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.

That is absolutely awful.. I'm so sorry you have to go through that. I've been having anxiety/ panic attacks every now and then. It normally happens when I'm waking up from a deep sleep and my heart is at like 150.. if I can talk to someone that calms me down but there are times I've had to call 911 so I could make sure I didn't pass out or worse die with my kids here alone.. but when they showed up I'd be pretty much okay and they would say my BP is good. That I'm young and seem healthy so I shouldn't worry. But it's so scary.. and it's really hard to handle... my husband is in the navy and I have no family that lives near us.. so its rough.. but honestly I didn't really have many panic attacks until after I came off of depo.. I just want to find a way to calm myself down and also to not keep waking up that way..

First of all just want to say hi. I have had anxiety for months now it's the worst feeling ever I have found it hard. I went to my gp and the put me on antidepressants there slowly working I find that going out with your kids and friends really helps take your mind of things. I know its hard but stand with your head up high and beat it you've got anxiety but anxiety has not got you.

I’ve had anxiety on and off now for a few months, worst months we’re the ones at the beginning, then I was fine for around 3 weeks before I relapsed because I have health anxiety. The thing that worries me the most is the dizziness and rapid heart rate from anxiety and I ‘believe’ that I might faint, and it’s so bad sometimes that I cry, I’ve had 1 session of cbt and hopefully I’ll get over these feelings soon

Your thinking that you have this you have that heart problem or any kind of health problem. But your not, until now I have symptoms and sometimes I’m so time at work coming home driving then all the sudden my heart beat went so fast and like I’m gossiping for air. That’s your mind telling you fight or flight respons out of no where you have this uncomfortable situation that you cannot explain. It’s your thought worrying about your body that it’s not supposed to.

How are you? I also dunno what to do with myself, i also have health anxiety and my BP always went high when im having anxiety and it really worries me like everyday and im afraid it might affect my heart :(

Same it s???? I get scared of my symptoms like my heart racing, heart pounding, body, numbness, dizzy like fainting or im doom, thinking i have something wrong with me, tumor in my , body shaking. No life

I am suffering so bad with panic and anixety disorder I hate it been ok. For few weeks and managed it now its come back like a Ton of bricks a few days ago and I feel crazy like I've lost my mind and try and block anixety out my head and it dont work I keep shaking too I get scared of pounding heart racing and think the worst is going to happen to me and that makes more anixety goes round and round want to get leave me alone

I feel this completely. I always feel like everything is not real. I feel scared of everything. It seems like I’m not looking out of my own eyes for some reason. It’s scary. I manage it as best I can for the most part. But it’s difficult. Then you start to feel like a burden to those around you who you feel most comfortable with, when the panic comes out.

Hey, i also have severe panic disorder and what you guys are describing is dissociation. It can usually come in two ways, depersonalizatiom and derealization. And it kinda sounds like youre experiencing both. Dissociation is a big part in a lot if peoples anxiety and can happen pretty often. Im not sure if you guys know about ir already but im hoping that teaching you about it and telling you a name for it will put it at ease, it usually helps me calm down when i can put a name to something instead of letting my mind wander off to me having all kinds of different things. Derealization is kind of like you arent really where you are. You cant grasp the fact that youre at home or at school or at work or you cant grasp the concept that youre alive, youre human, and it makes everything just not feel... right. It doesnt feel right that youre awake right now or that youre working or watching tv or eatin ect. Youre tuned out of the whole world and just trapped in your subconscious. Depersonalization is when youre our of your body, youre blanked, everything is fuzzy or blurry, you know youre alive and sitting down talking to people but at the same time youre /not there/ youre floating or trapped in this void in your head and you feel like you cant take control of your body or your mind. Its a very contradicting experience and very scary for anyone who experiences it i know and i encourage you both to read more into it and about dissociating and learning some coping mechanisms for it. Sometimes its easier to let it pass, and the best thing to tell yourself is that /this will end/ you know it will end because you remember it ending before, dont focus on how you feel like youll always be like this cause you won't, and dont think about how scary it is just tell yourself this is a natural reaction your brain goes through when you have anxiety or trauma and it will be over before you know it. I hope this helped a bit, ive seen that not a lot of people really know or understand what dissociation is.

