The Anxiety Loop
What brings on your panic attacks? For many of us, ironically, a common cause of our anxiety attacks is….well…our anxiety attacks. Yes, it is kind of the chicken and egg scenario. But, since panic attacks are so physically and emotionally difficult, we often become most anxious about the idea of dealing with another attack. We are literally waiting for the “monster” of panic to pop back up, which is very anxiety provoking. We become anxious about our anxiety and panicked about our panic…this is called the anxiety loop.
Many anxiety sufferers find ourselves trapped in this loop–I certainly did. I spent all of my time either in the midst of a panic attack, recovering from a panic attack, or preparing for the next one. For me, this meant not straying too far from home, which led to all sorts of problems (Shrinking World Syndrome). My world got so small that I began using different colored pillow cases, just to have a change of scenery.
It is very difficult (for me, next to impossible) to halt my panic once it takes over my brain/body. Once I get to that part of the loop, I’m screwed. It’s like I’m on autopilot, no longer a thinking being, but a reacting/feeling one. It’s all physical symptoms and spinning. But, if I can somehow also stay a thinking being—even while my body is starting to freak out–I find I can break the loop. Although I have little control (if any) over my body’s behavior or my anxious feelings, I can control the thoughts which create those behaviors and feelings.
Below is a diagram of one of my typical anxiety loops (notice how the thoughts and feelings get bigger with each step):
As I said above, I cannot stop the cycle when I’m in the feeling mode; but there are some possibilities in the thinking mode—particularly early on in the loop when the thoughts and feelings are smaller and more manageable. If I can interrupt or question my thoughts, the resulting feelings become much less intense. And once I start doing that, I get stronger and my anxiety weakens.
Here’s another diagram of the same anxiety loop. The black text indicates where I can interrupt the cycle:
Notice how changing my thoughts (or questioning their validity) results in changes to the feelings and also how the feelings de-escalate.
Caveat: this thought-altering strategy takes some practice to master (I’ve been doing it for years), but it absolutely works. If you would like to take a crack at it and it won’t cause you to become anxious, try diagramming one of your typical anxiety loops like I did. First diagram what happened; then rewrite your thoughts. Visualize the feelings getting less intense while your thoughts take control.
Anybody have success with this strategy?