Panic attacks (abrupt periods of intense anxiety, fear, discomfort) can occur at any age and any stage of life. They occur when a person’s body temporarily is overloaded with stressful communication. Faith leaders may experience them, personally, in the aftermath of trauma, or may encounter them among people to whom they are ministering. Panic attacks usually last for 1-10 minutes, though some have been known to last for a few hours.
Panic attacks can be scary. At the same time, they are common responses to trauma and usually are not life-threatening. Persons suffering from a panic attack often report feeling as though they are having a heart attack, “going crazy,” having a “melt down,” etc. Panic attacks are linked to “fight or flight” biological responses to threats, and they involve spontaneous flooding of the body with adrenalin and cortisol hormones. They are momentary chemical imbalances in persons’ bodies, which usually are attributed to external stresses or anticipatory anxiety and fear.
What can Contribute to Panic Attacks
However, a range of substances also is known to overload a body’s communication and limit responsiveness when combined with heightened stressful environments. Keeping these in mind
when you personally are under duress or are ministering to persons experiencing great stresses may provide you with bene t you and save you value time and energy in response. Including:
- Caffeine (i.e., caffeine in tea, coffee, candy, chocolate, cocoa, cola & drinks including Dr. Pepper and Red Bull)
- Red dye food coloring
- Other prescription and recreational drugs, including marijuana
- Spicy Foods
Tips for Responding to Panic Attacks
When someone is having a panic attack, it's important to regulating the body as soon as possible. For example, you may have a person sit in a comfortable seat, in a mild climate, either indoors or outdoors. You may have them sip a cool glass of water, and steady her or his breathing. Use a gentle voice, reminding the person you are with them. Speak to them of how safe they are, here and now. You might ask them if they can feel physical things around them – the sturdiness of the ground and their seat. You may ask them to tell you what their throat, stomach, hands, or feet feel like. If any of these feel clenched, you may ask them if they feel they can relax them.
Frequently, practicing methods of self-regulation and calming can help a person’s body begin to communicate well within itself and bring about overall senses of well-being.
If calming is not possible, further medical or psychological professional assistance may be necessary.
Share your Best Practices
What's worked well in your congregation for caring for people suffering from panic attacks? Have you encountered these experiences in your ministry? What's been most helpful? Share in the comments below.