The Overwhelming Anxiety Cycle: Set Yourself Free By Breaking It
Do you feel like you are stuck in a cycle of feeling anxious or stressed? This is a common theme when you experience anxiety. Anxiety influences our thoughts, behaviors, and feelings. It exaggerates and is suspicious of logic coming in cause it doubts the truth. It can even lead us not to trust ourselves, isn’t that something? Not being able to trust ourselves in the decisions we make, the thoughts we have, and even the emotions we feel.
In this post, anxiety is the term, but you may experience one or multiple symptoms of anxiety: stress, overwhelm, perfectionism, racing thoughts, poor sleep, panic, fear, thinking the worst will happen, headaches, overthinking, rehearsal of situations, wanting to rewrite something that happened 10 years ago, trying to predict what will happen, taking control of the situation or even your feelings, nauseous, racing heart, nervousness, stick to a strict schedule or routine, and more!
Everyone is unique and two anxieties may not look exactly alike, regardless, you are not alone, there is help and ways to manage your anxiety.
Let’s explore the Anxiety Cycle.
The anxiety cycle can look a little different from person to person. It can feel never-ending, and you have to ever endure its process. It often looks like this:
With that being a general example, let’s see about more specifics. Your anxiety cycle could look like any of these:
These are very broken-down cycles of anxiety. Feelings, negative thoughts, and even physical symptoms are often part of the cycle. You may feel your fight-flight-freeze-fawn response kick on during these times, you may feel a headache come on, and you may even become lightheaded or pass out. Your brain is complex but at times it does not get things right. When we begin to feel anxious, it triggers our amygdala. Our amygdala is responsible for responding to frightening or a threat stimuli. When anxiety occurs again and again, it leaves behind the prefrontal cortex which helps with executive functioning, and reasoning, and helps to manage anxiety. As we interpret the situation or trigger, the amygdala takes the wheel and starts steering. It takes a longer (as in less than milliseconds) time for the prefrontal cortex to get the information and process it. This creates that ongoing anxiety cycle, the stress response center, aka the amygdala, has now taken control.
Breaking the Anxiety Cycle
Breaking the cycle is not easy, but it can be done. The first part is identifying the parts in the cycle. It is challenging as it feels like you go from 0-100 mph or you are in your anxiety before you even know it! The more awareness and intentionality you bring to this cycle and your anxiety, the better you will be able to identify its parts.
Self-reflection is key here. When you begin to identify, you have a better idea of your anxiety and how it is showing up. This will help start to put the breaks on the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex regaining control with reason and logic. This is the beginning of the process, you can keep this going by exploring what the parts in the cycle are telling you and start small. We may want to tackle the most challenging parts of anxiety, but we need you to trust you again. Start with smaller anxieties to practice.
For example, if you are experiencing anxiety when it comes to discussing a challenging topic with your partner, rate that anxiety. Review other anxieties you experience. When you are able to identify one that has a lower anxiety response (and preferably occurs frequently or somewhat), you can begin to more easily implement coping strategies and change up your perspective (aka reframe your thoughts). This can build trust in yourself to go through the anxiety cycle and also break it. Then you can level up! Smaller goals translate well to bigger goals.
If you are finding this process overwhelming, you might be starting "too big" or with something too high of an anxiety response. It is okay, re-evaluate and try again. You are always able to try again. You did not fail, you only learned more about yourself!
A licensed therapist will be able to help you regain control of your amygdala, your thoughts, reactions, and break the anxiety cycle.
At Better Minds Counseling & Services, Brittany Webb, LPC, provides online therapy services in Pennsylvania. With online therapy, mental health counseling is near you, just a click away. Contact a therapist here or schedule your first call directly here.
Blog Disclaimer - These posts are not meant to treat, diagnose, or serve as a replacement for therapy. If you or someone you know is experiencing a mental health emergency, please contact your local crisis center or dial 911. Here are more immediate resources as well.