Anxiety can trigger symptoms such as derealization/depersonalisation disorder symptoms often include feeling disconnected from yourself and reality, running on auto pilot, feeing like your living in a dream world etc.

Am having the same problems. I have had panic attacks and anxiety solid for 2 years now every day and at present its alot worse.i have tried everything but nothing works .my worst symptoms are the rapid heartbeat and the internal shaking .it drives me crazy .just to say you are not alone.

Me too it's hard to cope but Im still fighting. I think about heart, dizzy, feeling numb on my body or can't walk, pressure in my head thinking I have a tumor or going to stroke this suck.

Hi everyone I’m so sorry to everyone going through this.Does anyone on here have chest tightness that makes u feel like u can’t breathe?Idk if it’s because I had breast implant removed or is it just my chest it gets so tight I get terrified I can’t get enough air and really when it’s high and also in my neck feels choked

Yes, I too get chest tightness that lasts for days at a time. Your body tenses up, especially around your main organs, during an attack. It is the body’s natural instinct to brace for imminent danger. My chest will be sore for days sometimes after intense attacks.

Just one thing I seem to experience different... does anybody else's eyes go weird? Dont know how to explain it other than that but they're like blurry, or don't properly take things in. I feel drunk when im experience bad anxiety! Anyone else??

Hi, Lily. I get that too. Pupils dilate during panic attacks, apparently, so that’s why the blurry vision or light sensitivity. You can also get “stars” or “flashers” and tunnel vision. My panic attacks started at the same time I started getting optical migraines (the visual effects of a migraine without the headache), so there’s all kinds of freaky possibilities.

I get panic attacks when I get Migraine with auras as well and it last for days ( the panic ) what have u done about it ???

Hi Lily. I to experience my eyes doing strange things like my vision is kinda off somewhat blurry and just not normal. It’s kinda like a hangover. Hope this helps your not alone.

Hi Lily,

I do too, i get blurry vision with light dizziness, and headaches, some time it last for a couple of hours.
Try to sit down, close your eyes and practice breathing exercises, it could help a bit.

I agree; i feel exactly the same. The worst part is when it all comes all of a sudden; i could be driving or working in the office minding my own business; and boom heart palpitations, dizziness, feeling like I am going to faint, trembling, etc. i usually take 10 deep breaths and that really helps but then the whole day/week is ruined because I’m worry it will happen again..I actually think talking with friends helps, going for a walk, and just realizing that this is all anxiety and nothing will happen (i know this is super hard)

I have the exact same feelings. My heart rate keeps going up for no reason out of nowhere accompanied by nausea and every symptom you've stated. This is a new sensation for me just started about a month ago. But ive had 3 panic attacks this week. Its awful.

I have experienced anxiety for years my symptoms are negative thinking, worrying and ocd this has troubled me for some year i have been on medication in the past which did help although now i have had a relapse. Stress has triggered my anxiety back again after many years it's awful feeling and now all of my symptoms have returned i am coping a little better than the first time but may need help again.

I have fought with the anxiety panic nonsense most of my life. At times it was terrifying. My symptoms have ranged from adrenaline washing over me to pressure in my head feeling like its bulging my eyes out and I will die at any moment! Dizziness, clammy hands, fast heartbeat, vision closing in, and the list goes on! And of course all these symptoms make me worry! The viscous cycle! Sometimes there is an obvious "what if" thought that starts it all up and sometimes there's nothing easily identifiable. However with me, there is usually something that triggers it. Claire Weeks wrote a book many years ago called Hope and Help for your Nerves. This book saved my life with its simple technique. I do take Sertraline and it helps but Claire's technique give me something I can use anytime. And for me it works! The technique is a bit counter intuitive in that you need to face the anxiety. When we turn away from it, it might go away temporarily but seems to always be right behind me. Facing it and accepting it is key. Those horrible looping thoughts don't have to control me. I sometimes just look at them and accept them as nothing more than thoughts. As I look at them they diminish but it can be uncomfortable at first until you see how much it helps. I highly recommend Claire's book. I think she was way ahead of her time and she must have had anxiety herself to understand so well. Bottom line is I know it works! Face it, accept it and let time pass... that's pretty much the technique. A few days ago, after years of not having any significant anxiety I had some recurring health symptoms that I have been worrying about. It took me a while to connect the dots but eventually realized I was having my old unwelcome guest for a visit. I started using the technique and truly within a day I am feeling significantly better. One thing I notice with my anxiety is I breath too much which causes hyperventilation, which exacerbates the problem with tingling, more dizziness, more eye issues and just basic feelings of impending doom. There is great advice on this website! Don't feel alone and realize you'll be ok! It's not often that I tear up writing a post but I know how you feel and it can be horrible! You will be ok!!!
PS sorry for such a long post!

