by Patricia Thornton, PhD
anxiety won't kill you

Whether my patients have OCD, social anxiety, a phobia, panic, or are just generally anxious about life, they come into treatment wanting to be free of the uncomfortable feelings associated with anxiety. To rid themselves of their anxiety they have tried meditation, relaxation, yoga, different psychotherapies and medication, but overall they don’t feel a whole lot better. They ask me, “Why am I so anxious?” and “How do I get rid of this anxiety?” And I respond: “You need to allow yourself to be anxious and you don’t need to know why you are anxious.” I know it sounds counterintuitive. But when you actually move toward your anxiety and just allow yourself to experience it, without trying to flee the situation or reason your way out of it, those yucky anxiety feelings and bodily sensations tend to dissipate. Anxiety never stays at one level. It oscillates up and down, often influenced by what you’re thinking about. If you accept that you’re anxious, you are no longer fighting it. When you fight the feeling, you are saying to yourself, “This is awful! I can’t cope!”, “Something bad is going to happen”. And then what happens? You get more anxious. You may attempt to manage anxiety by avoiding situations that you believe could cause you to be anxious. Or you may attempt to manage anxious thoughts by ruminating or doing things to make sure you are safe. These strategies only work in the short term, if at all. Your anxiety comes roaring back, often worse than before. If you can stay in the anxiety causing situation or stay with the disturbing thoughts long enough and say to yourself: “It’s OK that I’m anxious,” the anxiety is likely to dissipate on it’s own. You don’t need to do anything about the anxiety! And if you can take it a step further and challenge yourself to want to feel more anxious, then you are taking bold steps to conquer your anxiety. I know that asking to feel more anxious is hard to do in practice because every part of you is saying you need to get rid of the anxiety. We are wired to respond to danger by gearing up our sympathetic nervous system so that we can get out of harm’s way. Sure, if there is a rhino charging at you, your brain tells your body that there is imminent danger and your anxiety will help move you away from the rhino’s path. Unfortunately, our brain creates noise (false thoughts) that we misinterpret as dangerous and then our fight/flight system gears up, even though there is no actual danger. When you can embrace anxiety and stay with situations and thoughts that make you anxious, you are retraining your brain to be less reactive to those false thoughts. This is not the easiest thing to do, but if you haven’t tried accepting your anxiety and actually asking yourself to be more anxious, try it. You are likely to discover that moving toward your anxiety, instead of away from it, will ultimately leave you feeling less anxious.

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About the Author:

patricia_thornton_picture_1.pngPatricia Thornton, PhD specializes in the treatment of anxiety disorders and OCD. She practices in New York City.

Thank you that’s very enspiring I suffer from panic disorder so I go through 7-12 panic attacks a day which follows up with all the symptoms of anxiety and then some but you helped with that so thank you and god bless

Hi Kamila. I read your comment and felt like I could have written it. I have 2 small children and a fiance, and I live in fear that I am close to death because I'll panic randomly and cant convince myself otherwise that I'm not dieing. Even after going to the ER 3 times, seeing my doctor, getting blood drawn and wearing a heart monitor, and having all tests come back perfect, I deal with this still. I am struggling with keeping a happy face on around my children when sometimes I feel like I might keel over. I have heart palps, upset tummy, tingling limbs, left arm pain occasionally, and I get restless. Almost to the point of crying. It's a nightmare I cant wake up from.

Hello, I am dealing with the same thing too, I never had anxiety until after my daughter was born three years ago. I have panic attacks, that are completely random, some days are better then others. I have the same symptoms happen to me as we’ll , heart palpitations, dizziness, numb limbs. It literally makes you think your going to die and that then spikes your anxiety even more. I’m glad their are others who have similar symptoms makes me feel like we’re not alone.

Anxiety makes me feel like I’m loosing my mind sometimes but I’m learning to not give it the control.

I literally go through the same thing I’m only 17 year of age and it’s driving me insane with these physical symptoms mental too , i can’t tell the difference every five mins I’m panicking about something bad happening to me I barely eat now and I’m going through a lot aches idk what to do

Sometimes I feel like I'm caged in my head and I feel like I wanna go mad too. Cant concentrate. Its only God that has been keeping me

I have had anxiety since my 1st son was born in 2007. Sometimes i have long stretches without it and times when it is horrible. And also the things that trigger it change. I have found lately to help ease them is to not think about all those negative thoughts while having anxiety. I say no this is not anything but anxiety. I don't entertain the thoughts that tell me heart attack or whatever. I find a quiet spot or plug my ears lay down if possible and focus only on my breathing in and out and i calm down eventually. I hope this can help someone as it as helped me. I pray everyday for God to lift this burden and now I will pray for all of you as well.

Wow Bre what you just described is my life I live in constant fear of dying and it’s terrible the tingle limbs, pain in left arm, heart paps, and upset stomach that’s all me. I don’t know what to do and for some reason this always happens to me worse at night. It’s taking over my life and I have three boys ages 6,9 and 6 months. They need me and I need to get better it’s so hard.

