What Dr. Luke as to say about Excessive Sweating and Fear

(3.9.fam.excessivesweating.panicattacks)

This week Dr. Luke wants to talk about how we can get excessive sweating from panic attacks or excessive fear. 

Wang Mei Mei was a 27 year old female who has just finished her masterís degree in music in a large university in one of Chinaís major cities. She was very proud of her accomplishments as was her parents. She had done well and was ready to teach in a high school in the same city. The day before school started she was so excited she decided to go to the school to look over her classroom one more time. On the bus she noticed that her hands were a little sweaty. This did not bother her as that had happened before some of her piano and voice performances. However, when they stayed sweaty and the amount of sweat became more she was a bit frustrated. She also noticed herself being a little short of breath and her heart beat in her chest was beating a bit fast.  She knew she would calm down but the whole episode lasted 10 or so minutes. She hoped no one on the bus noticed her. That would be so embarrassing.

After this episode went away Wang Mei Mei did not think about this again until the next day. While on the bus to work the same episode happened again, but this time her hands had much more sweat and she could not keep them dry. Not only was Wang Mei Mei embarrassed but she felt humiliated as she was sure other people had noticed this.  Again, the episode resolved but this time she did not forget about the episode. When would it return again?  She was getting concerned.

During the day she had another episode which was not quite as bad as the one on the bus. However, she was concerned. What caused this excessive sweating? Did she have a disease?  She wanted to know what was going on. Besides the concern would she be fired from work if she appeared not under control? So many questions went through her mind.

Wang Mei Mei left school after the first day not excited but scared and fearful of what would happen in the future. She wondered if riding the bus had been a cause as two of the three episodes had been on the bus?  She decided to walk home.  On the way home she ran into one of her friends. This was a friend from her masterís program. She liked this friend as she was always a calming influence on Wang Mei Mei.  As they shared their first days at school Wang Mei Mei told her friend what happened. Concerned her friend suggested she go to the hospital to see the doctor. Wang Mei Meiís friend even offered to go with her to the doctor.  As they continued to walk Wang Mei Meiís friend told her that the first day had been a challenge but she had a friend who helped her through the first day. Who was that, Wang Mei Mei asked?  Her friend replied Jesus Christ. Wang Mei Mei asked who that was and her friend said he was the Lord, the God of the universe who had created the whole world and every person in it. By this time they had to part company but Wang Mei Mei was interested in knowing more about this person Jesus Christ.

Wang Mei Mei and her friend saw the doctor. He told her she had something called a panic attack. He told her that people can have symptoms which include episodes of sudden and intense anxiety possibly accompanied by oneís heart racing, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness and/or lightheadedness, an urge to escape and a feeling of impending doom.  We discussed how a person with Panic Disorder will have several of these spells, lasting from 10 to 30 minutes, and that the spells will be followed by periods of weakness or extreme fatigue.

The doctor went on to tell Wang Mei Mei that Panic attacks are extremely frightening and uncomfortable, but we must remember that they are not actually dangerous.  The physical reactions which occur in a panic attack are the exact same oneís which occur naturally whenever we are exposed to danger.  Imagine that you were suddenly face to face with a large growling dog.  You freeze in your tracks, with the dog about three feet in front of you.  Before you even begin to run, what would be happening to your body?  Your heart would be racing and pounding.  Your breathing would be short and shallow.  Your muscles would be tense.  You would begin to perspire more.  The pupils in your eyes would dilate.  Your hands would get colder and finally your digestive and immune systems would decrease functioning.  All of these reactions would occur in an instant, when you see the dangerous dog.  This reaction is commonly called ďthe fight or flight reactionĒ.  Wang Mei Mei knew this well as she was afraid of dogs.

The doctor continued telling Wang Mei Mei and her friend that our bodies are created in such a way as to maximize our ability to survive physical dangers.  When we sense that something is dangerous, our body automatically puts itself into a position to either fight the dangerous object or run away to the best of its physical ability.  Youíre breathing changes and heart speeds up in order to get more oxygen to your large muscle groups.  You sweat more to cool your body down, in preparation for the fact will you will heat up when you fight or run.  Your hands get colder, because the blood vessels at the surface of the skin get smaller.  This takes more blood to the large muscles and may help you bleed less if you are cut or bitten.  Your eyes dilate, taking in more light and visual information.  Your digestive and immune systems shut down to conserve energy, giving more energy to the cardiovascular, respiratory and muscular systems where it is currently needed.

The doctor told Wang Mei Mei that t is amazing that you donít have to think about this process at all.  You just perceive the danger and your body automatically does the rest.  The fight or flight response works perfectly when we are faced with a physical danger.  But now letís look at times when our perceptions of danger may not be so real.

Wang Mei Mei told the doctor that her symptoms we real and she was afraid. The doctor told her this. Imagine that you have been asked to give a piano concert to a large group.  You have never done this before, but, somehow, you agreed to do it this time.  You are sitting and waiting and you know that in a couple of minutes, the master of ceremonies will stand up and introduce you to play.  What will be happening to your heart rate?  What will your breathing be like?  Will your muscles be tense?  Will you be sweating more?  And what about your ability to enjoy or digest your food? 

