Welcome to my confessional.
I’ve been a Christian for most of my life, the son of a pastor in fact. My whole life I’ve dealt with some social anxiety, never feeling quite comfortable or settled in social situations even with people I genuinely enjoy. But before the Coronavirus, I never really dealt with panic attacks.
Flash forward to this year...and since coronavirus, I’ve had five panic attacks.
It usually happens when my mind is racing, stressed about something with work, or trying to get a sense of why I just don’t feel okay. Then suddenly my one-year-old drops a metal cup on the floor, my dog barks at a neighbor, my toddler falls back in his chair, and everything starts to spiral.
From how often they’re occurring, my empathic wife Rachel knows now when I’ve had an attack. She watches as I head to our room, tears in my eyes, trying to regain composure. Sometimes it’s 15 minutes. Sometimes it’s an hour. Sometimes I’m on the brink of tears for most of the day.
And to make matters worse, every time I have a panic attack I just feel like a phony.
For work, I happen to be a Christian devotional writer. My daily devotional called First15 helps around 1.4 million people around the world begin their days in worship, reading, and prayer. In the devotional I talk often, almost daily, about how God longs to give us peace even in the hardest of times.
I also wrote a mini-book called Peace: Finding Rest in a Stressed-Out World. It outlines a path given to us in Philippians 4 that helps us exchange our stress and burdens for God’s peace in prayer.
I’m supposed to be helping all these people around the world find peace in God, and I can’t seem to stop having panic attacks. I’m supposed to be an expert of sorts in bringing God my stress, but I have never been more stressed-out in my whole life.
In most of my writing, I try to be gracious with others. The world around us seems to be doing a just fine job of beating us down on its own.
But with myself, I have been so frustrated. I don’t understand why I can’t get my anxiety under control.
And in my frustration, something really interesting has been happening.
These panic attacks have created a window of sorts into my soul, helping me see more clearly the stress and anxiety that’s been there all along. Stress and anxiety had been so normal for me, it’s taken panic attacks to get my attention that I have a real problem.
If I’m being honest, before coronavirus, my emotions were already swayed by my circumstances. Before coronavirus, my sense of self-worth already ping-ponged between my successes and failures. Before coronavirus, my life was firmly in my own two hands, exhausting myself to control life’s outcomes moment by moment.
I can remember moments where, in His grace, God was trying to guide me to the place of prayer and reflection over these catalysts for my stress. I can remember Him quietly asking me to loosen my grip, to lose my life in Him that I might find it (Matt 10:39), to connect and abide in God’s steadfast love.
But everything seemed fine in my control, until my panic attacks got out of control.
I would never say God caused my panic attacks. I would never say He released coronavirus on our world. But I would say that if we’ll let Him, then He will find ways to redeem these hard days for His glory and our good.
For me it’s looked like actually making some calls, and finding a great therapist. It’s looked like prioritizing my sleep, quality time alone, and hobbies.
It’s looked like caring about life’s small stresses enough to bring them to God, to allow Him to move in their midst, and stop living with stress and anxiety as my normal.
So, what parts of your inner-life are being unearthed right now? Where has stress and anxiety become your normal? What has been under your control that needs to be relinquished to God’s control?
Take some time today with a journal in hand, maybe 15 minutes, and process your inner-life with God. Write down what’s stressing you out. Write down what’s been under the surface, maybe for a long time. And invite God to move however He wants in your heart, mind, and life.
Maybe life doesn’t have to go back to “normal” after the pandemic is over. Maybe, God willing, life could actually be a bit better.
Get some time alone with God to find out how.
Craig Denison is the author of First15, a daily devotional guiding over a million believers into a fresh experience with God’s presence every day. He writes, speaks, and he and his wife, Rachel lead worship to help believers establish a more tangible, meaningful connection with God. You can check out his work by signing up to receive First15 every morning for free, and by engaging with First15 on social media.