3 tips to help you break free from the cycle of anxiety

Fear and Anxiety

Fear is a normal response that we experience in reaction to an external threat to our safety, like a life or death situation. The fear responses puts us into a state of fight or flight and provides us with additional resources to deal with the life or death situation. That is, to run away from, or to fight the threat. Assuming we survive the life or death situation, our fear response resolves and our system returns back to baseline. 

Anxiety on the other hand, is a response that we experience in reaction to a perceived threat. Similar to fear, when we experience anxiety we enter a state of fight or flight. Rather than a life or death situation triggering this response, other less dangerous situations may trigger our fight or flight response. Some common examples of situations which lead to feeling anxious include; social or performance based situations, conflict, or communicating what we need.

the anxiety Cycle

When we feel anxious about something (e.g. speaking up in social situations or saying what we need from our partner), a common response is to avoid the situation making us feel anxious. This is the flight part of the fight or flight response. Whilst avoiding a threat may make sense in a life or death situation, in social situations it may be less helpful. When we avoid situations which make us feel anxious, we may initially experience temporary relief from our anxiety. However, avoidance reinforces the perception that the situation we are avoiding is unsafe. As a result, this avoidance may work to strengthen the anxiety we feel about the situation. Over time, this may make it harder and harder to engage in those situations which cause us anxiety.

Exposure Therapy

One method which may be helpful to break free of the anxiety cycle is known as exposure therapy. In exposure therapy we are first provided with the skills needed to effectively navigate the situation we feel anxious about. Once we are armed with some new skills (such as mindfulness, or assertive communication skills), we gradually engage with (rather than avoid) the situation which causes us anxiety. With this approach, people often notice an initial increase in their anxiety as they engage in situations they have previously avoided. However, over time they tend to notice a gradual reduction in the anxiety experienced in these situations.

3 Tips to help you Break Free from the cycle of anxiety

1. Mindfulness

There are a range of mindfulness-based techniques which may be helpful to manage anxiety. Mindfulness-based techniques may be helpful to manage our feelings of anxiety as they arise. Others may be helpful to manage anxious thoughts which arise.

3. Learn new skills

Depending on the specific cause for anxiety, learning new skills to navigate the situation may be helpful. Some common skills learned in therapy which enable people to feel more confident include assertive communication skills or conversation skills. These skills enable people to communicate their opinions, what they want and need, or how to maintain a conversation in social situations.

2. Be like a scientist (test what happens)

Typically when we avoid something, we are doing this based on what we “predict” may happen. For example, we may avoid social situations because we predict that we will embarrass ourselves and not be able to cope. Armed with our new skills, we can “test” whether our negative predictions come true (or not). When we engage in these types of tests, people often discover that their predictions about the situation are inaccurate. This enables us to form more accurate views about the situation.

Some people may require support to break free from the cycle of anxiety. A Psychologist can help you to develop a structured and tailored plan to help break the cycle of anxiety. If you need support to break free from the cycle of anxiety, contact us today.

References

  • Resource provided by cci.health.wa.gov.au titled “What is Anxiety”

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