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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.

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?

I have been dealing with anxiety attacks since 2009 and depression all my life but didn't know I had a depression problem. I'm sick all the time including now. I've learned to control my anxiety a little. I've been on antianxiety and antidepressants since 2009. I'm getting worse instead of better and am now heading toward ECT treatment because my mind and body feel like they've been hijacked. My quality of life is not good. I've been a single parent for 21 years and one of my 2 kids is special needs....I don't know what I did wrong to be going through this. Help me please!

Guillermo Vallarta

March 14, 2019

I’ve been battling this for 2 months now. It’s only gotten worse and worse. I’ve always been the “big brother” or the “go to” guy but feel so alone now that I need a shoulder. But reading some of these comments have given me hope and a small sense of strength. Knowing that the headaches, chest pain, body pain, bad thoughts and countless ER visits are actually of the norm. I battle this all day to the point where I’m literally incapable of being able to work and support my family. It’s destroying my life and my body. Anyone who would like to talk about this PLEASE reach out to me! Thanks everyone!

Gvallartajr@aol.com

I was diagnosed with chronic depression and anxiety 3 years ago. I was hospitalized recently for IBS, and since returning home from hospital, I've been experiencing insane anxiety attacks. I have always been anxious, although never experienced an attack until recently. I've been having attacks daily for the past 3 days that last for hours. At first i thought i was dying and rushed to the ER. I haven't slept in a week due to the hospital and now anxiety attacks. They wake me up when i do eventually fall asleep and i literally am afraid to sleep because of this. I am on antidepressants and a mood stabilizer but only restarted them recently so they aren't kicking in yet. I understand that anxiety won't kill me and it will always pass, but it's so exhausting and frustrating that i feel so broken. I want to admit myself to hospital just so they can drug me up to stop this from happening but my recent hospitalization depleted our medical aid. I just want it to stop, because when I'm not having attacks, I'm having crippling anxiety and can't even keep my legs still; they feel so weak and numb. I just want this episode to pass and want to so badly get back to my old self and get a night's rest..

Same here is why I found this site. I’ve been dealing with this about 3 years now off and on. And every time the symptoms are different. This time the world kept rocking while I walked it has eased up. Headache like my head is clenching and releasing. Now my left big toe keep twitching and won’t stop. It’s been driving me a little nuts but I’m trying to ignore it. I’ve gone to every doctor known.I did mri balance test, ear test, blood sugar. Ended up in the ER twice because I thought I was going to die. All test negative of any ailments. Now I see a psychologist twice a week just to talk and it’s helping. I wrote this because I hope someone would be encouraged. I fine when you know you are not alone it somehow is comforting. Especially when you read you’re not the only one having these weird scary symptoms.
I’ve been reading and laughing not that I’m being mean but I’m thinking hey I’m not the only crazy person here. Believe me I’m not laughing at you I’m laughing with you. Somedays can be really scary. But I’m learning how to cope. How to get past focusing on the symptoms which is the real enemy here.
Going to church and believing in healing has helped me the most. I’ve had quite a bit of Pastors pray for me and I prayed to God. This I believe has helped me make the greatest progress. I’m still battling but I’m much better than I felt a couple months ago.
I think it’s so important for us to believe that we can be healed of this and live healthy free lives. We need to be encouraged and comforted which being among loved ones helps. When I feel afraid I go to my sister’ house and spend a couple days there.
Fight back don’t be afraid to believe you will get better even when the voices are loud and threaten lying to us about death.
Try Jesus I promise you it helps to believe there’s a higher power greater than you in your corner. And don’t be afraid during those scary times to ask that your life be spared no matter how stupid it may sound.
I hope this will help someone feel comforted and have hope. Be hopeful everything will be all right. God loves you and you will make it through this. You will not die but live to declare the glory of God. Love you guys????? We will make it?

Letting the anxiety move through you is surrendering. Don't fight it and always remember to be awesome

Hello,
How do you do that? Is there a mantra you say to yourself, meditation or music? My natural instinct is to fight it

Hello Monday was my first time every in my life dealing with anxiety im miserable and depressed and think something is gonna hapoenend if anyone one talk email is sheilacampbell98@gmail.com

Hello to everyone who is suffering from anxiety like me. I’ve been suffering from it since 2 years ago, and its hard to deal with it sometimes i thought its gone then it will comeback worse, sometimes it happen on consecutive days.. I dunno how to deal with it since im living in a rural place with people who isnt aware of anxiety and couldnt understand the situation. :( Can someone please help get through this?? I stop taking meds cause im afraid of the side effects and i might get dependent on it. :( please contact me winter.wonderhan@gmail.com