Hi my anxiety is really bad some days i cant cope i just want to run away because of it does anybody get feeling in there head with this because i do and it s so frightning

You are not alone, im 33 years old and have had this terrible mental disease we call anxiety for 13 + years. It can really takeba toll at times. You just have to fight it and tell yourself its just anxiety im not really gonna die or faint or be stuck like this. Its temporary. Keep fighting and dont give up.. I came on here because im having one tonight. I hope to get to sleep and let it pass. God bless you, i hope you stay strong.

I'm also 33 years old. Diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder and suffering from this terrible disorder since 2015. It just started when I had Hyperthyroidism and gave me lots of horrible symptoms like constant nervousness, high blood pressure, insomnia, fast heart beat, fatigue, etc. I wasn't able to work properly at all so I decided to quit my good job. Underwent Radioactive Iodine Therapy for my thyroid few weeks after my resignation. I thought everything will go back to normal after that but unfortunately, those horrible symptoms stay in my system up to the present moment. Tired visiting ER every now and then because of the thought of having a heart attack due to breathing difficulty, or raptured aneurysm due to severe tension headache/ migraine, or stroke due to high blood pressure and numbness, or just the thought of passing out due to nervousness. Went to a Family Doctor, Cardiologist, Neurologist, Endocrinologist and everybody tells me I'm fine and all the tests are clear. Visited Psychiatrist and prescribed me Anxiolytic drug, Anti depressant and Anticonvulsant, but they all made my anxiety worse. I went to different Psychiatrist for a 2nd opinion but it was just the same. Didn't find myself comfortable talking to them. I have a very smart and handsome 7-year old son with me and my husband is working in other country. I'm taking care of my son all by myself. Some days when I feel calm, my bp is just around 90-120 over 60-80. But when my anxiety is at its peak it goes high up to 140-170 over 80-100 and I can't function at all due to nervousness, tense muscles, chest tightness, stomach pain, difficulty breathing, numbness, headache and more. It makes me more anxious thinking about severe illness or being bedridden or death and the pain it will bring to my husband and son if this will happen. I'm tired pretending I'm okay in front of other people and act normal when going to my son's school, market, relatives houses, etc, while my whole body is so tensed and restless and in pain. I need someone to talk to and understands what I'm going through. Life must go on not for ourselves but for the people who depends on us. Just keep doing something to divert our minds and make it busy. Talking to someone you trust is important. And most of all try to surrender our worries to God. I know it's hard to surrender it and not to get worried about it when you feel it. But acceptance is the key. Accept and keep doing something significant. We'll overcome this guys.

Im feeling the same way. Message me and we can talk. I can give you my number

Hi i would also like to talk about anxiety i been suffering with anxiety for 12 years now im 33 years old and i take xanax and it seems to make me worse heres my number 9178217218

Hi Erika,
i will talk to you about anxiety,i have h/a and have had it for the last 25 years.
It is awful,i have tried everything to be rid of it,and i truly believe the only way out of it is to ride the train of anxiety.Yes go with it,it is really hard and i have not done it yet but i hope one day i will.
I wait at the station and the train stops but i never get on it.The whistle blows and it goes without me.I drive my wife crazy with my questions about my health,but one thing Erika [NEVER GOOGLE].
I let my wife look for me then i have to believe her answer,not easy either but if i look myself i scare myself so i do not look.
I believe the answer to anxiety does is not pills or cbt,but in our own mind,we should not believe all that it tells us,IT LIES.
I cannot phone you because i live in England,but i will try to help you all i can,after 25 years of this i really want rid of anxiety.
Best wishes to you Garry.