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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.

Justin

December 16, 2018

In reply to by Melly

I just stumbled apon this in the middle of dealing w my own episode. I hope you are doing better or improving. If not, I get it as I have been dealing with this for 6 years (in a heightened stage for 6 and not being able to identify for way longer). Anyways, if you need any words, write back.

Alot of this stuff for me is up and down.

-justin

Jmogoblue@gmail.com

Anxiety is ruining my life!! I feel like I am dying. Going insane. I don't know if I can take much more of this. Been dealing with it for years and years off and on. But here lately it is worse than ever and I am tired. ☹

Hi, I know how you feeling. Heart is racing, confusion, terrible thoughts, avoiding things, sweating and fear. I'm going through all of this at the moment. It's all caused by tiniest stress that gets you more and more anxious. At first change your thinking , look at sun, child, pet and have a smile and it'll go for a couple of seconds. To get yourself back to reality lookup Dr Joe dispenza , best stuff. After 40 min. You tube video you will be back as long as you can keep the thinking. There is meditation app called headspace must have app to relieve stress and anxiety. By the way I have severe anxiety and I'm going through without meds. I think meds are just short term help , not fixing anything. But mindfulness is the thing we are all after. Remember those are just thoughts, it's not you, you can't controll them so just let them pass. Stay positive.

Its my first time feeling like this ever. Never felt like this for the whole life only just past few days. Recently im scared of heart attacks, anxiety attack. Everything I know is all in my head and i dont even know how to get them out. All i can feel is nothing and its like i can’t do anything anymore but lay down. Now i want to challenge myself if i can conquer it by not thinking about it and try to forget it by everything i do when i go out.

I'm exactly the same. Anxiety is ruining My life and it's such a shame as I'm only 22. I had to quit my job because of it, i haven't left the house in weeks. I get fast heat rate, palpatations, dizziness like am going to pass out, sweaty and shakey hands, chest pains and tightness, I struggle to sleep, I feel sick most days, I feel disconnected from my body, feel like am losing it, i have 1 panic attack nearly every day where I feel like am just going to collapse and die.. honestly it's the worst disease anybody could try handle alone, so just know your not alone, I suffer every single day! I try meditation and breathing techniques that come sometimes help but a lot of the times it doesn't nothing my thoughts of worrying take over. I've also experienced numbness and tingles up my arms and legs .. so many worrying scary symptoms. What's I'm most affraid of is if I do have a underlying heart problem or condition and because I'm young the doctors just fob me of and say im healthy because I'm young and give me anxiety tablets. If I do have anxiety then I'm worried my poor body is going to suffer in the long run with all the strain and stress It go's through every day, it's like a never ending vicious cycle, you feel like you need a new body and brain!

You just described exactly how I've been feeling lately. I'm honestly tempted to quit my job and check myself into a mental health facility bc I don't know what to do to make it to away. Everyday is a struggle and it takes all my energy just to get through work. I don't have a social life anymore bc of it and it's hard to even work out. I was going out everyday and just fine a month ago and it all of the sudden took over me. For anyone that's felt this way, how do you overcome it??

I literally have underlying health problems too which is why it scares me so much I’m currently sitting in the ER for the 5th time this month because my symptoms were scaring me so bad. Everything looks weird like I’m almost on acid or something, my head is tingling, chest pains, chest tightness, feeling like I’m going to die. It’s horrible can somebody please text me I really need support and need to calm down and can’t 5138833057

Peter

December 21, 2018

In reply to by Melly

I understand where you are coming from. Let's talk.

Hey Mel! Are u feeling any better?

Hi just saw your post and seeing how your coping since then. I just started with anxiety attacks

Eamonn ONeill

December 21, 2018

In reply to by Melly

Hey Mel, it's pretty terrifying the first time it happens. I thought I was going crazy, that soon my mind would just fall away like wet cake. I'd recommend getting a book by Claire weeks called self help for your nerves. It explains things really well, and gives you good coping skills. Your anxiety will spike when you initially try to get better, don't be disheartened by this, or anything that feels like a backstep. Give yourself time, by kind to yourself. Everything will be fine, it seems completely overwhelming now but I promise you will feel better soon. Seek help, and be patient, things will simmer down and you will go back to feeling your old self.

