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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.

Mosey

February 13, 2019

In reply to by Heather Blankenship

Same exact thing although the meds did work but only temporarily.. chest pain that moves around, waking up in middle of night with catches of breathe and palps, scares the lights out of me but the doctor did work ups and says my health is fine.. its frustrating because its seems to get better for a couple days then bam! Right back and it gives the feeling of one step forward two steps back.. I would also like to speak with someone privately who would like to talk about these sensations. Thanks Everyone and stay strong

Emily Belliard

February 13, 2019

In reply to by Heather Blankenship

Omg the same thing happened to me. I’ve been feeling anxious for years but recently I had an anxiety attack for the first time and I felt like I was having a heart attack I thought my body was going to shut off. I really thought I was going to die. I only spoke to a nurse not a doctor so I don’t get any medication for it. But I still feel chest pain sometimes and I’m still worried. I’m also worried about why so many people are going through this.

Hi Emily,

I hope you are feeling better. I also have always been an anxious person but never started to have attacks till recently. It definitely feels like I may be having a heart attack like you described above. I wish I knew how to deal with it and what triggers it. I am not on any medication for it either and don't really want to be. Have you ever heard of cognitive behavior therapy or tried that? I also wonder why so many people seem to suffer from this as well. Well if anything it definitely feels a little better having typed this out. Maybe group support is a good thing.

Stacy

February 17, 2019

In reply to by Heather Blankenship

I’ve gone to the hospital too, urgent care, a neurologist, my primary care Dr. who gave me Wellbutrin which is not working I actually think it’s making me depressed and I do not have depression. I have Xanax right now the only thing that seems to help. Had all of the symptoms, heart palps,sharp shooting pains in my head, chest pains, sweating, clammy, numbness, tingling, electric shock feeling, zoning out, dizzy,
I don’t like being by myself it’s worse then and my thoughts go crazy so I have to stay busy or sleep otherwise I’m making myself have the what if thoughts. This is just an awful thing. I just made an appt. with Psych Dr. it’s time for the specialist to handle this. Praying I get back to normal soon. I hope you all get better and I’m sorry you are struggling.

Hi everyone I'm crystal 25 and struggling really bad, I've never been or had anxiety until now it all started when I had
bad headache (tension type) and I got my partner to massage my neck and he found a lump on the side of my neck then silly me started to stress out and google google google! Went to docs and said it was a swollen lymph node and it wasn't bad and not to worry but i freaked myself out to the point I'm now experiencing all these physical symptoms fast heart rate,nervous feeling tingling and numbness all over body I've been to doctor multiple times Ed more than 3 times with all these weird feelings I can not sleep at all because every time I try calm myself my body send this shock like feeling through my body it's the worst feeling in the world I went 48hours without sleep and they gave me sleeping tablets that only give me 4-5 hours of sleep at max and I was only aloud to take them for 5 days but my body is constantly feeling all theses sensations and I've now been awake for 32 hours can someone please talk to me or send me in the right direction I have 3 beautiful babies and I'm struggling and a nervous wreck. Some of these comments have made me feel a bit better knowing I'm not alone, but I'm so worried about the not sleeping!

Hey I hear ya , I’ve been suffering this for many years and it comes and goes . Like right now I been goin through tut for a week off and on , and I feel the same way U do , feels like my whole body vibrates and feel nervous inside . Light headed at times .... and google is ur worst enemy btw .... chat anytime u want , we all can help each other out .... e_man_187@hotmail.com if ever u wanna email to chat about this shit

Hi crystal I was the same as you at the start Then got a bit better now am back to the start again how mine started was with sore heads and I went on goggle and bam I thought I have a brain tumour then my hole world fell apart panic attacks the lot I still get them to this day 4 months all in it’s a scary thing to be going through but if you need to speck to someone just send me a mail it’s sha311003@aol.com I would love to hear from you as we could try help each other 👍🏻

Laura

February 28, 2019

In reply to by Heather Blankenship

Can’t even stay still, shaking all over, not sleeping or eating

Im the same. I have zero appetite and losing weight by the day. Can relaz at all nor sleep. All bad thoughts always. Worried about health conditions i actually have that arent getting better. Don't knkw what to do but every second is hell. Meds make me ten times worse cant cope with side effects and become so needy

