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What is the Anxiety Cycle and How To Break It?

Avoidance and escape from our fear often put us on the roller coaster ride of anxiety which we call the Anxiety Cycle. Understanding the Anxiety Cycle can help us alter the emotions and behaviors that lead us to Anxiety.

Learn about the practical solutions to break the Anxiety Cycle and other helpful resources that can help you manage your anxiety.

What is the Anxiety Cycle or Vicious Circle of Anxiety?

In the cycle of anxiety, a person avoids dealing to get away from overwhelming feelings when an incident or circumstance makes them feel out of control or fearful.

Our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and behaviors all are results of our social conditioning. This social conditioning is done from early childhood. 

Things we see, hear, or experience and even the experiences of other people all contribute to conditioning our beliefs.   

Different people respond to similar situations differently. Just because they have cultivated different beliefs about the situation. 

For example, one person loves dogs and another person is afraid of dogs.

Now, it’s not that the first person developed that belief by himself and is not fearful of going near a dog. Probably, anyone from his circle had a dog with whom he had close contact. Thus, he has no fear. 

On the contrary, the second person might have experienced an attack by the dog or heard fearful stories of dogs hurting humans. Moreover, someone known might have experienced such an incident. 

Now, the second person is fearful every time he sees a dog. He considers every dog as a threat even though not every dog is harmful. 

Thus, the second person is suffering from anxiety every time he sees a dog. His fight-and-flight mode activates and he even avoids going near a dog. 

Once the dog reaches a safe distance, he is relieved and relaxed. So he has trained his brain to act in such a way. This keeps on repeating. 

Expecting unnecessary fear in the future or present based on a single experience or event in the past is anxiety. 

Based on your beliefs your thoughts trigger a feeling and that feeling triggers a behavior. Repetition of such unnecessary fearful experiences is called the anxiety cycle.

Five stages of the Anxiety Cycle

There are 5 stages of the anxiety cycle. Response to any event or experience starts with thoughts and developing emotions that stimulate physical symptoms. 

The victim then tries to escape or avoid the situation giving him short-term relief. In the long run, the anxiety piles up and keeps on getting worse.

Let us understand each stage in brief.

Thoughts

Thoughts are the by-products of our beliefs. Once the subject, object, or person approaches near, the thoughts start rushing into our brains. As it gets nearer to us, excessive thinking takes place about the fears associated with it. 

These thoughts were based on beliefs that have developed over time. The possible reasons for these beliefs are:

  • We might have had an unpleasant experience in the past.
  • Someone from our known person had experienced it.
  • You might have heard about the experience from a trustable or authoritative person around you. 
  • You have low self-esteem.
  • It is connected to your religious faith or so-called ethics.
  • You have guilt.
  • Based on past trauma you have cultivated this behavior.

As the thoughts aggravate, it moves to the next stage.

Feelings

Feelings are the reciprocals of thoughts. Your emotions are triggered. You feel fearful and overwhelmed by the situation. It activates the fight-or-flight response. Usually, this is considered a normal human response and is required to avoid any damage.

But, in the anxiety cycle, this is not natural. You remain in this situation unnecessarily as well as continuously. 

You start feeling:

  • Fearful
  • Overwhelmed
  • Uncomfortable

Physical Symptoms

Our brain doesn’t know the difference between reality and imagination. As a result of overthinking and fear, our brain starts to send signals to other parts of the body. 

Your heart starts pumping faster. You experience sweating or shivering. Your voice starts to tremble. Thus, thoughts and feelings trigger a physical experience in response to anxiety. 

When these physical symptoms get extensive, your anxiety gets to the next stage.

Escape/Avoid (Short-Term Relief)

When the overwhelming feelings and physical symptoms become unbearable the mind tries to avoid the situation or escape the situation. 

We often see this in the office. When the boss is around and if he is strict, might trigger anxiety in employees. This provides short-term relief to the person. 

He feels a sense of relaxation when he/she is successful in avoiding or escaping the situation. 

Long-term Anxiety

This response of the person encourages the mind to repeat the same behavior. Even though it was a short-term relief. 

But in the long term, the anxiety keeps on increasing and the behavior keeps on repeating. Thus, this avoidance and escape don’t provide relief but make the anxiety worse. 

This cycle keeps on repeating until the person consciously intervenes in the process and makes efforts to break the anxiety cycle.

Anxiety Cycle Evaluation Worksheet 

stages of Anxiety Cycle

The more we understand someone the easy it is to take control of them. We have created a simple Anxiety Cycle Evaluation worksheet that can help you break your anxiety cycle and take control of your emotions. 

All you have to do is fill in the details that you are going through.

There are 5 boxes:

  1. Thoughts
  2. Feelings
  3. Physical Symptoms
  4. Safety Behavior or Avoidance
  5. Loss of Coping Abilities

Insert the thought, feelings, physical symptoms, and behaviors that come to your mind thinking about the unpleasant situation.

Once you are done with this exercise, follow the below-given tips to break the anxiety cycle.

How to Break the Anxiety Cycle?

Here are a few practical solutions for self-help that will help you easily break the anxiety cycle.

Questioning Your Thoughts and Beliefs

You risk dissociating from reality when you don’t challenge your beliefs. You must be prepared to accept accountability for your beliefs.

