anxiety attack

When unexpected anxiety strikes and we are caught off guard

Table of Contents

When we least expect it

Severe anxiety struck when Jennifer least expected it.

She was returning from her weekly therapy session for her youngest child, Matthew (not his real name).  Matthew was born with Down Syndrome. She educates all who need it, “It’s Down Syndrome without an “s” after the word Down. He is not a “Down’s kid” either.” She gets furious with the “r” word.

Matthew is eighteen months old and still is not crawling. His older brother is only three. She works full-time, takes him to therapy twice weekly (only one is covered by insurance), and recently signed him up for a sign language class. She hasn’t missed a beat since he was born, but she would also tell you it took a while before she embraced this new challenge.

man wearing black tank top and brown shorts climbing rock/anxiety

Matthew has changed her life… ways only a few people know. As a teenager, Jennifer (not her real name either)  suffered from anorexia, depression, and severe anxiety attacks.  Anyone that knew her couldn’t understand why.  She was pretty and intelligent, and everyone who met her loved her. So how could she suffer so?

Hard to understand anxiety at times

As my readers know, this blog will often feature posts about depression and anxiety. I’m not a doctor. I have an undergraduate degree in Psychology. I have counseled many as a lay counselor in my church. Plus, I’ve lived through the illness. My post-graduate training in Clinical Pastoral Education helps me understand anxiety from the spiritual side. It was never hard for me to understand how Jennifer could suffer from depression. My research had shown that depression is no respecter of persons.

Jennifer had already come a long way as a result of the birth of her first child. His birth after ten years of marriage resulted from getting to the place where she was strong enough to quit taking anti-depressants so she could try to become pregnant. Her courage was something to see. 

Her happiness overshadowed any lingering depression, and she embraced motherhood as if she’d been given a gift no one else had ever received. But when Matthew was born, the few that knew her history worried, would she revert to previous coping patterns? Everyone was cheering her on, silently and in their prayers.

Everyone experiences it differently.

Who knows what she went through during those early weeks? What mind gymnastics she had to employ to keep her mental feet solidly planted? What prayers she prayed. Only Jennifer knew how she resolved to keep her anxiety at bay at a time when experts would’ve predicted a free fall. But she did. And everyone that knew her breathed a collective sigh.

The accident

She stopped at the stop sign, slowly applying the brakes as the winter storm was getting worse. A sudden bump.

road under cloudy sky/anxiety attack

She tightened her grip on the wheel and held her breath. No sliding into traffic. Her heart resumed its beating. It was just one bump. She quickly turned to check on Matthew.

He was playing with his toy and smiling with that smile that melted every heart that saw it. He was fine. Hadn’t noticed a thing. She could feel the beats of her heart in her throat. Her stomach was churning. She was afraid for the first time in years. Her car showed no damage. She and Matthew were fine. So why did she continue to shake so?

She drove home carefully, every nerve in her body on high alert. She carried Matthew into the house, fixed dinner, and then succumbed to the fear that was enveloping her. That was when she called me.

Anxiety reared its ugly head.

She told me she was terrified that her anxiety attacks were returning. I listened as she shared her fears. I reminded her she wasn’t the same insecure young woman she once was. I reminded her how hard she’d worked to overcome her anxiety and depression. She had fought her demons and won the battle. She had a great husband, two wonderful boys, and, all in all, a great life.

The accident was like an exclamation point in the last year and a half.  Matthew’s diagnosis, the accident that she knew could have been much worse, and the physical fatigue all melded together, producing one major anxiety attack. We talked about some coping strategies. In a few hours, she forgot all about her fear.

Anxiety can strike out of the blue

anxiety attack

The reason for today’s post is this: depression/anxiety can try to deal us a blow when we least expect it.

Anxiety can take a single anxiety attack, no matter how justified, and propel us into a state of panic. “Oh, no, our depression is returning.”

Like the rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, we run in circles, wringing our hands and moaning, “What to do? What to do?” That’s the hideous nature of anxiety and or depression. They can creep up on us insidiously or can jump out from the shadows.

Learned coping skills help

Jennifer had learned over the years that if she practiced certain coping skills that worked best for her and implemented them immediately, she could quickly turn them around. She faced her enemy head-on, giving it no space in her mind or her life. She got busy with her wonderful little “men,” and soon fear was no more her nemesis.

Struggles not unique

This really happened. Jennifer and her story are real. If she can win her battle after a lifetime of being a wounded soldier, so can you. There are many Jennifer and Jefferys out there. Our struggles, while not unique to mankind, feel like they are to us, and we should never minimize them when someone shares them with us. “There but for the grace of God” is very true.

Always a way out

As I Corinthians 10:13 states, “There is no trial or temptation that is unique to man. But when we face our own, God is there to show us a way of escape.” We can bank on these words.

So if you’re experiencing an anxiety attack and you have no clue what prompted it, do some thinking. Something brought it on, and it might be something you would never have guessed. I believe you can find the cause. When you do, ask God for the escape route. I promise he will show you the way.

1 thought on “When unexpected anxiety strikes and we are caught off guard”

  1. Thank you for this powerful reminder. Thankfully “Jennifer” knew who to call and was able to turn away from the panic attack.

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