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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.

If you can accept those anxious feelings, you will start feeling better. Easier said than done, I know, but you can do it. Remember that thoughts are only thoughts, and the physical symptoms aren't "something worse."

I hadnt been suffering from anxiety for a few years but Im in university now and its the worst its ever been. The mega hypochondriac inside me burst out. Now I cant stop worrying that something is wrong with me. My anxiety caused my sugar to go low and now Im worried that I have tumors on my pancreas. Ive seen 7 different doctors in a week for different things. I was afraid that I would die multiple times. I felt like I was dying a few times. I dont know how to fully get rid of these terrible feelings but I believe that it is just a horrible phase that will pass.

I completely understand how you’re feeling, I too get the feeling of immediate death. Currently I think my oesophagus has cancer in it and it’s hard to swallow, yet I can talk and move without being out of breath or any struggle. And I can say this is how I feel yet still have a voice in my head saying its true but I know it’s not. I've had anxiety for 3 years now first year was hell, consistent trips to doctors ( and hospitals) saying I’m dying of something new every day and wanting help to stop it. I had gotten to the point where I thought it would be easier to be dead because I won’t feel the pain anymore, but that’s my anxiety at its fullest.
And it’s now just slowly comes and goes, but I’m consistently reminding myself that I am healthy and OK and if there was actually something wrong it would have already been found by a doctor. I also drink lots of water (occasionally get anxious that I drink too much and will drown, I don’t drink that much really) and when I’m really badly anxious I walk up and down my hallway and it helps calm me down. Also one other tip when you are having anxiety attack your sugar levels are going down, best way to help them come back up and help take your mind of anxiety is ICY POLES! They will be your friend and they will help ease anxiety for you too. A friend said it to me just before I was wanting to take another trip to the hospital and within 15 minutes I was asleep in my bed and had a great night sleep and woke up feeling better. I also ate good food, that helped anxiety go down (apples are great for anxiety) but stick away from caffeine, fried food or lots of gluten products, I’m a large girl but I think from how scared I got the first time I had anxiety it scared me enough into sticking to eating right. I did lose weight by doing that but I also didn't eat for a week at one point from fear of chocking. I had lost 20 kilos in 2 and half months. My point in all of this is that yes you have anxiety, yes everything feels like it’s going to kill you. But it won’t. You will get through this. You are strong. And there will be a time where you will look back and see what dark place you came from and how you kicked anxieties butt!

I feel the same way as you. Keep praying and talking about it. Just about 2 months ago i was happy with no anxieties and a trauma event happen at work which brought out my anxieties about getting a disease and dying. Life is to short for this. I just want my mind back.

Hey guys,
I understand the feelings I’m 20 and been experiencing on and off anxiety since I was 13 years old. Sometimes it feels like the anxiety thoughts are real and you are truly in something dangerous but the truth is your brain makes up a ton of dark things. Maybe giving into it will help me. I fight it off too much and the truth is it only triggers my fight or flight response more. It’s ok to not feel ok. Anxiety can’t come out and hurt you. It’s all internal. We can’t let anxiety win. Keep trying because you really never know when it’s gonna be over and you will love your life.

This is the same thing my doctor taught me and he has some books out about it. One book is "Don't Panic" newest book is "stopping the noise in your head" I highly recommend both. I still suffer but I'm managing it. Peace

Abigail Hernandez

December 22, 2018

I need someone to talk to I just started feeling these attacks two weeks ago and its really scary,I honestly dont feel like doing anything I dont feel hungry either and I miss the things I use to do with my little family I can't even come home to my 8 month old baby boy because all I have is this nasty feeling I even cry because of the fear ..

Plx any body help out .my life has been hell since 4 years. I have confirmed my self to a room . I think every movement that I am going to die. I don't know what to do. Doctors only prescribe. Sleeping pills. Please any suggestions. And can extreme fear may lead to heart attack or cardiac arrest.
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I truly needed to hear this today! I couldn’t sleep thinking about a road trip my family is taking today! I was about to cancel plans but my kids deserve to go on trips! My inner me was telling me to confront my anxiety of being in a car with my kids but my anxiety took over! I will challenge myself and take the trip! I will meditate and move forward! I am strong and i know i can! I will cry if needed and accept my fears!!!! You are a Blessing!!!!! Thanks for the information!!!!!!

I'm dealing with anxiety and all of the lovely side effects that accompany it. If anybody ever needs to talk email me at staffeyw@yahoo.com. We can all help each other through these terrifying and trying times.

