I have been having panic attacks and phobias since the year 2000…. Two of those years I was fine without antidepressants, but now I don’t know what happened that has made my anxiety worse than before. I am on edge. For example, one time I drove a different car and got so nervous and anxious that I had to stay home that afternoon. I had to take anti-anxiety medication to return to normal….

Likewise, everything that has to do with death bothers me. I can’t go to wakes or even watch funerals on television, and I am afraid of death! … I want to be healed, and I feel really frustrated when I am afraid.

Dear Friend,

We are very sorry to hear of your struggles. Any kind of illness is discouraging, but panic attacks and anxiety are illnesses that bring along with them a great deal of misunderstanding and misinformation. We are sure that someone has told you that you need to just snap out of it or get over it. People who have never experienced anxiety or panic attacks cannot understand.

Why do you think that the anti-anxiety medicine works? The answer is the same as for any other medication. It works because there is something in your body that is malfunctioning. The medicine either stops the symptoms of the malfunction or cures it.

A panic attack is like a fire alarm going off in a building where there is no fire. Everyone runs out in fear, and the fire department arrives ready to go to work, but there is no fire to put out. In a panic attack the brain receives a false alarm that there is danger, and adrenaline is produced to speed up the heart rate so that it can pump blood faster, which in turn gets the body ready to run or confront the danger. The victims perceive the changes in their body, but cannot connect the changes with any reason for fear, so they often interpret them as physical illness. Many such victims of panic attacks have to see a doctor before coming to understand that they did not actually have a heart attack.

Certain situations that have been unpleasant in the past can trigger an attack, or the episode can begin for no reason at all. Attacks usually occur when a person is experiencing more stress than normal, but this is not always the case.

We assume that you already checked with a doctor, because you say that you have anti-anxiety medication. The medicine can be helpful, especially until you have had a chance to practice ways of dealing with the attacks.

Practice the following technique so that you will be ready for the next attack. Start by breathing slowly in a way that makes your stomach inflate like a balloon. While continuing to slowly inflate the balloon as much as possible, get a notebook and write down your physical symptoms. Are you sweating? Is your heart pounding? While practicing, write down what you remember from your last attack. Then write down what you were doing when the attack began. When your next attack comes, remember to continue to breathe slowly and deeply while writing in the notebook. Focusing on breathing, while observing your symptoms and writing them down, will be much more effective in getting through the attack.

Telling yourself not to panic can just make it worse. And getting frustrated with yourself creates more stress, which may cause more symptoms.

With regard to your fear of death, most people have experienced it at some time or another. But those of us who believe the Bible and have faith in God also believe that we can go to Heaven when our bodies die. When we ask God, in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, to forgive us of our sins, and we do our best to live according to the principles of the Bible, we expect our souls to travel from this world to the next as soon as we take our last breath. One of the best-known verses in the Bible, found in the Gospel according to John, describes how it works. It says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”(1) This promise of eternal life means we have nothing to fear. Though our bodies will die, we can live forever.

We wish you the best,

1 Jn 3:16