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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.

I lately been having anxiety thinking ima have a seizure because Ik people who have seizures

Hi everyone,
I am from India, I am suffering from anxiety and panic attacks,... just like to know that when you have attack and you try to sleep, and when you go into a deep sleep and wakes up suddenly as your heart force you to wake up with a fast heart racing and the chest tightness..I am fed up with this attacks..I m 33yrs old and have 2 son's..I want to Live my life happily with my kids and husband. I feel that I m having a heart attack or I m going to faint.. Everything is so unreal .I feel that I m not connected with life..The numbness and having all symptoms of heart attack..I don't have high blood pressure but my heart beats like I have run a mile.. Palpitations..I m really scared.. please someone help me..

Hi everyone,
I am Jenna and I have had Generalized Anxiety Disorder for years. I am 26 and for about a year now I have dizziness (off-balanced) on and off. I have been to doctors, I have had blood work, I tried to find a medical reason why I am feeling so off. I guess it does make sense the anxiety is triggering me to feel this way. I have been so afraid I was alone with dealing with this. If anyone has any advice to help, I would love the help!

Hi everyone,
I am Jenna and I have had Generalized Anxiety Disorder for years. I am 26 and for about a year now I have dizziness (off-balanced) on and off. I have been to doctors, I have had blood work, I tried to find a medical reason why I am feeling so off. I guess it does make sense the anxiety is triggering me to feel this way. I have been so afraid I was alone with dealing with this. If anyone has any advice to help, I would love the help!

It's just such a flippant thing to say, 'anxiety won't kill you.' It's really not helpful, and could even be construed as offensive. I tried for over a year to change my relationship with anxiety, and yes, acceptance does help, it helps you get through it, but it doesn't ever stop it from happening, it doesn't stop the intensity of those feelings, and even though you know you will get through it, and that it will come to end, it still always feels like something life threatening is about to happen. The only real reason that acceptance is used an approach for treating anxiety, is because there is really nothing else available. One day I hope that some bright spark does find a better treatment - anxiety seems like such a lot of unnecessary suffering to have to go through.

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