The Anxiety Cycle

Stressed

When researching the internet you will find a huge number of books, programs, articles, blogs and academic research about various treatments for excessive anxiety and how to become anxiety free. You may be asking how to stop anxiety attacks and how to get rid of anxiety fast.  This site is dedicated to presenting you with the many different options to overcoming anxiety without medication, many of which are corroborated by our own experience and the experiences of clients – there isn’t one best treatment for everyone, but there are a few treatment options and combination of approaches that research and experience indicate can be very effective for helping you get rid of anxiety and can stop panic attacks.

There is so much information!

You may have tried some of these treatments yourself with no real results.  You have yet to become anxiety free, and you might be losing hope that you ever will. If so, you may need to trial more options, or combinations of treatments and strategies, to find what works best for you.  Many of these will be described on this site. It might be the case that you need the support of a trained counsellor or psychologist to help you implement a treatment that is tailored to you and your situation.  As trained professionals on this website, we can guide you.  You can also send us an email and we will provide you with information that can assist you in your recovery journey to becoming anxiety free.

So how do I become anxiety free?

It is important to first understand what is going on in your mind and body, as this helps alleviate the idea that there is something terribly wrong with you or that you are going crazy.  The fear that you are going crazy, or might drop dead from a heart attack, only serves to feed your fear and increases your anxiety. So the more you understand how your mind and body work together to produce high levels of anxiety, the more successful you will be with your action plan for becoming anxiety free.

Know what is going on

Firstly you need to know what is going on when your body and mind are reacting all over the place and all you can do is feel scared, worried and crazy. Information is power, and being empowered helps you feel as though you are in control, not the other way around.

 Understanding the Flight or Fight Response

Anxiety is a natural response from a part of our brain called the Amygdala, which is located in the oldest part of our brain, the Reptilian Brain. When we perceive that there is a threat (real or imagined), the Amygdala responds by telling the body to prepare for this threat – and get ready to either run (take flight) or to fight. This response has been with us since Humans first developed, as a way of survival. The Amygdala’s response is a reflex action – it has to be fast so as to save us from such things as tigers.

The body prepares us for flight or fight in 3 ways – physically, mentally and behaviourally

The brain is responsible for the definite physical sensations and symptoms that you feel as anxiety – if a tiger is running towards you, your brain perceives the threat and your Amygdala gets to work to produce chemicals that get you ready to run (flight) or fight. These chemicals produce the sensations we feel in our bodies that scare us during an anxiety attack, but when you think of needing to run from a tiger it makes sense, and goes something like this:

When presented with danger, your brain sends a signal to the nervous system (using chemicals) to get you ready

Mentally this puts all your senses on high alert to scan for more danger – you can’t actually focus on much of anything else while in this state

Your adrenal glands pump the chemicals Adrenalin, to prepare you for sudden action, and Noradrenalin (also called Norepinephrine), making you more alert and aroused

The Brain and Anxiety

Your pupils dilate to let in more light

Your heart beats faster and harder to pump more blood and oxygen to your muscles

Your digestion stops so that more energy is available for fight or flight

Blood flow to your hands and feet slows down so they don’t bleed as much if you get injured

Blood flow to your large muscles in your arms and legs increases, so you have their strength  to help you hit, kick or run

Muscles tense and contract, getting ready

Your lungs pull in more oxygen to prepare your muscles for fast and energetic movement

And sweating increases to keep your body cool and slippery so you can’t get caught or grabbed

 Okay, so by now you might be asking, well this is fine if I really was fighting tigers and bears, but why does it happen to me? Your body

The Body and Anxietyhowever, will react the same way whether it perceives tigers and bears as an immediate threat, or traffic, work, deadlines, going out, public speaking, socialising or doing a myriad of normal everyday activities that most people seem to cope with. And what you might ask, happens to all of this energy when there is no real or actual danger?  It still has to be released in some way, so we might become agitated, fidgety, feel like jumping out of our skin, or rant and rave to others as a way to release the pent up energy created in our bodies.

Understanding the Anxiety Cycle

Okay so now you understand that the physical sensations are a normal and desirable response to a perceived threat. we do want to be able to run or fight if we absolutely had to, and it is good that our bodies can respond this way.

If we look at the Anxiety Cycle below, we can see that we might start from a calm or relaxed position, then when  we perceive a potential danger, our brain responds with the flight or fight response. As our brain is busy sending chemicals to get us prepared for action, our body responds by producing anxious thoughts and sensations – our anxious symptoms – which we then perceive as dangerous. So our brain picks up that there is more danger, and sends more chemicals to get us ready for this danger, and so on and so on.

The important bit is this – once you perceive that these symptoms are dangerous, you become scared of them, and this in turn makes our brain react with more anxiety responses – because after all, if we are scared there must be a real threat right? –  which then CREATES MORE SYMPTOMS, and so the cycle continues.

This is a really important part to recovery and becoming anxiety free – the recognition that you are doing this to yourself, and the understanding of how you are doing this to yourself, will free you. This is what will give you the power over anxiety and help you become anxiety free.

The Anxiety Cycle

Re-training your brain

Once you recognise and understand this, you will be in a position to do the actions necessary to re-train your brain. It is in the brain that the fight/flight response begins, and it is in the brain that the relaxation response also resides.

6 thoughts on “The Anxiety Cycle

  1. Hi Desi,
    Great article, very informative.To be able to recognise the physical signals and therefore being able to choose how to think about those signals is something that one can practice indeed.

    Hope your site will help lots of people!
    Kind regards,
    Martine

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