The Roots of Anxiety and How to Break Its Cycle
You are all too familiar with the dreaded feeling, which consists of worrying about the reaction to something you’ve said, wondering if that overwhelming social situation will push your stress to its breaking point, and contemplating all of the potentially catastrophic outcomes that could result from a single choice.
This may go one of two ways: you could be able to shift your attention by some stroke of magic, or this first fright could send you into a downward anxiety spiral. Both outcomes are possible.
Unfortunately, even a single foray down this rabbit hole might make it far more difficult to avoid similar situations in the future. The instinctive response that our brain has in place to deal with triggers is intended to keep us safe. However, all it does is bring back the anxious sensations.
We could try to distract or numb ourselves from the sensations by engaging in activities. It’s possible that we shame ourselves for not being able to manage our feelings better. The uncomfortable fact is that our level of worry will be directly proportional to the degree to which we resist it.
What Are The Roots Of An Anxiety Loop?
To begin, it might be beneficial to take a peek behind the scenes in order to have a better understanding of what is happening in our minds during an anxiety spiral. To put it another way, it’s a conflict between the rational side of our brain and the emotional side of our brain.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is the part of our brain that is responsible for our rationality. Imagine that you are in the executive suite of the penthouse.
It is situated at the front and top of the brain, and it is responsible for the most complex degree of brain activity. It acts as a command center for all of the mental processes. This is where our most brilliant thoughts and deeds are brought to fruition.
The limbic system, which controls our emotions, is located in the lowest portion of our brains. Imagine that you are in the dark and dreary basement where the files are stored. It is the location that is responsible for the organization and processing of our memories (hippocampus).
It is from this place that our feelings of danger and dread also emerge (amygdala).
This is when the process known as “fight-flight-freeze” gets its start, which is what activates anxiety.
An inability to cope with our triggers at the beginning of an anxiety episode will lead to a cycle of increasing anxiety. Because of the stress in our lives, our minds tend to get rutted and stagnant. These have the potential to keep us stuck in a never-ending cycle. The worst part is that this method completely sidesteps our rational brain (PFC).
Anxiety that is triggered is similar to our brains going into emergency lockdown. Our penthouse office, also known as rationality, has had its door banged shut.
Imagine you are urgently trying to flee the building, and you are racing up and down the stairs. (Another option is to remain immobile while hunkering down in a secluded area and waiting for the danger to pass.) Because of the obstruction, you are unable to receive logical and stress-relieving commands from those who are above.
In the meantime, the terrifying cries that are emanating from the basement are contributing to a rise in anxiety.
Because of this, we cannot simply rid ourselves of worry by using logic and reasoning alone. This is another reason why we may so quickly get consumed by worry spirals.
Avoid Negative Cycles Of Anxiety With These Straightforward Practices
You wouldn’t wait until there was a fire in the building to check that all of the necessary safety equipment and evacuation procedures were in place, would you? In the same vein, if we want to avoid anxiety spirals, we need to be proactive and adopt preventative actions.
The following are five straightforward behaviors that, when practiced regularly, may help lessen and avoid anxiety before it gets out of hand.
1. Out-Of-The-Box Meditation
This one may provide some challenges. Attempts at meditation may stir up the anxiety monster inside certain individuals, including myself. I include myself among such people. It is hard for us to turn off our worried thoughts when they are in a state of hyperactivation.
Because of this, it is helpful to make meditation a practice that we engage in when the environment around us is peaceful. While the prefrontal cortex is in control, this activity helps us train our brains.
It’s sort of like having to practice evacuation drills over and over again in your office building. Everyone will be ready to respond quickly and effectively in the event that a fire breaks out. In the event that you fail to do so, you will find yourself in a state of fear as you attempt to read the directions for the fire extinguisher while also putting out the flames.
What if you just can’t seem to get yourself to sit still long enough for your mind to calm down? To our good fortune, there are several more approaches to meditation.
When I was just getting started, I discovered that “movement meditation” was the practice that suited me the best. I found it easier to escape the relaxation-induced anxiety if I busied myself with an activity that did not require me to focus on its completion, such as washing the dishes, cleaning the bathroom, or strolling around the block.
It was possible for me to let my mind wander and pay attention to the ideas that emerged. Either I could relax the pressure and let them pass, which would prevent them from arriving, or I could pound on them again and again, like some insane game of whack-a-mole.
2. The E-Motion (Energy In Motion)
Exercise has several anti-anxiety advantages. It does this by increasing the oxygen levels in the circulation and by directly activating the PFC (penthouse office suite). This provides our brains with the energy and power to overcome the processes that cause worry, allowing us to feel better.
