How Does Anxiety Work? And Why Does It Keep Coming Back?

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Here's some simple information about how anxiety works and how it is perpetuated.
Instead of going into neuroscience or even into the old "fight or flight mode" explanations, I decided just to draw you a picture. This is, of course, just based on my opinion and observations.

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Let's break this down.

1. Trigger

A trigger normally starts the cycle of anxiety whether the anxious person is aware of it or not. Sometimes thoughts can be the (internal) trigger, meaning that number 1 & 2 are merged together. Other types of internal triggers could involve feelings (like sadness, frustration or worry) or physical symptoms (such as pain or discomfort).
External triggers could be anything from seeing an ex-partner walking down the street to driving home on a congested motorway. In other words, external triggers can be just about anything! Everyone that suffers with anxiety has their own triggers that are specific to them.
External triggers happen outside of us and are often out of our control, which in turn, tends to increase anxiety.

 

2. Thoughts

Thoughts sneak into the mind as a response to the trigger and has us believe that something scary or even life threatening is going on.
I'm not going to bore you with the old 'fight or flight mode' explanation. Basically, your brain interprets what's going on as seriously dangerous and prepares you to take (life saving) action, but most of the time when anxiety strikes we just sit there and wish it would go away... or at least that's what I did.
Sometimes the thoughts happen so fast that it can be difficult to catch them in the act. This is where mindfulness can be really helpful.

 

3. Anxiety

By this point the thoughts have done their damage and the body is responding to the perceived threat.
Here are some things that may be experienced.

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The trigger may be long gone but anxiety can continue for hours afterward. Whether known of or not, the thoughts are probably still in constant supply, enabling the anxiety to persist even longer. This sets up a pattern meaning that next time you have these thoughts, anxiety is a likely response.

 

4. Beliefs

Beliefs are formed when we see evidence that something is true/false which is then reinforced by repetition. Beliefs play a part in the anxiety cycle in that they keep us trapped in a fear pattern, continually strengthening themselves every time anxiety occurs.
So if you get anxiety every time you meet a new person then you might end up developing a belief that meeting new people is something to be afraid of. This in turn makes it more likely for you to have fearful thoughts every time you're faced with that scenario.
It's sad but true that this anxiety cycle can continue on and go from bad to worse if left alone without intervention. If you are suffering with anxiety I highly recommend seeking some professional support to help you recover rather than going it alone! Please get in touch if you'd like to work with me or have a look at my Meditations for Anxiety Album.

How does anxiety effect you?

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