I have just recently moved out of house that I was sharing with my sisters. To by myself. I was so looking forward to it I had being so pumped. Then when I got the house keys last week all the anxiety kicked in I just felt like I didn’t want to move anymore I just want go back to sharing house with my sisters again. I feel so guilty because I was the person that I said I wanted to move out and that I had enough living with other people. My older sister is nervous and she had to budget so hard for getting her own little place. All I just feel is guilt because all I want to do is just go back and live with my sister again.

I have had Anxiety for approx 26Yrs and still fight with it everyday, the last 6 yrs I have had the disturbing thoughts which i hate the most and have read so much on it which is common with anxiety. Or i always switch to other thoughts like we get obsessed with them then get scared and anxious and think am i getting depressed because the anxiety just wont go, I know they say just go towards your anxiety but it is so hard when i have been like this for so long any good advice would be nice or should i just try my Paxil even though I do not like meds Thanks for any input!

Thankyou madam! As you have shared this useful information with us. Anxiety is not bad and also it is not a disease, it is naturall but doesn't mean that it is good to us. Over anxiety can make you mind dump easily.

I am dealing with it for the last 4 months now, its really hard, it affect my day. I want to get better tried all with the doctors recommendation but still the same, infact writing this now feels like i am having a hard time breathing its really sucks, sometimes i feel better but soon i said that in few minutes it attacks kinda funny sometimes, but really i am tired of it. Felt like sometime something on my throth that doenst help my breathing, sometimes i felt like i am having a heart attack, sweating,heart palping, shortness of breath, numbness on frontal face...ugh i thought was something else did all reapeted laboratory still all negative result. Good luck to all of us experiencing it.

I feel you’re pain. I love how the article says you won’t die from having a panic attack. If my panic attacks get too serious, I go into seizures. So now I get anxiety about having a seizure cuz I can feel when it’s coming on and my head starts twitching a little bit then it starts shaking violently and I fall flat on my face. Anxiety has limited my life! I can’t work any job especially with the public, I gotta have my Kpins, can’t go into crowds, Can’t speak my true feelings and I cant tell someone when I’m about to have a seizure cuz I feel humiliated by it and feel weak

I am having sudden heart palpation for past 4 days. Got to the hospital, all test came out normal. The doctor gave me some performance anxiety drug and tabs for relaxation sleeping pills. I knew that they will form a habit so I refused to take them. Fled from the place where I was living for 1 month, got back to my ancestral home where I was living for the past 4 years. It is surrounded by jungle. I am much relaxed here, yes there are sudden attacks but I start thinking that it is not life threatening and it will pass away after some time. I talked with a psychiatrist, he was advising me to start therapy with antidepressant medication for six months, I thought I am not falling for this trap, I consulted another psychiatrist and he said to wait for 3 weeks. I am fighting it on my own. I don't know why it started. My past story is that a month earlier my Uncle died, he was 49 and was ill, I had to move in that home to take care of my grandma, as I started to live there I got ill with typhoid, I recovered from it and was feeling well but now suddenly I got such anxiety attacks. I am also preparing for Civil Service Exams (India) One of the toughest exams in the world so preparation also takes a toll, anyway I like to study so it was not much of problem. But my Uncle's death was a real shock to the whole family. I changed place immediately I was having thought that I am also going to die there. That house vibes did not suit me. Now I am feeling much better in my real home and hoping that it will all go away within a few days.

Anxiety/Depression

January 25, 2019

I have terrible anxiety and depression. My arms and legs will go numb or ache and feel really heavy. I’ll get migraines. Vomiting. Dizziness. Everything hurts and tingles. My eyes have these terrible dark circles around them and I am at my wits end. I’m constantly crying. I just don’t know what to do.

Mines weird. I feel like I’m going nuts and can’t focus on anything. It just never stops. I feel like I might have a stroke or something. I overthink things like how do I see or talk and worry about forgetting how to do those things. It’s torture

Ty, my anxiety is very similar to yours so it's comforting reading your comment. Another thing with my anxiety is feeling hyper aware that i'm alive and thinking too deeply about life and just how weird everything really is. It's torture for me, also. I'm sorry you're feeling this way and I hope we both figure something out to overcome it

Hello everyone , reading everyone’s comments about anxiety. I myself have struggled with this since I had my first baby almost 7 years ago . I recently had another baby and my anxiety and depression came back And it’s been the worst it has ever been . Just know everything will be okay it’s just temporary feelings :/

i been feeling what i believe is severe anxiety everyday, i wake up and feel like someone should standing on my chest i could barely breathe...i just want to know how to feel better. sometimes it’s all day. i work and sometimes feel like there’s something wrong with my health. why am i feeling this everyday..is there something i’m doing that’s triggering it...please help..

