When we interpret a situation as potentially dangerous and then we avoid it, our brain sends out this rush of relief…as if to say “Phew, that was close, I could have died.” But our brain doesn’t stop there, it then says “Let’s make my human do that again so that I can survive the next time” so it increases our anxiety around a situation. Avoidance of things that we think may be dangerous is the one thing that actually makes our anxiety grow and grow. But avoidance can be addictive because it feels good in the moment.
Anxiety is a natural and helpful emotion that is supposed to protect us from real, physical danger like rattlesnakes and cliffs. But when we feel anxious about things that are actually safe- like public speaking, or social situations, and then avoid those situations, we can actually create a heightened anxiety response that leads to more and more avoidance, which leads to more and more anxiety, which spirals into a situation where our world is shrinking as we avoid more and more situations.
This is called the Anxiety Cycle, and it not only gives us a clear explanation of what causes our anxiety to increase, but it also shows us the key to decreasing anxiety. So just as the brain learns something is “dangerous” when we avoid it, it can learn that something is actually safe when we face it and survive. Our brain’s inherent ability to rewire itself is called neuroplasticity, this basically means we can change the physical structure of our brain by changing how we think and how we act. In essence, the most powerful and effective way to combat anxiety is to distinguish between real and perceived danger, and then to gradually face those fears instead of avoiding them. When we do this, our brain learns we are safe and decreases our anxiety.
Now obviously this sounds easy but in practice is quite hard, and therapist have broken this process down into bite sized chunks, so check out my more in-depth videos if you’d like to learn more about how to combat anxiety and re-wire your brain.
This video is the super-condensed version of my more detailed explanation of the Anxiety cycle- that video includes 3 essential steps to getting out of the anxiety cycle and 10 skills to help you face your fears. (That video is in in the editing process, stay tuned to see it when it comes out). Please share this video because you never know who might need it. Thanks for watching and take care.