The stiffness in your muscles, which is a frequent side effect of worry, may be alleviated by exercise. It causes the production of molecules that make us feel good and help us keep our emotions in check.
A welcome reprieve from high-intensity thoughts and feelings is another benefit of engaging in regular physical activity. It is essential to be conscious of the fact that taking this kind of vacation is not the same as adopting an avoidant strategy.
Recognizing and working through one’s anxiety is the most effective strategy for coping with it. This may be accomplished in a number of extremely efficient ways, one of which is to put our energy into motion via movement.
Having a regular workout routine allows us to enjoy the benefits of both worlds. It not only offers a momentary mental break but also prepares our brains to more effectively cope with challenging situations in the future.
3. Recognize The Nutrients That Benefit The Nervous System
Dietary adjustments, even the simplest ones, may have a significant impact on lowering levels of stress and anxiety. The body’s response to stress may be changed from “fight or flight” to a more relaxed state by taking vitamin B6.
Pork, chicken, peanuts, wheat germ, oats, and bananas are all excellent sources of vitamin B6 that may help relieve stress.
Magnesium is a mineral that is very important in the process of controlling how our bodies react to stress. Magnesium deficiency affects a significant portion of the general population.
It’s interesting to note that not getting enough magnesium might increase the likelihood of negative stress effects on the body. Magnesium may also be depleted when there is a high amount of stress in a person’s life. Magnesium-rich meals are your best defense against this never-ending cycle.
Try any of these foods that are high in magnesium: pumpkin seeds, black beans, almonds, spinach, and whole-grain cereals.
Do you want to put even more emphasis on this tactic? When taken together, the advantages of magnesium and vitamin B6 for relieving stress are multiplied. Another helpful choice is to use high-quality dietary supplements.
4. Recognize The Exhale Effect’s Strength
Having the perception that one lacks control stimulates the emotional brain. By controlling our breathing, however, we may deceive our minds into thinking that we are in charge of the situation.
This comes with a hidden perk in the form of the fact that oxygen is one of the most powerful sources of fuel for our brains. Our brains are less likely to turn to fear-based pattern-seeking if we provide them with the proper amount of oxygen. We no longer have to rely on techniques that help us save energy but just serve to perpetuate the cycle of worry.
Anxiety may both cause and manifest itself physically as shortness of breath. Therefore, doing breathwork in order to quickly settle anxiety is really useful.
There are a variety of ways to control one’s breathing in order to soothe one’s nervous system. Exhaling for much longer than you inhale might be a simple but effective technique for reducing anxious feelings. Inhaling deeply has the potential to activate the fight-or-flight response.
Instead, give this simple breathing pattern a shot: inhale for a count of three seconds, then exhale for a count of five seconds. Repeat this pattern as many times as you want. This rhythm results in around eight breaths per minute, which is an optimal rate for assisting our body’s relaxation reaction.
Continue doing this for as long as you see fit. The effects of calming your nerves may be felt after just two minutes of practice.
5. Get Rid Of These Ants!
According to the well-respected brain specialist, Dr. Daniel Amen, ANTs are a significant factor in the development of anxiety. Automatic negative thoughts, often known as ANTs, may hasten the descent into an anxious downward spiral.
The human brain is a sophisticated pattern recognition computer. Even though it only accounts for a few pounds of our total body weight, it is responsible for up to a quarter of the energy that we expend every day. It prefers to avoid exertion whenever possible in order to save this energy. And the vast majority of the time it saves is due to unconscious processes.
This indicates that if we are unable to get mastery over these ANTs, we will revert to using them each and every time we are under pressure. This offers the ideal conditions for anxiety to spiral out of control.
In order to put a stop to this, we will need to rebuild the circuitry in our unconscious minds. It is going to take some time and effort on our part to modify our thinking patterns so that we are able to function primarily from our prefrontal cortex. This enables us to replace anxious emotions with results that are more favorable.
By being intentional and persistent in our attempts to modify our internal dialogue, we may create new routes for ourselves.
A Few Parting Thoughts
Anxiety cycles do not have to have a monopoly on our lives. Small, attainable steps are all that are required for us to assume responsibility for our own mental acts.
To begin, one must have a grasp of how the brain functions. After that, we simply educate our minds to concentrate on what we can control, even in circumstances that would normally induce dread.
By following the easy, daily routines that have been outlined above, we may retrain our brains and process our emotions while avoiding anxiety spirals.