Amazing advice. This exactly help remediate my obsessing OCD and nonstop anxiety. So glad I stumbled upon this article. Thank you so much! I feel so excited for the future now!

My anxiety is bad bad and I feel it getting worse cause now when I have to talk while I'm anxious I feel like I dont have enough oxe

Just an Ordina…

February 21, 2019

I can relate to all the things and uncomfortable feelings everyone here has gone through when catching a anxiety/panic attack. I have been dealing with anxiety and having panic attacks since I was 15 years old; been through alot in life.

I am now 30, married to my high school sweetheart and have 2 children(11 & 8 years old).

I have felt it all and have went through every stage of anxiety you can think of. From waking up feeling like I’m suffocating, having chest pains, migraines, jaw pain, back aches, arm pain, lump in throat, standing under my ac vent to take air in but still feeling like I can’t take a deep breath and no air was going in. Tense muscles and heart racing super fast. Getting dizzy and feel like I am going to faint . Getting no sleep, feeling fatigued and/or sick all the time. Wanting to cry as a form of releasing all the anxiety that overcomes my body. Overthinking my symptoms and getting on the internet to search for them which it just makes it worst because you start reading a whole bunch of things that start freaking you out even more. I have felt numbness in different parts of my body. I have felt fear of my breathing patterns and not being able to manage it and dying. I started to be scared of even eating because I would always think of choking and since I thought of it, my anxiety would set in and I would feel like something was stuck in my throat and go into a panic. Many times, I have felt like I was having a heart attack. I also have had several nervous breakdowns that have taken me to the ER because my entire body would go into a major shock of nerves causing my body to curl up and shake. In those moments I would get a wave of possibly all the symptoms combined and feeling a tingling sensation all over my body as if I was going to shut down for good and pass out or even die. Let me not even start on how my anxiety would get when I got sick...all the uncomfortable feelings 3x worst.

I have tried counseling and seeing a physiologist but during that time, I was young and naive and didn’t want to talk about my problems to anyone so I gave up and would just bottle everything in and keep it moving. During the years, I tried herbalists, acupuncture, yoga, meditation, working out, giving up caffeine and liquor, changing my eating habits and getting massages to relax. I have also practiced every “calming down” technique you can think of to do during panic attacks but I would never be able to calm myself down and over and over again I would start to freak out and get worst.. Everything I did, only worked temporarily.

I have carried anxiety and panic on my shoulder every second of each day for years. It caused for me to fall into depression. I would stress all the time. Everyday. My stress got so bad it caused me to get an Ulcer. It really took a toll on my body.

After so many years of this, last year I told myself enough is enough! I’m sick and tired of stressing and overthinking and my anxiety disorder taking over my life! That was the day I made an appointment with my doctor and spilled out everything I have been feeling all these years. Told him all of my crazy fears. I told him everything I have done to try and cure myself but now I knew I needed extra help. I told him I understood the difference between normal anxiety and this abnormal anxiety that overstayed its welcome in my mind (forced on me welcome) and I was ready to kick it out. I told him I was sick of the intensity and frequency of this abnormal anxiety. It was getting worst and worst each time. It interfered with my functioning and overall well-being. I wanted to feel happy and go a week without a panic attack.

My doctor who is an angel, turned to me and said : “I will prescribe you a medicine that will assist. “ Look at it as if the medicine is a soldier who is going to battle along side you so you can regain control of your mind and body”. He asked me: “Are YOU ready?? I’m asking because no doctor, medicine or anybody or anything will help you like you can help yourself”. “Only YOU will be able to tame that beast of anxiety inside your mind”. You are going to have to face it once and for all and show it you are the boss of your life!” “Don’t fear your anxiety and charge at it with all your might baby girl!” You are still young and have a whole beautiful life to live!” So that day I took charge and started the medicine.

