3 steps to break the cycle of anxiety

May 22, 2023

Anxiety can be an overwhelming experience for many. We hear the symptoms all the time: Tight chest, feeling like you can’t breathe, sweating, can’t sleep, butterflies-in-stomach… the list goes on and on. 

It can feel like a burden, a never ending cycle where you become stuck and hopeless. It can hold you back from doing things that you love. Stops you from being a part of things that you enjoy. Before you know it, anxiety is all you know and it feels like there is no way out. 

But what if I told you that you could break the cycle? Here’s how:


Your brain is a creature of habit and automation. If it doesn’t have to think about it, it won’t and so many things will become autopilot. Can you imagine if you had to learn every family member's name each time you went to a function, or learn to drive again, every time you opened the car door?  Emotions are no different. Your brain will make associations with each emotion so that it can react without thinking, even if that association is negative. This means that you have to make a conscious effort to think about what your brain is doing.

The first thing you can do is recognise that your brain is on autopilot. It has made an unhelpful association and your job is not to accept it. Instead, it is to challenge and break this association. 


Take time to recognise it in action. Imagine this cycle has 3 parts: thoughts, feelings and behaviours. These 3 parts all work together to keep the cycle going. The more you can recognise your thoughts, feelings and behaviours, in those anxious moments, the more you will be able to disrupt them. For example, you thinking that ” this is going to be the worst day” is unhelpful. You are likely to feel lousy as a result and act as though your day really is lousy- giving into the cycle. It can also work this way- You feel nervous in your stomach, you then stop eating because you think you might be sick, you end up feeling poorly and start questioning your ability to do something and so you don’t do it. This is how cycles work. It doesn’t matter which order the 3 appear in, the cycles still remain. 

Write down what you typically think, feel and do when you are anxious. By identifying your cycle, you create distance between you and it. This is powerful because you can start to make choices to influence the cycle. Rather than doing things on autopilot, you can choose to step out of the anxiety and do something that is more helpful. 


Pick one area of the cycle to focus on.Start to make changes to how you usually respond. For example, if you usually avoid something, start to face it instead, even if just for a few seconds. If you usually have a negative thought, challenge it with a positive one. If you feel anxious, somewhere in your body, do something to help change how it feels.

EXAMPLE: If my cycle is to think I’m going to mess up, feel tense in my shoulders and start re-writing my work over and over again.

INSTEAD I might change just one of these things. I might repeat to myself that I am capable and have done this many times before. I might relax my shoulders by doing some stretches at my desk. I could also drink or eat something soothing to help settle my stomach. 

Change takes time, but with conscious consistent effort, you can break the cycle. The first step is believing you can!

Photo by cottonbro studio