Cycle of Anxiety

March 2, 2022
Breaking Free of the Cycle of Anxiety: My Story
March 16, 2022

Cycle of Anxiety

The news is bad and I am trapped in a cycle of anxiety.

My phone constantly gives me information about terrible events. I watch and worry, scroll, and feel my stomach roil. The more I watch, the more miserable I become. The cycle tightens. I feel overwhelmed and switch to a game. But then I need to know what is happening, so I search some more. It is worse than before. I numb out with videos. I get up to do something, anything on my task list. I eat some candy and return to my phone.  

(Each person avoids in their own way: mindless scrolling, alcohol, endless attempts to get to the next level, sweets, excessive behaviors of all sorts.) 

I check the news feed again. It doesn’t look any better. With a lump in my stomach, I go back to avoidance. A part of my brain is reminding me that I have stuff to do, but focusing on that when my brain is becoming ever more anxious isn’t working. Eventually the day ends, and I have nothing to show for it. Now I am irritated with myself. It is hard to fall asleep. I feel guilty lying in my safe bed and my brain is filled with terrible images. I wake up and look at the news feed. 

Taking a Breath

The longer this cycle continues, the more symptoms show up. Bad attitude, low energy, feeling frozen in place, body aches, disrupted sleep, and irritability. My brain circles around all the bad things that are happening and that could happen. Uncomfortable feelings arise: guilt, sadness. Everyday tasks seem irrelevant. Anxiety grows and resilience sinks.  

I was on this path last week when I attended a church service where the pastor said:  

“Thank God, I am not God.” 

I was reminded that I am not responsible for everything. As I let that sink in, I felt myself exhale.  

“Oh right… this is outside of my circle of control. In a really big way.” (This is why community matters. I know this, I teach this, and I really needed to hear someone else say it.) 

Getting Free

Resilience is a constant practice. The news isn’t getting any better. Fortunately, I don’t need it to get better to get out of this negative cycle. I know the solution: Focus on my inner circle of control. Take care of my own health and well-being. Sleep, eat healthy foods, exercise, put down the phone! Practice centering and breathing in a very intentional way. Ironically, I can help the most when I don’t obsess about it. 

Refocus. For a few days, I avoid most of the news. I work to get back into a healthy routine and get caught up on my life. Once I am sleeping and not feeling stuck in that negative cycle, I decide how much news makes sense. 

I want to be informed but don’t want to get sucked back into doom scrolling. I plan how often to check the news. Not before bed or first thing in the morning. For me it works to check as I finish my day and before I move into the evening. I get back into my life. 

Getting Back to Life

Once I have me back, I find an opportunity to help. No longer frozen in horror on my couch, I have the energy to reach out or to organize a small way to make a local difference. I remind myself that big problems are often solved with lots of small steps all heading in the same direction. For a few days, I keep a tight focus and get a lot of stuff done. Then I have a really busy week followed by a packed day. I didn’t get a chance to look at the news all day. Too tired to get ready for bed I pick up my phone – and start to slide down into that negative space again….. 

Brains are not like cars. If my brakes aren’t doing so well, I take the car in and get them replaced. I can then forget about it for quite some time. Anxiety is part of what keeps you safe, and it can expand out of proportion until it prevents you from functioning. How do we keep this necessary yet annoying part of ourselves in balance? How do we keep it in balance during 2022? I will be exploring these questions in a series of blogs focused on Maintaining Resilience during Anxious Times. 

To learn more, explore for tools, videos, and coaching opportunities.


Laura A. Gaines