For the past year, I have been taking Bupropion XL 150mg every morning. I was really against taking medication but I knew I needed help. A push to get rid of my overwhelming and tiring anxiety disorder. I gave up caffeine and liquor and started to work out. I felt good and happy and for once I wasn’t overthinking or stressing little things anymore; I was regaining control of my life and living! Until today’s date, I have only caught 2 panic attacks and it was days after I received some bad news about a family member. During those 2 panic attacks, I stayed strong and even though I felt like I couldn’t breathe and my chest was tight and my body was going into “fight or flight” mode, I fact checked my thoughts and told myself I’ve been through this before and I know exactly why I am feeling this way right now so I got up from bed and instead of going into a panic or scaring myself into a nervous breakdown, I kept cool and walked to my kitchen to get a glass of water. I took 3 gulps then took a deep breathe. And again, 3 gulps and took a deep breathe (trust me I felt like I wasn’t taking in a deep breathe but I kept going) while reminding myself that I was ok and that I knew exactly why I felt the way I did but that everything will be fine and there is nothing to worry about. I started to think about all the good things happening in my life and about plans for the weekend...I grabbed my cellphone and got back into bed keeping my cool. I was opening up a game app on my cellphone to keep my mind distracted from the anxiety feelings I was having when I noticed, they were gone!! Something that used to last up to sometimes 20 mins , just lasted less then 4 minutes! That is when I started to notice, I was taking back control of my mind and my body. What a great feeling it is. Priceless to people like us that know exactly what it is to have abnormal anxiety and all the scary feelings that come with it.

It took me a while but I figured out that anxiety is a future-oriented state of mind. So instead of worrying about what’s going to happen, just keep yourself in the present time and remember that those anxiety panics and uncomfortable feelings only last minutes.

Anxiety is something normal to feel in life When scared or worried or stressed but if allowed, that same anxiety can take an ugly turn and weaken your mind littlle by little becoming overpowering and frightening you to overthink and believe the worst things that can go wrong in all aspects of your life. If it starts to impair your functioning and interferes with your well-being causing you significant distress, then that is abnormal anxiety.

ADVICE:
In the moment of your next anxiety attack, distract your mind. You can even think about your last one and try to ease your mind in thinking nothing bad happened then and nothing bad is going to happen now. Do not fixate on worst-case scenarios of what could happen or what is happening to you because NOTHING is happening. It’s all mental and your mind is making you go into a panic making you think about all those scary symptoms but remember you are absolutely fine and will be fine in a few minutes. It is up to you on how long it is going to last. Take control of it right now.

I do hope my message helps. Many blessings to you all.

Allow yourself to fall into that which you fear the most. Of course, what we fear the most is the anxiety and panic itself. Please trust this advice and the fact that nothing bad will happen to you when you let go. The anxiety will actually get a lot more bearable because you are changing the way you react to it. Whatever you resist, persists.

What helped me to get out of the habit of resistance was to tell myself that I should be feeling this way. Telling ourselves we shouldn't be feeling anxious just sends a message to our emotional part of the brain that what we're experiencing is clearly dangerous and so more fear will be activated. Remind yourself that anxiety and panic attacks cannot harm you and practice allowing it to be without wishing it away. See what happens :)

I’m going the same thing as you I’ve tried to explain it to my family dr and they look at me like you feel a Sensation in my back neck head . I’m always feeling like I’m sick and I have some kind of sickness but everything you described I gave . I need help ? Are you still taking medication I don’t wNt to drink that all my life but I need help

Maybe this works for certain levels of anxiety, but it’s far from feasible for someone with severe, chronic anxiety that keeps one from functioning at all on a daily scale. It’s not all anxiety about anxiety.

As per mentioned from above, I feel like I suffer the ocd since I always come across with negative thoughts in my mind and cause obssessive and compulsive so that I may feel better for little while. What can I do towards this? Please advise.

I too fretted over the littlest things seems like, like not giving both of my kids a piece of gum of mine, even though I know one has their own. So I state it out loud...

Hi. For some time now I have been having night swears, palpitations, breathing difficulties at night so lack of sleep. My job is extremely stressful and I cannot switch off. Everything is mounting up so I took a week off to de-stress and things got worst. Everything is playing on my mind, work, chores, health and back to work tomorrow so dreading the endless emails and pressures. I cannot see a way through and so so tired but unable to cope.

I know exactly what you're going through and if it weren't for my anxiety medicine that I've been on since 2008, I would probably be worse now. If you haven't had a panic attack yet, then you're going to if you don't get some medicine and cut out any unnecessary stress in your life. I would look into a less demanding job. When you have to run errands, get as many as you can done in one day so you can have more relaxing time. I over think things and worry about what if's...very, very bad thing to do. If you have kids that demand alot from you, don't sweat the small stuff and choice your battles and never let work, family or others make you feel like you're not doing a good job....you are only one person and every single person has a breaking point, don't let yourself get to that point! I moved out to the country for the quiet and solitude from the world. I prefer to live my life as simple as I can because it's less stress and I don't care what people think of me anymore...it's my life not theirs. I hope this helps. Holler at me anytime!

