certainly does include that. Its essence is trust.

    When you write things such as ‘[G]od doesn’t really have your back’, you are not making a neutral statement; you are explicitly contradicting Scripture.

    Regarding your statements on abuse, I see nothing wrong with, and everything right about, seeking to free the oppressed and bringing justice against abusers. In the context of marriage, for example, i will concede that evangelicals often have incredibly naive and damaging notions concerning domestic violence and the mentality of abusers.

  • Glad2BGodless

    Speaking as an atheist myself, I have not experienced my life as a cul-de-sac. A better metaphor would be a grand adventure.

  • Glad2BGodless

    I don’t know the particulars of your circumstances, but if you are in a rough patch, I hope you find better days ahead.

  • rtgmath

    “Faith in God and his promises” has to rest on something. Experience is a great teacher. And if you are honest, you must admit that the promises of God for help and protection in this life — which he makes! — are frequently broken. Of course, people lace them with all sorts of provisos. You must continue to have faith even when needs are unmet. God might be testing you (why? If he knows everything then he knows what is in your heart already!). God may be chastening you (again, why? He ostentatiously blesses the wicked and punishes those who seek to do right?). It has to be in God’s will. God’s timing isn’t ours – a thousand years is but a day, and a day like a thousand years. No wonder prayer doesn’t get answered! He was going to get around to it “tomorrow.”

    I am no longer afraid to “contradict Scripture.” I am really only contradicting someone’s interpretation, after all. Scripture is far more complicated.

    And yes, Evangelicals have very naive and damaging views both about Scripture and about others. Yet they demand that their perspective of faith be the only valid one.

  • rtgmath

    Thank you. I appreciate your kind thoughts. I really hope better days will come, but sometimes I have no hope or faith left.

  • Glad2BGodless

    I wish I could do more for you. Unfortunately, all I can offer you is an ear to hear. I hope you will check back soon and say how you’re doing.