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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

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

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.

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 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.

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. :(

Hi I too am going through depression and anxiety. I know its scary and my kids and grandkids have moved away. My husband is here after he finishes work but i know how you feel. My husband was in the defence force for 28 years.

Just register to your brain the last time that you went to the hospital or a doctor that there’s nothing wrong with you, Call for help (911) is not gonna help you it makes you more anxious. “Are they gonna be on time while I’m still breathing where are they now?) your relying to someone for help cause you are thinking that your gonna die or passing out. Quote me on this I have the situation that your having Rigth now I know very well that is not easy. didn’t go to work for two year cause of anxiety and panic Attack. Trust me dude just accept all things in life and that’s how you will cope up. Email me if your anxiety is over the roof I will tell you how I did I cope up.. chees and good luck kinnm@outlook.com

Hi Lachele how are you? I was just reading about the heart racing. I used to have that really bad, I would experience it in the morning and evening for months. It was very very intense, I thought I was having a heart attack many times. One thing I found that helped me was, whenever my heart would race, if I put my face in front of a hard blowing fan and just breathed deeply in my heart rate would start to calm down after 10 - 15 mins. The cold air blowing on my face seemed to really help. I dont know if your still experiencing the heart racing or not. I thought I would just suggest that. I know It's not very nice. Mine went away after a while. I had it day after day and never had a heart attack. I slowly got better, I hadnt had anxiety for years up until a couple of months ago. Now have been told I have GAD. Ive had many differant symptoms from tight chest.hard breathing, sore back. Constant anxiety in my stomach. Burning in my stomach. Sore/numb left arm sometimes dizzy. I have some good days and some bad. It was comforting to read other stories of people going through it. I hope you recover quickly. God bless.

My anxiety is going on 3 months now. It is so horrible, I get heat rising up the back of my neck and down my arms. Headaches, dizziness you name it. Went to ER had MRI CT SCAN EKG BLOOD TESTS, Everything is fine. I think the doctors are lying lol. Anxiety puffs up so big but I need to minimize it to succeed. Good luck yall

Hello im also young 26 year old and i have really bad anxiety! I can be resting and out of nowhere my heart races to 130 bpm and i panic i try so hard to not let it get to me any advice ?? On how to cope ? I tried everything i just fear the worse 😩

I hope all is well in your marriage and i hope you are socialising with other like yourself. I dont want to ask any questions...... Skype every day with those fro home. Try to keep a part of your life as your own. Even if thats an hour a week. If childcare cost is any issue at all for you to get that hour explain that its much much cheaper than therapy. Access any navy support available. Dont be lonely.

This is very true. When you resist, it's worse. When you don't resist the thoughts or physical sensations, it tends to be easier to cope with. I been through the out of body feeling, heart Palps, panic, chest pain, arm aches, late night Google searches, mediation, exercise, vitamins, acupuncture etc. Etc. Not resisting seems to ease anxiety the fastest. Hypnotherapy was also helpful.

Melly

September 26, 2018

In reply to by Jon Prego

Im dealing with it and it's extremely scary and i need someone to talk to please
I have palps ,chest pain and it's scary for me first time dealing with it anyone willing to talk to me privately

What kind of breathing sensations are you having i think im having the Same

I have it really really bad where I think I’m sick or I have cancer maybe that’s why I’m anxious all the time can someone please talk to me in private as well I been googling for days I’m scared

I am feeling the same but willing to talk to you! How are u?

hi there
I have bad anxiety , I like to talk to you and sharing experience information

Hello all, it's good to see that I am not alone going through this struggle. It is also sad to see so many of us struggling. I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety with depression. I just recently moved to Georgia and it is heightened again especially at night. I have been dealing with this going on 3 years, the medication helps but I'm still struggling.

Been struggling for years! I've had anxiety my whole life but was never diagnosed until 3 years ago, when I felt like I was having a heart attack. I was given anxiety pills but nothing changed. It actually got worse. But my dr never really explained anything to me. Just wrote a script and sent me away. I was not satisfied, and still believed that I might be suffering from a heart problem. Since then, I've been to the ER twice having chest pain, confused, breathing problems, scared out of my mind! I'm reading everyone's comments here, and it's very relieving to know I'm not alone and I'm not crazy!

Cherokee sanders

January 24, 2019

In reply to by Heather Blankenship

I feel the exact same way I’ve been dealing with it for years last Friday night had I really bad panic Attack been back and forth to the er cause I’m concerned about my heart the all told me the same thing nothing life threatening just need to learn how to cope with it also im wrecking my brain on google

Hey I just started this on Monday. I understand what your going through. They all tell you to juat realy and calm down but its not that easy. So far the best thing for me has been finding someone to talk to. I dont have many but I find them I guess. If you would like to talk let me know.

About two or three weeks ago I had panic attacks in waves three days straight. Now it's just overwhelming anxiety day after since then. I want to level back out without medicine but I feel like I'll never feel better.

The entire last week feels like one huge panic attack that is never ending. It's been debilitating. Now the stress from not being able to function enough to work, take care of my little girl, pay bills, or even take proper hygiene care of myself can make it feel unbearable. Finally made it, somehow, into my psychiatrists office a few days ago. The main thing I'm missing, is the talk therapy, to learn new ways to cope. If you need to talk or vent or share please dont hesitate to contact me at afeeney1@gmail.com. Anyone for that matter. It can feel so lonely in this world when we are dealing with mental illnesses and it's a damn shame bc there are millions out there amd spme of us just need a shoulder to cry on or some need that person who will drag them to treatment amd be there supporter.

Nicole

February 12, 2019

In reply to by Heather Blankenship

You are not alone. I was at the ER today bc I was convinced after a week of panic attacks chest pain, arm pain, jaw pain. (That I still have) that I was having a heart attack. All test came back negative!