What helps me is knowing I'm not alone. I'm never alone, and I can reach out to my fellows, (people like you), knowing I'm not alone in this battle and everything is going to be alright.

Hi, about 3 to 4 weeks ago I had my first panic attack in about five years, over the last 30 years I’ve had about three episodes of severe panic and anxiety that last anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of weeks. During the times when I’m not having panic and anxiety I can’t even remember what this feels like and then when I’m in the midst of it like now I can’t remember what it feels like to feel normal. My panic attacks are hi, about 3 to 4 weeks ago I had my first panic attack in about five years, over the last 30 years I’ve had about three episodes of severe panic and anxiety that last anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of weeks. During the times when I’m not having panic and anxiety I can’t even remember what this feels like and then when I’m in the midst of it like now I can’t remember what it feels like to feel normal. My panic attacks symptoms are not so much physical as mental, I don’t feel like I’m having a heart attack and I’ve never been to the ER because that’s too terrifying for me. I have the crazy mental feel like I’m going crazy but can explain why symptoms. The only way I can get the panic attack to stop if they’re taking Clonopin and then for the next several days weeks I’m in constant fear of it happening again and sometimes it does happen again. I’m working with my doctor to try to find the right dose of medications, but I absolutely hate taking them and feel so weak and scared to take them based on reading too many horror stories on the Internet. My biggest issue is when I’m in the midst of these I cannot get distracted, I constantly think and worry about the feelings of anxiety and feelings of fear never going away. It seems so abstract and random and I don’t understand why I can’t just rationalize through it, I feel like I’ll never experience joy or happiness because I can’t get distracted from worrying about panic and anxiety. I know everyone says anxiety and panic can’t kill you, but the emotional pain can be overwhelming. Can anyone relate to these feelings? I feel like an oddball because my symptoms don’t mimic a heart attack etc. I do get hot flashes and stomach upset but I never think about having a heart attack, I just think about all the obsessive thoughts in my head and not being able to get rid of them. Again I have gone years and years without any symptoms and I keep trying to remember that but when I’m in the midst of this it doesn’t help or reassure me. Can anyone relate?

I just began the same symptoms you are explaining. Ive had two bad episodes with anxiety the first round I had the chest symptoms this time i feel exactly how you do. It has been a couple days now and reading your battles gave me some comfort knowing I’m not the only one fighting this. Hopefully you are better now.

I feel the same. I’ve never really talked to anyone about it before. I’m a teacher and normally distract myself with work. I’m obsessive. Think about it all the time but I like it because it stops me having other worries.
Since I was younger I have irrationally worried about my own health and the health of loved ones. Normally I keep myself busy in half term seeing people because I almost fear being alone. This half term I spent a lot of time alone and started with shortness of breath. I googled and convinced myself I was dying. This led to back pain- sometimes chest pain, shoulder tightness, arm pain, loss of appetite, diahoerra (when I ate enough). When’s distracted enough the symptoms ease but other times I’m crippled - it can feel like flu. My boyfriend tells me I’m fine and it’s in my head but it’s so so stressful

I have heard of just trying to face up to anxiety in order for it to disappear before, and this is the tactic I usually use. I'm struggling whilst on holiday, my anxiety causes me to have no appetite. My body just won't let me eat anything. Help.

This is great advice Patricia. My anxiety is pretty high, especially when I wake in the mornings and begin to think negatively. My advice is to read about detached mindfulness.

37 yr old male here. I've always had spcial anxiety, especially when public speaking, but was always able to deal with it when the time came for an interview or presentation . Now anxiety about work the past 3 or so years has been almost unbearable. If i have am important presentation or speech to give, it's literally always on my mind, even weeks or months before having to give it. And a few times I've barely been able to talk and get extremely bad shaking, and the fear of that happening again is really.messing with me. I've been able to play it off and hide it for the most part, but I feel like I'm going crazy and I don't know why I'm letting this do this to me...keep telling myself I'm being crazy, and that I'm scared of being scared which is stupid, but I can't stop and I feel like it's bringing down my whole life. For my next presentation I'm going to pop a 0.5 mg Xanax, hopefully that will prevent me from being a complete mess. Anyone ever feel like this for a prolonged period and found something that makes it better?

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