Many of them are taken from your social circle and the result of various external factors; they are not your own. You take them on impulsively and frequently out of fear of being rejected.

Going against the flow and even acknowledging that you could have made some fundamental errors is not harmful, though. In fact, it’s beneficial to have a healthy dose of skepticism, particularly when it comes to the ego.

Try posing questions to yourself if you want to determine whether your beliefs are preventing you from seeing things from a different angle:

  • When did you initially begin to hold this particular belief?
  • Who did you learn this thought from?
  • Did you accept it without question or did you really examine it?
  • Would you feel comfortable putting this belief to the test?

You can alter the situations at this level if you develop new beliefs by questioning your thoughts based on reality. 

Evaluate Your Anxiety Cycle

It is crucial to know what is happening inside of us, to concentrate on the specifics of our emotional condition, and to try to comprehend the significance and reasons for those sentiments.

Emotions are difficult to comprehend. It is also possible to experience two emotions at once. And at that point, we are unable to comprehend what you are doing or how to address the circumstance.

Robert Plutchik, an American psychologist, included the emotional spectrum into the emotion wheel to help people understand what is going on behind the surface. 

The eight primary emotions that guide our experiences, responses, and perceptions are illustrated. You can use this wheel to determine your feelings’ causes, what they are trying to tell you, and what you can do about it.

Wheel of emotions

Source: Positivepsychology.com

Click on the link below to know download and use the Emotion Wheel.

Emotion Wheel

According to Plutchik, a certain bodily stimulation causes you to feel something. Additionally, it is intimately connected to how you act.

You may visualize the many forms of emotions using the feelings wheel. The emotional wheels improve self-expression and self-compassion by helping us grasp the emotional spectrum.

It offers a solution to every issue and might assist you in stopping your tendency to overthink things. Your communication skills become better and more productive as a result.

You may identify your negative feelings, such as anger, tension, and sadness, using the emotion wheel chart. This enables you to understand the emotional intensity.

Expand Your Comfort Zone

Your comfort zone is an artificial mental border inside which you feel safe and out of which you feel extremely uncomfortable.

Your comfort zone, for the most part, reflects your self-image and how you believe and expect things to be.

When you’re in an uncomfortable situation or one that doesn’t suit your expectations, you normally try everything you can to make yourself feel better.

Even if they are dissatisfied or unfulfilled, many people’s natural desire is to stay inside their comfort zone since it is known and safe. 

Many people stay in jobs, relationships, and situations that are no longer relevant because they are terrified of the unknown.

If, on the other hand, you decide to go beyond your familiar circumstances, people, and experiences, you step out of your comfort zone and onto the path of personal development. It’s a route that encourages you to expand yourself, test your boundaries, and become more than you were before.

Of course, you don’t have to do something out of character, such as climbing Mt. Everest or swimming in the English Channel, if you don’t want to. It is not necessary to go to such lengths to stretch oneself.

Anyone who begins a new school topic, learns a new language, participates in a new activity or begins a new career works outside of their comfort zone at first.

If you want to do something significant or out of the ordinary, you must step outside of your comfort zone!

Apps To Break Your The Anxiety Cycle

Apart from the above, if you are willing to get some external help in managing your anxiety you can install these applications that can provide guidance and support.

WellHeal

The WellHeal App is designed after combining two effective methods of psychotherapy: CBT and Music Therapy. A proven solution to physically, mentally, and psychologically stabilize your life. An App focused on Your Healing, Wellness & Mindfulness. 

#1 Therapeutic Experience to help individuals address Physical, Emotional, Cognitive, and Social needs. An effort to transcend the compulsive cycles of life and define an ultimate process to attain mental freedom and liberation.

Uncover your True Potential and Enhance your Productivity. Find and Fix the Unresolved Emotions that hinder your Health.

MindShift CBT

MindShift CBT

The MindShift CBT app was designed to give anxiety treatment by utilizing CBT strategies to change one’s thoughts and behavior. The app promises to aid in the treatment of anxiety, panic, perfectionism, social anxiety, and phobias.

Short meditations, thinking journals, coping cards, and exercises to face anxieties, shift beliefs, and establish healthy habits are among the features.

Download App: Google Play Store ButtonApp Store Button

Talkspace

Talkspace

The most expensive choice on this list is Talkspace, but it provides you with direct access to a mental health specialist. This online treatment option is likely less expensive than seeing a therapist in person, and you have access to assistance 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

You can message your therapist in the Talkspace chat area at any time. You may also plan live video sessions with your therapist.

Download App: Google Play Store Button App Store Button

MoodKit

MoodKit

MoodKit was created by two clinical psychologists and is based on cognitive behavioral therapy concepts and procedures (CBT). It has over 200 tasks to assist you to improve your mood and modify your negative thoughts.

A journal component is included to help you track your mood, negative thoughts, and stress management.

Download App: App Store Button

Final Words

The anxiety cycle is a five-stage process that may cause you to feel apprehensive, avoid situations, find temporary respite, and then experience increased anxiety.

This might create a “vicious loop” that is difficult to break, especially for people who use avoidance methods. Understanding each of the four stages, on the other hand, might help you find relief from your symptoms.

Remember, if you need more help controlling your anxiety, you can always contact a mental health professional.

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