So I’ve suffered with panic disorder since I was 7. My mom worked at the hospital and when I was little I would want to go visit her and when I would go inside I would freak out and have a panic and feel like I was going to die any minute. They would put me in a room and give me a breathing treatment and one day they gave me one without medicine to see if it was in my mind and it was ! I felt better after I had the treatment and my dad told me there was no medicine in it so they could see if it was in my head or not. Back in 2012 I had agoraphobia and didn’t leave my house for 1 year I was afraid to do anything. I’m always afraid I have cancer or a brain tumor and I worry about it so much I can’t eat and I feel like I have the symptoms of it. And I have seen like 3 drs that have told me I am fine. It’s always nice to know when someone else is going through the same thing you are!

I to have these thoughts and I think my main fear is just dying young because I'm affraid of what will become of my loved ones I've had every test done and everything comes back normal so we just have to work on telling ourselves that we are ok and go thru it one day at a time

Hi Mel.
I hope you are coping, you are not alone in this I have just been through it for two years and I've managed it so far. But it does get less and less

Hey I’m reply to Mel sorry this is so much later then September but I’ve had anxiety since I was 24 when I randomly had a panic attack while on my families couch. I’m 31 now and I still have little bouts of panic and anxiety just out of the blue. I’ve done all the things these other people have tried and yes it’s extremely scary even now, but that is only your brain tricking you! I can’t say it’ll help you because everyone has their own techniques but I usually feel very hot and that’s the start of it so I casually get an ice pack and just move it around my face, neck, and chest area, not focusing on the panic but just to help ease the symptoms. When your brain starts to race it’s beat to do something you’re comfortable with like I will break out a favorite game on my phone while I just pace back and forth slowly focusing my mind on something else helps immensely! and trust me I’ve had some panic attacks that have made me say out loud “OMG this is insane!” But learning to conquer your anxiety by saying “this is something I’ve done hundreds of times, I know I’m not in danger, I’m fine, this will all be over soon”. Also I will just mentioning talking to someone REALLY helps! Just mentioning to a friend or spouse, “hey I’m feeling a little anxious for some reason” and having them say “you’re ok” does help to bring in perspective you’re indeed not in danger even if your brain can’t think it itself. I hope this reaches you and overtime I hope you’ll reach out to someone going they anxiety for their first time and are able to provide your own techniques, we are all in this together. Take care.

How are you? Are you ok?
I just saw your post by visiting this site.....

Hello Anel don’t know if anybody has answer your message about anxiety before. But all I. Can tell you is that I’m going through my second anxiety apisone in 4 years and it’s being very bad. A have new sensations in my body. And it scared the life out me still. Tsymptoms come and go but still bad. It’s very hard for us that are going through this.

Elizabeh

January 28, 2019

In reply to by Melly

I have extreme anxiety, I have for the past 4 years I’m currently at my worst state ever so if you need to chat I’m here! I’ve had almost ever symptoms possible xx My gmail is monteliz55555@gmail.com

Have you had symptoms of pressure from your anxiety in your head, where it feels deep and causing headaches all the time. It feels like it’s putting a strain on you, like you need to check your blood pressure or something like that? Just wondering thanks!

Yes - a very common symptom of anxiety attacks. I’m 50 and had this stuff going on since I was 18. How is that for a track record?
My final thing that alleviated this was a realization that “hey, if this was life threatening, it would have killed me a long damn time ago.” Hard to condition yourself to that but it’s helped over the years.

I find getting in routines help immensely. As humans, we are conditioned animals. Doing things on a scheduled pattern (I absorb myself in work) even when we don’t want to.

I also practice positive self talk like “I’m one of the strongest people on the planet to put up with this shit! God gives it time because I’m a warrior and can handle this. He knows I’m tough as nails.”

Had every symptom known to man due to anxiety and depression. Fear of losing control. Unable to focus. Numbness. Tingling. Shortness of breath. Rapid heartbeat. Feeling trapped. Restless and jittery.

Mine comes and goes over the course of the better part of 30 years. I’ve fought so many battles with it and come out like a stronger person every time.