Hey guys, I was diagnosed with anxiety /depression 10-11years ago. I had been on Zoloft the whole time until December. With the help of my doctor I got off of it. I had to as it wasn’t doing anything but making things worse. I was then put of Prozac which made me sick, so that lasted 6 days. Im currently not on anything, but I suffer everyday. My heart pounds out of my chest, I think I’m dying, and I just want to stay away from everyone. I haven’t worked since December. I can’t get into a car, or go anywhere. Does it get better? I try so hard, but when it’s time to do anything, I find away to get myself out of it. I have a 9 year old and all I want to do is be there for him. I have a wife, that I want to be there emotionally and physically for, but I rather be by myself, so the burden isn’t there. It’s almost a feeling like I’m here/there, but not really there. The pain and sadness, has to stop and I pray everyday it gets better. I also get these pains in my head, body shakes, crying episodes, and weakness. I know it’s just my anxiety, buts it’s almost a 12 hour deal, each day. I’ve been to therapy many times, but had to stop cause I can’t get in the car. Can anybody relate? Does anyone have any suggestions? Thanks everyone.

I understand all. I had a TIA ( mini stroke ) in 2006. Have had anxiety ever since then. Chest feels like it is crushing in. Breathing problems. Numerous ER visits. I’m on Wellbutrin 300 but not helping much. Now I have stomach pain rite in middle of stomach followed nausea. Really isn’t fun. I’m try hipnosis now. Fingers crossed
Any questions or need to talk Longhornlooney@hotmail.com

How do You deal with the anxiety of not being anxious enough ? I've been on zoloft for 7 months and it was really starting to mellow me out. But recently I started having panic attacks about not being anxious enough and it makes it harder to talk to people because I'm worried they will notice my lack of anxsighty and how they respond to me. I don't have any social anxsigy and that fact one is giving me ansighty I feel like I should feel a little at least and I don't feel any is that normal to feel that way ?

Hello,
I have been struggling with anxiety since my mother passed in July, in January it hit a peak and hasn't stopped since. I have had every test known to man for my heart.....all fine. I have tried multiple SSRIs/ SNRIs and cannot tolerate the side effects. I am in therapy which helps when I am there. How do you just let the anxiety come without fighting it? Do you have a mantra? I don't know how to not fight it..... any suggestions would be great.

When I am feeling scared/on edge for no reason....it can come out of nowhere....I remind myself, "I know exactly what this is." It DOES help to just let it wash over you. Accept the fear....let is be what it is, and remind yourself, "I know I am not really dying. I have felt this before. I know I am safe, it just feels really bad. I know it will pass, it always does." I also remind myself of ALL the doctor visits, trips to the ER, calls to 911....and I was ALWAYS just fine. Always normals tests. Always super healthy. I remind myself that my brain is just broken, and I will not die from it, and it will pass. YES, IT SUUUUCKS!!!!!! It is awful, but remember there are so many of us suffering from the same thing. You are not alone. It can feel so isolating and hopeless....but you will make it through, as you always have. And PLEASE be careful about taking meds...they can absolutely make things worse. Latrogenic illness is a real thing...Google it. I ended up almost getting hospitalized from a horrific side effect to my meds, called Akathisia. I wanted to be dead, just to make it stop. Thank goodness I found out it wasn't ME, but a terrifying side effect. More people need to know about Latrogenesis and Akathisia. You think doctors are there to help you but you can end up in a much worse situation due to the "care" you receive.

My anxiety gets so bad that I feel like I can’t breathe or like I’m breathing under water. I wake up with my heart racing even before I have the chance to think anything. My anxiety makes me so depressed I just stay in bed.

I had my first panic attack in December, since then I have panic attacks weakly, anxiety daily. I’m dying inside yet on the outside I pretend everything is ok.

Things I have done:
***Weekly ER visits-they check me to make sure I’m not having a heart attack or stroke(haven’t had one or I wouldn’t be here to write this)
***Daily Clinic visits-get medications that I take once and start to panic right away so I stop taking medication. The clinic is my safe place, so during the day sometimes when I can’t control the anxiety it’s nice to just sit there knowing a doctor is there.
***call 911 monthly-when I have a panic attack and can’t control it this usually helps since the paramedics help calm me down, check my heart rate, and my oxygen levels (they are always perfect)

But this is no way to live, I watch other people, wether at the grocery store, walking down the street, and I start crying because I want to be normal like them, like how I use to be. I would do anything to have their brains, or be in their bodies.

