Today we’re going to talk about how to break out of the Anxiety-Burnout-Depression Cycle.
I’m currently working with a couple of clients who all get stuck in this pattern of anxiety, and then they try to keep super busy to avoid feeling anxious, and then they burn out and end up depressed. I’ve seen this pattern in my family and in a lot of my clients, so from what I can tell it’s a pretty common way that anxiety turns into depression. In this video you’re going to learn how to identify and replace this pattern with a more helpful, sustainable approach. So let’s take a look at each of those stages.
This anxiety may not seem to come from anywhere, it might be due to old trauma, or it may be a bit more genetic or just an old habit but regardless of why you feel it, it’s the feeling of anxiety. You feel uncertain if you’re “good enough” or you may feel jittery or unsure, you might be worried that you’re going nowhere, or worried about the future, or just feel tense or stressed.
Anxiety is uncomfortable and most of us want it to go away, so step 2 of the cycle is
2. Run about, sprint around, keep sure busy, do as much as they physically can.
For example, one of my clients took too many classes in college, trained for a marathon, started a really intense diet, and worked too many hours. This is the stage where you try to use willpower to get everything done, you wake up early, you say yes to too many things, you try to just work harder/faster, you try to be perfect, You think “if you can only do everything, or at least stay busy, then you won’t feel anxious anymore.”
3. Then comes the burnout
This is the exhaustion stage, One of my clients felt tired, overwhelmed, depressed, like she wasn’t good enough. She had a hard time feeling motivated, but for a while she dragged herself out of bed, then she reached the breaking point. Had a meltdown at work. Got a stress fracture. Quit the marathon training. She was exhausted and started sleeping for 16+ hours a day. At this stage depression kicks in. You may feel like there’s no hope. This is the stage where you wonder “what’s the point?” My client starts to beat herself up. She asks “Am I a failure?” she had put in all her effort, all her willpower, and now, in her mind, she was failing. When you’ve tried so hard to escape feelings by doing everything, but you still feel crappy, this is when some people start thinking of suicide as their only escape. For many, they’ve tried everything they know of, but their attempts to run just leave them feeling anxious and exhausted.
For my client the semester ended and she took 3 weeks off from work. She slept most of the day, and watched netflix for much of the rest.
Then, when she started to feel less exhausted, she starts thinking- I’m not a failure, I just have to try harder next time. If I only try harder, do more, or do it better, then I won’t fail. As her worries build, she starts to take on more projects, starts a new diet, signs up for more classes...and that is how the cycle repeats.
Do you see this cycle in yourself? You don’t have to stay stuck in it, let’s talk about breaking this cycle at each of the 4 stages. I’m going to give you an overview of skills that you can use at each of these stages, and I teach these skills in my Anxiety Skills Playlist and my Grounding Skills Playlist-So check those out to learn how to actually do this.
So in stage 1, Anxiety- Anxiety is all about perceived danger. Instead of running away, Create a sense of safety If you fear not being good enough build your self worth on integrity to values instead of accomplishments or “doing more”. When you feel anxious, practice grounding techniques and calm your body before you choose a course of action. Don’t let anxiety-brain convince you that “everything is awful” instead practice gratitude and look for the good in your life and in yourself. Managing anxiety is all about slowing down and restoring your sense of personal power and safety. It’s about understanding your locus of control which is accepting what you can’t change and changing what you can.
The second part of this cycle is the fight or flight response. It’s a short term sprint to get away from danger. Trying to do a marathon, school, an extreme diet, a relationship and work is like a gazelle running away from a cheetah, it works for a while but it’s not sustainable. Don’t get stuck running. Don’t get stuck running away from your anxiety. Slow down. Breathe. calm your body even in stressful tasks. Choose sustainable action instead of a sprint, say “no” to a few things.
To avoid the burnout stage- Plan in time for regular rest and self care. This creates the opportunity for regular growth. When you do fall short, Learn to respond to your mistakes with self-compassion instead of self-flagellation. Beating yourself up or using fear as your motivator only works in the short term, but in the long run drains you of motivation and energy. Instead practice self-compassion.
And at stage 4- Instead of just repeating the cycle, identify it. Write down what it looks like in your life. Identify each of the stages. Use a Growth Mindset and ask “What can I learn from this?”. Journaling or writing things down can really help you look at the big picture.
You really can intervene at each stage of this cycle in your life. When you start to practice the little skills and incorporate them into your actions, you can turn the downward spiral into an upward spiral of sustainable growth.
Slow things down, choose intentional reaction instead of just running, take the time to take care of yourself, treat yourself with compassion, Breathe. You got this.
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