Be encouraged please, even when anxiety turns out all the lights in the whole and all you see is black. This is what I try to tell myself. I believe you will be ok!!! When someone say this to me it makes me feel better. God bless?

Can relate to the high BP and negative thoughts. I am not able to sleep well. I am having heart palpitation very night in the middle of the night. I am afraid of my anxious thought. sort of im trapped with the anxious feeling. have been suffering since I was 16 years old. Im 40 years old now. was ok for nearly 10 years and now my anxiety is back like hell. Went to the cardiologist and my BP was 140/90. Did a stress test and my BP was very high 160/90 during the test as I was very anxious during the stress test. Doc has told me that my heart is ok. that is should for go for a walk as physical exercise but Im afraid in case my BP is high again. Have anyone done a stress test and their BP was high. thx for ur advice

Hi Kamila. I understood of every bit you said. Im on my 4th night struggling to sleep because of the symptoms. My body is just too noisy at night. It is also not easy to discuss this with anyone. I am trying acupuncture now as alternative to medication.

I am feeling the same way. I havent gotten diagnosed yet, but i am pretty sure i have an anxiety disorder. I only had this feeling for a couple of weeks and its an awful. Its worst at night. I have not gotten proper sleep. I feel alone, i know there are many people that have it, but i feel alone. I was never like this, i just want it to go away but it hasnt.

“I was never like this, I just want it to go away” sounds like my wish. Nevertheless I’ve learned you have to fight back you can’t allow anxiety to control your life, your feelings or your decisions. Just being on here helps me. I’ve been dealing with this anxiety off and on for the past 6 years. Although I think I had it for most of my young adult life. I am 46 now. You do get relief at times. Educating yourself and knowing your triggers is a big part of recovery. Yes you can recover. And don’t be afraid to try holistic alternative to this medication. And of course always stay in consult you PC but ultimately it’s your body and mind and you know what you are feeling more than anyone else. I am presently dealing with this now. My symptoms is what really drive me nuts. I’m nervous for most of the day, head-spasms (scared of stroke, aneurism, als, etc). I’m at the doctor now because my toe won’t stop twitching is very uncomfortable at nights. Can’t hardly fall asleep. Anyhow I’m determined to beat this. I experience this at least once Every year and I always learn something new about myself and this thing! Keep the hope alive everybody. God bless?

I know how you feel. I’m young and I’m 23 years old months ago I found out I have anxiety everyday I worry about my health about something bad happening. It scares me everyday. Message me or anyone cause I know I would love to talk to someone who has the same problems as me cause noon really understands

Hello Brittany I am going through exactly what you just wrote can I have you WhatsApp so you can educate me more on it ?

I feel exactly the way you do. I’ve been suffering with bad anxiety for 3 months now. On and off tension headache and ear pain. TMJ and just feeling nervous eat all times. I hate this feeling.

Very powerful!! Reading your comment gave me lots of strength and courage to accept and overcome this bad guys !.

Hey, I think we have the same thing, I was wondering if u would reach out to me I would to talk about it and hopefully get some tips and pointers.

Thank you so much for sharing. Your tenacity and strength in dealing with this is very encouraging. Stay hopeful guys we will survive this. God bless us and be with us all❤️

Thanks for sharing. I get some those symptoms to and have to act normal. Headaches, toe twitch, muscles tense, dizzy, tiredness.
Trusting God for healing.
Stay strong you will be alright.
Try healing services it helps big time!

It's important to know many of our health anxiety problems start with something minor. Our anxiety then kicks in and it can spiral out of control. You start to question every little thing your body is doing...and the anxiety worsens. Scary but true....many times we see a doctor because we are concerned and you end up on all kinds of medications which have side effects and your problems begin to get worse, not better. Six years ago I thought I had a sinus infection which wouldn't get better. I began to worry. The worry turned into depression and panic because my life was changing. Pretty soon I was seeing all kinds of doctors. Every test they gave me was normal so then sent me along to a psychiatrist. I was given meds and more meds. My problems only got worse. It all began with a sinus infection, and now here I am, years later, taking all kinds of prescription meds for pain, for sleep, for depression, for anxiety.... I NEVER HAD ANY OF THESE PROBLEMS BEFORE I GOT SICK. We need to wake up and realize that a LOT of the time these health anxiety....are caused by doctors who throw medication at us and make us WORSE. I barely remember what it feels like to just feel....NORMAL. I miss my old life. Research "latrogenic illness." Many people are getting sicker and sicker because of the "care" they receive from doctors. I hope I get my life back. I never used to feel so depressed and so scared and dead inside. I don't feel like I am living my life anymore. It feels more like I am inside my head all the time. How do we get out of this dark rabbit hole, forever chasing "normal?"

Hi Kamilla. I have the same exact situation as you. Are you taking blood pressure medicines? My anxiety happens almost everyday which means bp is fluctuating. How are you now? I wish we lived close so we can talk. Has your anxiety improved from last year?

