During treatment, most of my clients as me a variation of this question: “When will this anxiety/fear/panic/dread/doubt go away?” I understand why they ask this. The thoughts, feelings, and sensations that accompany anxiety can cause intense distress and a fear that your mind and body are not completely under your control.

My response to them is that anxiety is not the problem. It’s our interpretation of the anxiety that causes the distress. In fact, we do not want anxiety to go away. Anxiety is a biological response to potential threat. Among other things, it motivates our performance at work or school; it keeps us from wandering down dark alleys at night; it’s that “gut reaction” that tells us something is amiss in our surroundings. We need anxiety in order to survive.

I think what clients are really asking me is when will the suffering from anxiety go away. People who struggle with anxiety disorders have learned over time that anxiety is to be avoided, resisted, and eliminated. The problem with this response is that it has a rebound effect. There’s an adage is psychology that “what you resist persists”. The more one demands that anxiety be absent from one’s life, the more one is dismayed one anxiety inevitably shows up.

One way of easing suffering is to recognize that anxiety’s existence is a fact of life. The more effective question is to ask “How can I start responding to anxiety in a different way so that it doesn’t cause so much suffering?”