As an anxiety sufferer, you don’t need me to tell you that it’s the fear of what if’s that are often times, the most damaging and terrifying. We are constantly fearing the worst thing that can happen. Perhaps the worst thing for you is having people see you panic; fainting in public, throwing up, dying, having a heart attack due to extreme heart palpitations, never waking up from your sleep – the list goes on. I decided to push my anxiety to its limits to see what the worst thing that can happen with anxiety is. Prepare to be shocked.
The Fear of the Worst Thing That Can Happen With Anxiety
We all have these “what ifs” associated with the worst thing that can happen with anxiety, but rarely do they actually occur. In other words, you likely haven’t died from a panic attack yet, nor have you had a heart attack and even if you have fainted or thrown up due to an anxiety attack, chances are the “what ifs” pertain to how the people around you reacted. Chances are, they didn’t react how you feared they would. This is great news, and excellent progress, as it shows you that the worst thing that can happen with anxiety almost never occurs.
The Importance of Discovering The Worst Thing That Can Happen
Throughout years of therapy and online counseling for anxiety, I’ve always been instructed to think about the worst thing that can happen from an anxiety attack, as my fear for the worst thing is essentially, what keeps the anxiety coming back. I fear the “what ifs”, just as we all do. And although I know that my worst thing that can happen with anxiety is quite unrealistic, it still sends me into a raging fire of panic when I start to feel anxiety coming on.
It’s important to think long and hard about what the worst thing is and how likely it is to occur. For example, perhaps you fear fainting in public and how everyone around you will think you’re weird; chances are, if you do faint in public, the last thing people will think is that you’re weird because they’ll be too occupied making sure you’re okay.
Or maybe you fear having a heart attack as a result of an anxiety attack. Think about it for a second – how many anxiety attacks have you had and how many of them resulted in a heart attack? Probably none. Heck! By now, your heart is likely a powerhouse after dealing with years of palpitations.
The point is, the worst thing that can happen is likely not going to happen. It’s probably as unrealistic as your initial fear, and it’s crucial to recognize that, so you can stop worrying about it in the midst of an anxiety attack.
I know, I know – easy said than done. So, I decided to push my anxiety attack to its limits. Instead of running away in panic, I sat in the moment and stuck it out. Was it terrifying? Absolutely! Did I survive? You bet!
I Pushed My Anxiety Attack to Its Limits
A few weekends ago, I was out for dinner with my family and my boyfriend’s family for his 30th birthday. If you’re new to Anxiety Gone, I should tell you that restaurants are my kryptonite. I had my first anxiety attack in a restaurant when I was 7; I avoided restaurants for the majority of my life, and I have only recently been able to go and eat in them. Considering it was only 10 years ago that I wouldn’t step foot in a restaurant, the fact that I planned a birthday dinner at one is a big deal. I celebrated my accomplishment and tried to trade in my anxiety for excitement, but of course, that didn’t stop the anxious feelings from coming.
The truth is, I can usually eat in restaurants (now) fairly comfortably. However, on this particular day, I also had a surprise 30th birthday party gathering in a separate location in the restaurant. So, I was already stressed out and incredibly anxious. That’s also not to mention that this was the first time I ate in a restaurant with my boyfriend’s family – another huge deal to me. To everyone else? Probably not. To me? Pure fear.
However, feeling anxious isn’t anything new to me. I still get anxious all the time. The only difference is that I don’t avoid situations because of it. So, I carried on with dinner as usual. Unfortunately, it wasn’t “as usual” as I had hoped.
In fact, I could barely take a bite of my food and it didn’t take long for a rush of heat to flash over my body and my mind to start rushing with panic. I turned to my boyfriend and said, “I’m having an anxiety attack”, as I usually do just so he knows that I need an extra dose of support in that exact moment.
He looked at me and told me to get some fresh air. So, I quietly slipped away from the dinner table and began to walk – not run, as I was used to doing – out of the restaurant towards the bathroom. My panic attack was creeping up, but it wasn’t full blown just yet. However, as I continued to walk towards the bathroom, I was faced with a fork in the road. One door went outside, another went to the bathroom.