Kim

March 27, 2019

In reply to by Heather Blankenship

First,
I’m so sorry everyone is going through this anxiety symptoms...
I went through with nauseousness,dizzyness, can’t eat,can’t drink,cant sleep,shackyness,felt doomed and felt like I can’t get a breath so I used to ran out of the house to catch a breath......
Went to ER and they gave me some purple med to help me digest food and obviously that didn’t work,
Went to phycalogist and told her “ it made me feels like I’m dieing...” and she asked “ why are you afraid of dieing?” I just felt more hopeless than ever.
So went back to family doctor who gave me Xanax and can’t function because I was so sleepy and fear of getting addicted I stop taking it.
All these happen to me twenty years ago.
Looking back on those times i think what made it worse was I didn’t know anything about anxiety symptoms because twenty years ago I didn’t have access to web site like this.

Long story short my neighbor told me about her experience with depression/ anxiety and told me to go to her psychiatrist and he put me on some depression med for about 6 month and I felt better than ever!

Some days I still feel little anxious for no reason and I read this quote,

“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious,
You are living in the future.
If you are at peace,
You are living in the present”

Suzanne

April 5, 2019

In reply to by Heather Blankenship

I'm just suddenly getting extreme anxiety attacks and very irritable maybe it's the new medicine they put me on xanxiety this stuff is supposed to help anxiety I believe it can be make it worse sometimes I have had heart palpitations racing heart feeling faint and weak and trouble swallowing sometimes some scary crap that's for sure I hope yours gets better

Lisa

April 22, 2019

In reply to by Heather Blankenship

If it mak s you feel better get a full workup, do ekgs, blood work, check your thyroid, do a heart monitor, a tilt table test for blood pressure, heart sonogram do all the tests to eliminate anything physical. I’m surprised the doctor didn’t do a full workup, they supposed to then once you do all thes things you will see there is nothing wrong physically it’s just all in your head. Your mind will control your body giving you physical symptoms. But do the tests to eliminate all possible problems then you will know it’s just anxiety. That should give you a piece of mind and put your mind at ease

You guys are not alone even going through this from 2016 now it's 2019 symptoms gets worse these days. Feeling of panic,going crazy passing out, shortness of breath, cold hands and feet sometimes, numbness it's just too much.

I am the same way. I hwv had this for so long now & I just have this really weird feeling in my head I can’t shake. It’s so undescribable it’s scary. I keep thinking something is wrong with me nothing I do helps. I don’t know what else to do.

I have been dealing with this for almost three months. I have had test done on my heart. All came back normal. I’m still worried. I spend a lot of time looking up symptoms on the internet looking for reassurance. I would like to talk sometime.

Hello...I am using Dr. Google as well...lol...going to stop now...but every time I had some weird symptom I am always looking it up and going to the WORST conclusion first...lol...Everything is always the life threatening one. Have some pain in my lower back so it just HAS to be bone cancer which is like q 1% chance lol...keep your head up...it WILL pass in Jesus name...DON'T GIVE UP AND DON'T GIVE IN TO IT. Just know there are other here who have gone through and made it out.

Hi Cali. It's nice to know that you are not alone. I deal with the same exact feelings everyday. It's exhausting and starting to ruin my life

try not to be scared, take some deep breaths in and out when you breath out push the breath away with your hands this helps me a lot try to keep bussie and walk along the beach its very calming by the water look at the waves as they roar towards you let them wash your worries away take deep breath push it into the water and you will be fine love you take care ANNIE

I came here because im scared. Ive had
anxiety My whole.life as long as i can remember. after being put on birthcontrol 3 years ago my anxiety had been worse than ever and it gets worse every year. I went from 2 Panic attacks a years to two panic attacks a week. My panic attacks involve heart palps and a tight chest next my body starts shaking and.my speech becomes fast and slurred Lastly i throw up and its finnally over 😞. Sometimes if im angry and having a anxiety attack i black out and maby end up hurting myself or someone else. my anxiety is at its worse this year. I cant keep a job. I cant sit still im always shaking or moving or biting my nails. I cant eat or finish eating with out feeling sick. i dont leave the house when i do i talk and walk fast because people make me nervous and. Nervous give me major anxiety. And the facts that im homeless because i cant keep a job. for the past 3 days my chest has been tight, stomach has been in a knot and my head has been beating constantly like im having a constant 3 Day panic attack

im tired and my body is tired even when i wake up. I havent eaten this whole time. I tried to eat a salad but i couldnt even finish it because the knot in my stomach. i dont want to say Anxiety is killing me.but its hurting me bad and i dont know what to do

Shantell Neal

October 19, 2018

In reply to by Melly

I would be willing to talk to you. I have the same issues.