Yes, all of the physical events of the fight or flight response will be occurring here as well.  But, there is not physical danger here.  The danger is in your mind.  The perceived danger is your fear that you will stand up and embarrass yourself during your speech.  You see, your body canít tell the difference between a sense of danger that comes from a real physical event or from an imagined event.  So, you are sitting, trying to act calm and comfortable, when your body is preparing to fight the crowd or run away from it.

 The doctor continued, since our bodies canít tell whether a danger is physical or produced by a worrying thought, we find that worry and fears cause the physical reactions of heart racing, shortness of breath, muscle tension, blood vessels constricting and digestive system becoming less functional.  When a person has Panic Disorder, the panic attacks are triggered by the personís fears that they will have the attack.  The panic disorder victim tends to monitor their body for possible signs of anxiety or panic.  Thus, when their heart rate increases, they conclude that they are about to have another panic attack.  This thought is the perceived danger and triggers the body to initiate the flight or flight response.  The fear of a panic attack brings on the panic attack. 

Wang Mei Mei and her friend were amazed at the insight which the doctor had. He described well the situation she had. The doctor told her that what was most important was that she should not be too worried about these situations. They would not cause harm or adverse consequences to her. She should take short deep breaths when the symptoms of sweating start. The try and move out of crowded areas if she is able. Finally, she should try and focus on why she gets anxious at these times. The doctor suggested a reason was she had a fear of failure.  Wang Mei Mei knew this was right. She did have a fear of failure.

Wang Mei Mei and her friend left the hospital encouraged. They were glad they had seen the doctor. On the way home Wang Mei Mei asked her friend again about this person Jesus Christ.  Her friend told her that it was important to realize that Jesus is the Lord of the universe. They stopped at a park bench and her friend opened her Bible to a place which read, ĎIn the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God (John 1.1).í Wang Mei Meiís friend explained that the Word mentioned here was Jesus Christ. He was God. Why was this significant?  Because Jesus Christ came to the earth to forgive us of our sins. Wang Mei Meiís friend showed her the following place in the Bible which said, Ďfor God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believed in him would not perish but have everlasting life.  He who believes in him (that is Jesus) is not condemned but he who does not believe in him is condemned in already (John 3.16, 17).í  Wang Mei Meiís friend said that this showed Godís love for the world. That is God gave his only son Jesus Christ to save us from our sins. If we believe in this Jesus we would have everlasting life. If we do not believe in him we are condemned to have eternal death or separation from God.

Why do we have this separation from God if we do not believe in Jesus Christ, Wang Mei Mei asked her friend?  Her friend answered. God gave us Jesus Christ because we have sinned and turned away from God.  She turned again to the Bible and read, ĎThe heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it (Jeremiah 17.9)?í  Wang Mei Meiís friend told her that this shows that we cannot overcome our sins, wrongdoings or failures before God as our heart is too deceitful and beyond cure. How then can it be made right her friend asked Wang Mei Mei? Only Jesus Christ can do this. She turned yet again to another place in the Bible which said, ĎI will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people (Jeremiah 31.33).í By the way, her friend told her, Jeremiah was a prophet who lived about 2700 years ago in what is present day Israel.  This last verse in Jeremiah meant that God will write on our hearts his purpose.  This would be done through the person of Jesus Christ Wang Mei Meiís friend point out. 

Then Jeremiah goes onto say, ĎFor I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins not more (Jeremiah 31.34).í  God will remember our sins no more because they are taken by the person of Jesus Christ.  Another place in the Bible says, Ďbut God showed his love for us in that while we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5.8).í  What this means is that even while we were doing wrong Jesus Christ took our sins on himself on the Cross so we would not have to be responsible for them.

Wang Mei Meiís friend told her that accepting Jesus Christ gives one peace and purpose which they cannot have without Jesus and also eternal life. She also suggested to Wang Mei Mei that Jesus would help her with her sweating. She showed her a place which said, ĎI can do all things through Christ who gives me strength (Philippians 4.13).í

Wang Mei Mei wanted this strength, purpose and peace. Her friend showed her this verse which said, Ďif you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead you will be saved (Romans 10.9).í  Wang Mei Mei believed that Jesus Christ was the Lord of her life and that God raised Jesus from the dead. She wanted to trust Jesus as her Savior.

Wang Mei Mei prayed the following prayer after her friend.  ĎDear Jesus, I know that I am a sinner and that I need to be saved from my sins. I believe that you died on the cross for my sins and then died. After three days you rose from the dead and are alive today. I ask you into my life to be my Savior.í  Wang Mei Mei then and over the next days and weeks knew more of Godís purpose, peace and strength because of the person of Jesus Christ in her life.

Over the same time she became less anxious and had much better control of the sweating hands. You too can have Jesus Christ as your Savior to give you peace, purpose and strength if you will only ask him into your life just as Wang Mei Mei did.