Thank you very much I'm feeling a bit better I'm even going to screen your comment I'm so glad I'm not alone I sometime feel I really want someone to talk to but my family just doesn't understand me I always try to talk to them but they don't give me the answers that I need well now I understand it is because they never went through what I'm going through

Same!!! I’ll get sharp pains in my chest, and feel like I’m going to pass out. I’ll go to emergency & all my test come back fine.. I’ve even told the doctor your telling me I’m fine but my heart is literally hurting and I’m having heart palpitations as we speak. And it always end in " its anxiety” I hate anxiety! It’s a fight every day! No person should have to deal with such an ugly thing! But we must continue to fight this off till the day we all realize " oh wow, no anxiety! ” can’t wait to feel that freeness again!

I really appreciate your comment.Ive been feeling the same symptoms everyone else has on here...Hearing from someone else that its only temporary made me feel 100% better!

I believe I have illness anxiety. Always fearful my health is in jeopardy. If I hear of anyone that has died or had anyone that has had a life changing diagnosis I automatically go I to overdrive with anxiety.

I have had these in some form everyday for 11 yrs now the only thing that keeps me going is that I keep telling myself that I can’t die from it. That’s the only thing that keeps me from going off all the way. Pray for me and I will pray for y’all

I get a terrible stomach tightness and sometimes a pain across my gut i also cant drive more than 30 miles away I also have terrible anxiety in stores lol lines and drive thrus I started using CBD hemp oil it really helps i can still feel baby panic attacks try to start but they go away quickly. Im sorry you all are dealing with this bs I do do were all in it together with millions of others around the world.

Hi I had a really bad anxiety attack last night woke up shaking, feel like I’m going mad it’s so horrible

Yess im 46 been struggling with pure o and anxiety ocd since i was like 4 my earliest memories are struggling with my thoughts overwhelming..

Yes! I get headaches and it makes me so worried. Last year I did an MRI and it was normal. Now I’m wondering if I should get another. I believe my anxiety is marijuana induced. Because every time I try this happens. Now I feel guilty and self-blame. This anxiety is frightening you’re not alone. However when I go to church it helps. My hope is in God. Stay encouraged you’re not alone!!!

Hello, i understand completely what your going through anxiety and depression are connected its a vicious circle. Medication and counselling may help write down your triggers and what you are doing to help yourself this can help aswel. It will not last forever try and be strong and realise that all you have to do is get into the right frame of mind again, but sometimes you will need a little help along the way. My anxiety has relapsed now i am seeking help once again i will go see my gp and discuss my options i will probably go back on the meds and also consider counselling.

I too worried for a long time that something was or will happen to my heart but don’t worry you only have panic disorder you’ll be fine when you panic just get up and move around or put yourself in front of a fan and meditate it helps

This is me as well. Some days are good, and I'm free from the panic. But other days, like today, I'm so panicked I can't function and I'm convinced my heart is giving out, even though I have all tests done including a cat scan and heart monitor and all was perfectly fine. I'm so sick of this feeling. It's the worst.

Read your comment & going through the same thing. Not sure if you will see my post. But are you feeling better? If so what helped you? Thank you!

Don't worry about your heart, I've had panic disorder for ages and I've only just seen a cardiologist, he told me that your heart only beats to a certain speed, and the only time a fast heart beat could hurt you is if you already have something wrong going on with you cardiovascular system

You are all not alone. I am glad I found this thread. I have always been a nervous, anxious person, but a few months ago I had 3 panic attacks in a row that ended with me in the ER because I thought I was having a heart attack. Turns out, I was totally fine but the panic was so bad it had me believing I was dieing. Since then, I have had a few ok weeks, with lots of anxiety in between and several more attacks. I feel disconnected from myself during these, and my heart goes so fast that it begins palpitating. I get tight, cold and hot, and I feel I can't relax. If I try, my heart thumping keeps me up. This usually only lasts about an hour but the crippling anxiety lasts all day some days and I feel like each time I'm dieing again. Even when I try to talk myself through it. It is absolutely awful and I live in fear daily of it happening again. :(

I feel your pain, been in the same boat for going on 6 years .. pretty sure it started whn I was child and progressively got worse over a cpl bad relationships, having children , dad having bad health issues and feeling alone most times. Tried many different medications which I was even to anxious to take most of the time.. so I’ve also tried the herbal pills which didn’t seem to do anything . So I feel like I don’t know how to cope most days and that makes me even more anxious, feels like I’m stuck in a viscous circle and I want out.

I have health anxiety as well and the symptoms from it make me feel like I’m losing my mind. I start therapy this week and I’m hopeful that it will help me reset.

I have a very Similar experience when it comes to my health concerns with anxiety. I see you posted this a year ago. Have you found anything that helps you?

I get the same way. The lightheadedness and rapid heart beat gets me every time. I get so scared of fainting. Are you feeling better?

Dear Sirs,
I have following symptoms:
1) Noises in head.
2) Severe pricking, shooting pain & tightness in chest muscles & up to abdomenal muscles.
3) Seven years of these symptoms & no medicine works .
Kindly advise & oblige.
Thanks and best regards,