Mental Health Awareness: Part 2

August 2, 2021
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(Part 2 of a series on Mental Health Awareness. Read Part 1 here.)

Just make it stop!

It was Monday, it was 8:15 a.m. and I had an appointment for a yearly MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) that monitors the progress of my illness on a yearly basis. Nothing different from years prior. However, this time was different.

I went to the hospital, and was directed to the MRI room. I laid on the table, and the kind technician, Amy, put a warm blanket on me as the room was cold. She tucked my hands in and gave me a device I could push if I needed her. She gave me headphones to wear and listen to music, as she placed the head cage over my head to keep from moving. She asked me if I was comfortable, everything was fine. I was talking with her, this was routine, we were good. She told me it would take 45 minutes this time, no big deal, this was shorter than the times before.

My body entered the machine and I closed my eyes.

The next thing I knew, I started feeling like I could not breathe. Thoughts were racing through my head, like, “why are you feeling this way, you’ve done this many times before, what’s wrong with you, just pray, you will get through this.” Well, I tried to pray.

But then I started thinking about COVID, and “how do they clean this machine if someone has infectious germs?” The noise of the machine felt louder and louder because the headphones were not helping. My palms started to sweat, my face started getting hot, my heart started to beat faster. “It’s only 45minutes, listen to the music, it is going to be over before you know it.” “Do I need to push the button, will that mess up the image recording? What happens if I move?”

Questions that I had never contemplated really before, it was never an issue. I said a prayer, and I started to do some relaxation exercises. I focused on my breathing, the air going in and out of my lungs. Imagining the path of air making its way through my body. I reassured myself that “she’s probably halfway done now, it’s going to be ok.”

Ok, so now the intense feelings subsided.

I tried focusing on the music between the loud noises of the machine. It was not as relaxing as the music had been in the past because of the type of headphones and compatibility of the device with the machine. “Why did they buy the off-brand device? I need to write about this in the satisfaction survey.”

“Okay, we’re going to scan your back next. You’re doing great,” Amy says. “What do you mean we’re just now scanning my back? I’ve been here for 45 minutes already.” So I decided to say another prayer. I made it a few more minutes, but then my chest felt tight again, and I felt like I couldn’t move. Well of course I’m not supposed to but I wanted to crawl out and run away. It got really hot and stuffy and I felt sweaty. I wanted to untuck my hands and push the device to come out.

The sequence of thoughts came back. “You’ll have to reschedule, stay put, breathe.” Said another prayer, and I focused on my breathing. Breathing in the peace of God and breathing out all of my tension. This worked, and before I knew it, I was being taken out of the machine, and I sat up quickly once I was able to move. Amy said I did good, and did not move at all. I could not believe she did not see me freaking out. Thankful. Glad it was over with, until next year.

So maybe you’ve never been in an MRI machine before and cannot relate.

But what about that job interview, being called into the bosses office on a Friday afternoon at 5 p.m., scoring poorly on a test or standardized exam, meeting a significant other, telling a lie and you’ve now been caught?

What if a wild animal were running after you? What about constant thoughts of never being good enough, never being loved, or valued, never amounting to anything, or what your family wanted you to be?

Maybe your parents or children are not reacting the way you would like. Think about when you’re scrolling on facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, TikTok, etc. Are you wondering why your life is the way it is, or wondering about what you are viewing? What about when you’re lost, without direction, and you feel like your whole world is crashing down?

It may be any number of these events and others. It can also be things that you are thinking about, or being told, that have no basis in fact. What do you notice? Thoughts are probably racing in your mind like mine were. You have any number of the following physiological responses: chest tightness, difficulty breathing, sweatiness, hyperventilation, stomach pain, nausea, queasiness, headaches, insomnia (or other sleep issues), weakness, fatigue, pounding or racing heart, trembling or shaking, muscle tension or pain.

If we could name this experience, what would you say it was?

Clinically, physiologically, these are experiences of fear, and a more relatable expression, anxiety, sometimes even panic. Feeling fear is something that we all can identify with. We know what it feels like to be scared. Fear basically is an uncomfortable emotion that something dangerous is likely to cause harm or a threat.

Fear makes us go into a “fight, fight or freeze” action, which is our body’s natural reaction. The response is an instinctual one, causing physiological and hormonal changes. A very natural and normal response. Everyone has felt some of these feelings.

So what do we do with fear, panic, anxiety?

Is it wrong for us to have these experiences and expressions of emotion?

Let’s take a look and see what the Bible says about it. Let’s take a look at Martha, the sister of Lazarus and Mary. Luke 10:40-42 says, But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Does that mean Martha’s anxiety is wrong?

No, she balanced her anxiety with service and worship. She recognized her anxiety, and survived with it.

King David was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). Guess what, he suffered from anxiety. The book of Psalms is a great example of how he addressed the feelings, he wrote, sang, played music. Bottom line, he went through the fears and anxieties, and he persevered through them.

In 1 Kings chapter 19 The prophet Elijah had just shown King Ahab that the prophets of Baal are no match for God, they were killed, and the drought ended. Upon hearing that Queen Jezebel wanted him dead, verse 3-4 says, “Elijah was afraid and ran for his life.”

When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, while he himself went on a day’s journey into the wilderness. He came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. Words that many of us have said or thought a time or two.

Elijah’s fear was not a lack of faith in God, but a fear that God had not stopped Jezebel. After this, God shows up to Elijah in a tender whisper, and brings an end to the line of Ahab. Elijah is also only 1 of 2 people mentioned in the Bible who never died.

So what are some things you can do to combat feeling fear, panic or anxiety?

- Acknowledge that this is normal, and others feel this way too. Examine your facts about the situation.

- Take a time-out for yourself, focus on breathing; taking time to inhale and exhale slowly.

- Try prayer, meditation, relaxation, listening to music.

- Limit caffeine intake, discontinue use of alcohol, cigarettes and other substances.

- Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly.

- Do your best and accept that you cannot control everything. Ask yourself, “what’s the worst that could happen?”

- Replace negative thoughts with positive ones, incorporating some humor at times.

- Get involved in your community, find ways to to create a supportive network

- Talk to your friends and family about how you are feeling. Find a church leader or talk to a doctor or therapist.

Philippians 4:6-7 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

What do you do to combat fear, panic, or anxiety?

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