When it tears it’s ugly head, I actually don’t run from it. I say: “I see you’re back you a-hole. Just try to break me. I dare you. I’ve beaten you countless times.”

And, the best advice I can give you all is do not go off medication if you are on it You think you don’t need it and the crap always comes back. As a guy, did that countless times and it’s not a good decision. I’ve decided to continue Lexapro for life. I’ve got a lifelong condition no different than diabetes and it’s something that I need to treat. Eff it. If I can handle mental health, I can handle any physical disease that comes my way. Probably the toughest battle one can ever fight is the one in their own mind.

And, yes, I’ve had many great moments in my life despite this garbage. I’ve

I suffer really bad with my anxiety and panic attacks it’s been 4years now I am so scared and feel so alone I cry all the time from getting up to go to bed it is none stop with chest pain numbness in my face jaw pain you name it I have had it. I have tried everything cbt hypnotherapy 3 times meds it got to point now the doctors said there can’t do anything more for me all I want is to be happy again xxx

Simone

February 8, 2019

In reply to by Melly

When I feel anxious i go blank and feel stressed. I get anxious when people talk about jokes and when I don’t find it funny when jokes are about me. And make me feel not happy with myself.

Estela

February 9, 2019

In reply to by Melly

Hey Mel I know how you feel. It’s a hopeless feeling. I’m tired of it wish this feeling didn’t exist. Lately I’ve been feeling the heart palps my body feels weak i feel like I’m sick and I just don’t know anymore I’m here if you need to talk ♥️

Hey anyone willing to speak about anxiety privately I’m up for it been suffering with anxiety and I get all physical symptoms and have the worst panic attacks so if anyone is up for a chat

K. Stewart

February 17, 2019

In reply to by Melly

I have had them for years. My very first one occurred while I was driving and scared me so bad. I went and talked to my Dr. and he knew immediately what I was trying to explain. I have been on meds now ever since. I currently take Prozac to manage my attacks and so far, it has helped. The best thing for you to do.is to see your Dr. Always try to remain calm and take deep slow breaths. I hope this helps.

Gabby

February 20, 2019

In reply to by Melly

I totally understand what your going thru the feeling of always being scared is there non stop it helps me to try and understand why I’m feeling this way and to tell myself there’s nothing wrong it’s easier said than done because our minds don’t allowe us to understand I absolutely hate because at the end of the day nothing has or will happen and I put myself Thur hell worring about nothing at all. I also try and keep my mind busy by thinking of a letter and seeing how many fruits or veggies I can name associated with that letter seem silly but it helps me to fall asleep. When my breathing gets to the point that I’m hyperventilating I try to control my breathing by imagining that I have a lit candle right in front of me and it have to make sure that I study my breathing just enough to incision the candles flame just dancing and not to be blown out and before o know it my breathing is much better I hope this helps even if it for a little while.

I have been going through the same for about 2 months now... i started to see a school therapist and taking CBD. It seems to be helping me a lot but I’m still struggling to cope with it. My advice is drink a hot or warm tea. Practice breathing exercises and accept your fears. Your heart palps is just your body’s response to the fear and the in danger feeling. Think of your anxiety as excitement and create it to a positive state of mind and focus on a positive thing or things. I hope this helps.

Hiya mel am Laura. I have had anxiety for months now I am sorry to hear about yours. It is hard especially with all the symptoms I had room spinning feeling like I was falling. headaches frightened all the time. I really understand how you feel I find that going for a walk or just going in your town helps take you mind of it. I really hope you start feeling better soon just remember you have anxiety but anxiety does not have you. Am here if you ever want to talk

If this is still relevant I wouldn’t mind talking with you about this.

I'm aware that you made this comment a while ago, but I've been dealing with severe anxiety problems/disorders for years upon years. If you need to talk, get advice or reassurance feel free to message me on either instagram @monarchsinmarch or Facebook @Colin Handy. Hope you're well! Also this comment goes for everyone. I'm always willing to help anyone with anxiety issues, seeing as they're all I know.

Hey just sent this now but I been dealing with anxiety for many years now , comes and goes actually goin through it these days for the past week .... reply if ever u wanna talk about it , would help both of us I think

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