Candace

October 24, 2018

In reply to by Melly

I know what your feeling. I am try to deal with it to. I’m going to try and accept I’m having anxiety tell myself to go ahead. Since it seems that what’s happening anyway so I guess I should feel the fear which I don’t much like and hope I realize I’m wasting time on it hope it does happen again. I hate it as much ch as u do. I just want it to stop. I pray for it to stop for both of us.

Alyssa

October 26, 2018

In reply to by Melly

Hi ❤️ I understand what you are experiencing

You,re not alone. I had / have every physical symptom going. Constant light headed ness, Fatigue, back pain, chest pain, watering eye, numb feeling, head pressure, head aches, twitching eyes, insomnia feeling intrusive thoughts, constant internet searches looking for reassurance, tinnitus ....everything. Been like this over 12 month. Had the same symptoms 20 years ago, they eventually faded as life changed. Modern life burns people out but I know you get over it. Hope my experience helps.

Wow! This is exactly what I'm going through now. I have all the symptoms that you mentioned. Thank you so much that helps a lot.

Hi there
I've had these symptoms lately, had my baby 10 months ago.
Chest pain on a daily basis but DR said it's chostocondritis. Lately it's getting worse.. lightheadness, fatigue, sweats, trembling feeling all over body, lump in throat like I'm being strangled... I'm convinced I'm going to have a heart attack. I've been to 3 different GPs, 2 cardiologists and had all the tests, they've assured me I'm fine but i can't accept that...still convinced it's my heart. This has completely ruined my life, i find it hard to function on a daily basis. I should be enjoying this time with my first child but i constantly feel like death is around the corner...

Hi there ❤️ Just want to let you know we are in very similar situations and you are not alone. My baby girl is 9 months and I have been dealing with it since she’s been born. I have the worst health anxiety and feel like I am dying every day. I hate myself for letting this control my life I feel like I’m not enjoying her the way I should be since she is my first and I’ve always prayed for this life. I am here to talk. I recently spoke to my husband about it and made an appointment to see a psychologist. I’m scared of developing an illness that will kill me or prevent me from being able to care for my baby girl. Enough is enough

I feel like you are explaining me. I live daily in the fear of having a heart attack. All the same symptoms. Dr tells me I’m fine. Er did blood test. Ekg- urine- told me I’m fine. But here is sir snuggling my 19 month old with a heavy chest and jaw aching! I just want to feel better!

You're not alone. My anxiety flipped a switch one morning after waking up and my baby was also 10 months. I had been dealing with some anxiety post partum and was on meds that helped until she was almost 1. That morning, I had my first panoc attack, unexpected and scary as hell. 4 yeara later it comes and goes but this past week has been the worst so far. Going back to therapy in a couple weeks to learn how to cope. Over the 4 years my family amd friends are tired of me, my daughter can now, sort of see what's going on. It needs to stop. Plus in the past 4 years, I feel my body has aged 20 years and my face shows the toll its taken. I'm here for you momma.❤

Every since I was a kid I remember always being worried and scared, it got really bad in 2011 I suffered for 2 whole years, I wouldn’t even come out of my house. Right now I suffer from chest pains, lightheadedness, lump in my throat, feeling like I’m gonna pass out, I’ve lost so many good jobs because of this and people just don’t understand what we go through daily, I use to go to the ER 3 times a week, I just knew I had cancer, I’ve had every test you could possibly think of and all came back just fine, but I still keep telling them they’re missing something. Right now I’m sitting here with the lump in my throat and feeling lightheaded, so I started googling things and ended up on here. This has really stopped me from living my life. I’m so sorry we are going through this, I truly hope we can find away to get better soon ❤️

Hi

I have been dealing with OCD/anxiety since I was a child. I feel all the anxiety symptoms and I have also analyze all my bodily sensations. I started feeling lime I had a drifting pass out feeling when I am about to fall asleep that obsessed and scared me so much. It is horrible to have sever anxiety

You will make it I'm currently going through postpartum anxiety/depression and I was thinking just like you, felt like I would never make it out. But started buspirone and mirtazapine 15mg and once it got in my system things are headed back to being normal and the anxiety is no where near intense. It's also about letting the anxiety happen so your mind can realize ok it didn't hurt me and also staying positive. When the negative thoughts come I quickly think of something positive

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