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The Anxiety Cycle

Anxiety is tricky because it urges us to act in a way that values short-term anxiety relief at the expense of long-term, sustained anxiety relief.

Anxiety screams we are in danger (99% of the time we are not in danger) and urges us to seek "safety" immediately.

When we listen to these intense and tricky short-term urges, two important things happen:

  • The next time we encounter the same anxiety trigger, the anxiety will be even more intense
  • Because of the growth in intensity, it becomes even harder to resist the short-term urge and not seek "safety"

As a result, anxiety is reinforced long-term. It's a cycle and a big trap that becomes harder to break out of.

The first step to overcoming anxiety is to first understand and recognize when you're in the anxiety cycle.

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Triggering Event

A triggering event can be anything: a person, place, thing, sound, smell, random thought, or a body sensation.

Anxiety

Anxiety causes racing thoughts, usually in the form of worry and catastrophizing thought. It also produces intense body sensations: racing heart, sweating, shaking, fatigue, dizziness, rapid breathing, stomach pain.

Avoidance

Anxiety urges us to avoid or escape the triggering situation. Anxiety tells us we are in danger and to seek "safety."

Short-Term Relief

When we escape or avoid the triggering event, anxiety rewards us by giving us instant relief.

Long-Term Reinforcement

However, the next time we encounter the same triggering event, anxiety sends us even stronger signals to avoid. It says, "I thought we already learned to stay away from this? I guess not. I will teach for good this time."


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