I go to work everyday because I don’t have a choice, I fake it at work. I’m always two steps back from the morning meeting incase I need to run. I take my pen cap and push it in my fingers to tell myself I’m still alive and to distract my mind from the anxiety.

Today I said f$@& it, I’m going to take some medication because I can’t live like this. And here I am the same thing, the anxiety is mad, with a pill in my stomach going through my body into my brain and the anxiety is so angry. Now I am in google looking for answers once again. Today I’m fed up and I want to live again. I’m going to take this article for what it’s worth and become friends with my anxiety. I’m not going to beat her or hurt her, because she is part of me and has been for a bit now. I will read this article daily to remind me.
So thank you

PS one of the clinic doctors told me to download a meditation app, I tried it out last night, and it put me to sleep. May not work every time but it did help a lot. I was actually surprised, maybe if your feeling anxious it would be worth a try.

I highly recommend "Insight Timer." There are so many guided meditations and courses to choose from. When I am alone with my thoughts, feeling scared for no reason and feeling antsy/panicky...it helps to lay on my carpet and just click on the Insight Timer app....suddenly it's like there is someone with you, helping you through it. If you feel alone, and need a soothing voice to guide you along and get you through a scary, difficult moment....please get Insight Timer!!

It really helps knowing I'm not alone!! I suffer from GAD with panic attacks, social anxiety, and health anxiety. I will get dizzy, my legs feel like Jell-O, I look in the mirror and I swear my face looks not like me and it looks like my pupils dilate, my heart races, I pace back and forth, and I always think worst case scenario. I am 24 years old with two kids, and I'm newly engaged! I should love and enjoy life especially now, but hear I am being selfish and not enjoying life at all. Why :(

Hi, I had a panic attack last Saturday where I thought I was dying. The aftermath of it is even worst... reading this thread and knowing I’m not alone kind of eased my anxiety... I’m sorry we have to go through this... I hope and pray we can heal from this... YOU ARE LOVED ❤️

I get so scared of dying and it makes me have really bad tremors, makes me feel like I can’t breath, I often vomit in these little anxiety attacks about death. Death is my biggest fear and I believe it comes from me being Gay and me being a Gay Christian. The thought of going to hell just scares me, I’ve suffered with anxiety since I was 6 and I’m 17 going on 18 this year. I’ve basically had anxiety my whole life, and I just feel like it’s going to get worse and worse. I just don’t want anxiety to take over my brain to where I can’t think straight.

I have been dealing with anxiety and panic attacks for 9 months, I was on antidepressants for 4 months and I was feeling good. My doctor stopped my medication and I was going through hell for 3 months. After which things turned out to be normal again slowely, the only thing that was bothering me was I had unsatisfactory breathing all the time. But now I am feeling terrile agian, today I was at work suddenly I had an urge to scream and escape. I am terrified of this might actually happen one day and I may go crazy or be unable to relax or stay still. I was googling these symptoms where I came across a horrible piece of information saying that anxiety will lead to depression and then suicide. This was the scariest thing I have ever seen. I feel terrible after what happened today and I can not get up and do anything or focus on anything, these two thoughts are bothering me alot. Is it possible that I loose control of myself? Is there a day that I may think about suicide?

Your side effects sound similar to what I just went through....I felt like I was going insane, couldn't stay still, could not get comfortable.... It was like physical and mental torture. Turned out to be a horrific side effect called Akathisia. It is a nightmare....I hope you didn't have that. If you do have it, know that it is a side effect and it's not YOU.

I have been suffering anxiety and panic for months now, mine has another element. I was told years ago Im possessed now it’s all I have in my head so during attacks My inner voice becomes the possession almost and i’m scared something is overtaking me yet logically I know it isn’t true... I’ve made my anxiety into a being.
Im in a constant panic, does someone want to talk :(

I have bad anxiety and sometimes i can just be sitting down and my heart skips and feel like i have to take a deep breath ! Does anybody gets heart palpitations???? it worries me

wonderful advice. going to try & embrace my anxiety as you advised

I had a medical scare 2 months ago and my anxiety hit the roof I being dealing with anxiety and depression for years, but theses attacks are by far the worst! I’m 45 so I at the age where my body is changing that doesn’t help also the symptoms I have are fast heart beats, dizzy, headaches, cold chills, but I also have these pin pricks that feel like small electric sticks. Dose anyone else’s. I have found talking about it helps.

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