Naturally, my anxiety took my mind for a run.
Do I go outside? Oh my god. What if I throw up outside? What if there are people out there that know me and then I’m freaking out, and what if I can’t find a way to get away from people.
Oh, but what if I go to the bathroom? Ew. I can’t throw up in a public toilet and then what if people come in and think I’m weird because I’m throwing up but really, I’m just freaking out.
I shook my head, took a deep breath and in the millisecond that this all happened, I decided to turn to the right towards the bathroom. For some reason, this seemed like the “safest” option, so I went with it. Oh, but not without gagging the entire way to the bathroom.
But, I still refused to run. I refused to let my panic truly take ahold of my mind and body. Instead, I continued to slowly walk towards the bathroom and took a sip of my water.
Once I entered those bathroom doors, I thought, “Okay. This is it. I’m going to throw up. What are my coping tools? I’m going to be sick! What are my relaxation techniques? Where can I vomit? What are my breathi-GAG.”
Again, I shook my head and walked over to the bathroom sink. I took some deep breaths and splashed myself with cold water. The heat of my body quickly turned the cold water into warm dribbles. So, I soaked some paper towel in cold water and applied them to my pulse points. Breathe. Just breathe. Of course, I totally forgot that I had calming essential oils in my purse that would have been incredibly helpful in this moment.
So, I just continued to apply cold water and do some deep breathing, trying to remember my coping methods which always seems to be the hardest thing to do in the midst of a panic attack, and before I know it, my aunt walks out of a bathroom stall.
“I’m having a panic attack!”
My aunt, who also suffers from anxiety, didn’t feed into my comment. She didn’t start rubbing my back or asking if I was okay. Instead, she started talking about something completely irrelevant. She was distracting me, forcing me to answer questions about dinner or about who is going to the party later that evening or where I purchased my outfit from. Before I knew it, I was walking out of the bathroom with my aunt, sans anxiety.
My attack was done. Phew! I headed back to the restaurant like nothing happened and carried on with the night, never having another attack for the night.
What My Anxiety’s Worst Taught Me
The important thing I want you to take away from this story is that, for the first time in the 22 years of having anxiety, I didn’t let my anxiety attack control me. For the first time ever, I just let myself experience it. Was I panicking? Absolutely but I wasn’t running out of the restaurant, furthering my anxiety and falling apart. I just felt it.
Okay, I’m having an anxiety attack. Accept. Distract. Don’t fight. Don’t flight. Just let it be.
And to my surprise, the anxiety attack never really reached its peak like it has for so many years. It got close, but not quite. I was prepared for the worst thing that can happen and was ready to face it, and because of that, my anxiety subsided.
The Importance of Accepting your Anxiety
Overcoming anxiety has everything to do with accepting it; accepting the anxious feelings, and accepting what the worst thing that can happen is. The more you accept the feelings, the less impact they have on you because anxiety is all stemmed from fear. When you accept the feelings, you slowly stop fearing them because you know what the worst thing that can happen is – having anxiety and then carry on. Acceptance puts a giant roadblock in your fear’s pathway.
Now, don’t get me wrong, this one anxiety attack lead to days of exhaustion and fear that another one will come on at any given moment. But I did it. I got through this anxiety attack without being completely consumed by it. For once, I gave myself a chance to just be in the moment and feel the anxiety, so that I could discover what the worst thing that can happen is – and guess what, nothing happened. I got anxious, and then I carried on…
And you can do the same. The next time you feel your anxiety creeping in, think about what you’re going to do. If your “safety plan” is to go to the bathroom, get some fresh air or to climb in bed and hide under the covers, know the steps that you’re going to take if your anxiety becomes too much. Accept that you’re allowed to have an anxiety attack and that you’re allowed to do what you need to do to deal with it. But more importantly, when you need to execute your safety plan, don’t run out of the situation like it’s on fire. Slowly follow through with the steps to show your anxiety that you’re in control and go to a safe place where you can a) completely freak out or b) take some deep breaths and go through the motions of the attack until it’s done.
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