One of my most unforgettable panic attacks was a few years ago, sitting in class, discussing literature. I had done the reading, I was prepared, and I was excited for the discussion. Midway through the class, I felt the room getting warmer.
Had they turned up the heat?
My fingers began tingling.
Why couldn’t I take a deep breath?
I was breathing like I’d just run sprints.
Maybe it was too much caffeine?
I tried to keep up with the discussion.
Why do my notes look so blurry?
My heart started beating faster.
Is this what a heart attack feels like?
I frantically texted my momma and my roommate.
Maybe I’m just stressed?
I can survive until the end of class.
But why is breathing so hard?
Two years later, and I find myself commenting that breathing can be hard sometimes. When my anxiety hits, the first physical indicator is always my breathing. For me, it feels like someone is simultaneously sitting on my chest and sucking out the breath from my lungs. When my loved ones around me notice, they remind me to breathe.
I never thought I’d value breathing.
Anxiety is not a bundle of nerves, it’s not general worry: it’s a disorder that expresses itself both mentally and physically. I have had such a hard time coming to terms with my anxiety, and I’m still not quite there yet. It’s humbling, having to tell someone that I needed to postpone our first date because I had a panic attack about not having enough time to shave my legs (as if the pressure of a first date wasn’t enough).
For me, my first physical symptom of anxiety is always my breathing, which has made me obsess the past few years over the concept of what it means to breathe. I’ve learned how to practice breathing techniques, how the simple act of focusing on taking deep breaths can distract the brain from its anxiousness. I’ve read articles about quality of breath and holding your breath and how your breathing is connected to so many body functions.
While studying Genesis recently, I found myself reading again and again, “God breathed life.” He did. Breathe, that simple but oh, so vital function to living, created humankind—just because God breathed. Every time we take a breath, it’s physical evidence of the sovereignty of God. God breathed. And humans began living.
Maybe it sounds silly. Or cheesy. Or a bit far-fetched. But for me, the symbolism that breathing brings for me rests my anxious heart. When my anxiety runs high and I start pulling out my breathing tools to calm myself down, I think of God. As I’m counting each breath, focusing on the air filling my lungs, keeping my body operating, I’m reminded of when God first breathed.
Because He breathed, I exist.
Because I breathe, I know He is sovereign.
And He has breathed into me the breath of life. (Genesis 2:7).