MSS# 043 How to break an anxiety loop

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MSS #043: Understanding anxiety and how to break the loop

4 Nov 23

MSS #043: How to break an anxiety loop.

04 Nov, 2023

Read time: 6.8 minutes

In a hurry? In a hurry? Cut straight to Get me out of here! – The solution. - reduced read time 3.8 minutes

This week let’s talk about how to overcome anxiety, with a simple but effective technique.

Learn what anxiety is and how it happens, so you can better understand the technique to break the viscous cycle.

Anxiety is weird, we all experience it, yet it is difficult to describe and often we are not even sure what triggers it. The beauty of this technique is you don’t need to know what caused it.

Read on and find out how to hit the anxiety reset button. If you don’t want detail of what anxiety is or your running short of time, skip the next part and jump straight into the section called…..Get me out of here! – The solution.

What is anxiety?

You can consider anxiety several ways,

  • What is happening in the mind – chemically.

  • How anxiety shows up.

  • What it’s all about?

Let’s briefly cover each of these in reverse order.

What is it all about?

The primary directive of the ancient parts (evolutionary speaking) of our minds* is to keep us safe.

Stored away in our unconscious minds is a whole bunch of learnt experiences of what has caused us stress or discomfort, so our mind’s learnt response is to protect us by keeping away from these situations.

Sometimes it does this in practical ways, by getting us to avoid certain people at gatherings. Other times it sets off stress signals to warn us off.

Anxiety is a level above, when we get stressed about being stressed, the chemical responses in our brain sets off a feedback loop. At its heart it is the mind, urgently trying to deliver a message that we are in danger, based on learnt experiences.

Now this brain response system developed when we were in true life threatening situations as early man / women. This represents eons of evolutionary refinement of a safety protection system.

In our modern world for most people, sadly not all, our threats in most cases are not life threatening. But the brains mechanism responds the same to real threats and perceived threats.

It is the brains way of warning us of danger. One problem with this is we do not always get the message about what it is warning us about, so it keeps delivering it through a chemical feedback loop.

*Minds – when I say minds (pleural) I am referring to the model of three distinct evolutionary parts to our brain. Look up the Triune brain model if you want to know more.

How anxiety shows up

Anxiety can show up in lots of ways, but most of us will be familiar with any of these symptoms,

  • High heart rate.

  • Feeling stressed.

  • Feeling unwell or nauseous.

  • Waves of unpleasant feelings.

  • Feeling really tense and on edge.

  • Being angry, jumpy or aggressive.

  • Feeling of overwhelm, unable to cope.

  • Strong emotions, that do not seem rational.

  • Constant rumination of a thought or thoughts.

  • An avalanche of similar worries coming back to mind.

We go on an endless cycle of ….

feelings ➡️thoughts ➡️ emotions ➡️more feelings ➡️ more thoughts

….and back around the cycle again and again, seemingly unable to break it until we feel warn out.

Feelings produce biochemical reactions in the brain, which translate into thoughts. Those thoughts in turn get turned into feelings / emotions. So strictly speaking the cycle is,

Feelings / emotions to thoughts, which leads to emotions which are translated back into thoughts and round we go.

The brain has also been shown to have similar thoughts cluster. If you think about butterflies, you might then think of flowers, grass, a sunny day outside etc. Of course, if your thought is less pleasant it can attract like unpleasant thoughts.


What is happening in the mind – chemically

Essentially our brains are electro-chemical machines. When our mind thinks its detected danger is sets off a chemical alarm system, as follows:-

The Amygdala sets off the warning alarm, which results in various chemical being released to help the fight and flight system.

One of those is Cortisol. Some of this Cortisol gets fed back into the Amygdala, which triggers the fight and flight system again, releasing more cortisol and Adrenalin.

These chemicals cause the symptoms I shared in “how anxiety shows up”.

Some of the other affects are that your IQ drops, as blood is diverted away from the rational thinking part of the brain.

You may feel nauseous and not hungry, as your digestive system is put in suspend mode and your memory goes to pot, all you can remember and fixate on is last time you were in the same threat.

If this process persists neurons can be damaged or die, especially in the memory area. Cortisol weakens neurons ability to connect to each other in the Hippocampus, which increases rumination of thoughts.

I gave this detail for three reasons,

  • I like detail – others don’t, I respect that.

  • Understanding how the process works will help you realise the solution I will share does work, even if it seems a bit strange.

  • Also, by explaining this runaway anxiety chain reaction, we can be less critical of ourselves when it happens to us.

Get me out of here! – The solution

The solution is to focus on your associated feelings not your thoughts, relating to the anxiety you feel.

If you are affected or suffer from a particular trauma or past event in your life, some experts might suggest examining that past event. This should only be undertaken by an expert.

In my experience if you start analysing such things, you are thinking about them more. The mind works by clustering thoughts with similar associations, to my way of thinking this is just making the issue bigger in our minds and creating a stronger neural pathway in the brain.

My experience and learning are, it is better to focus on the feelings anxiety such an event creates and imagine giving those feelings Unconditional Love.

Not questioning what happened or why, simply accepting it is what it is and providing unconditional and unquestioning love in your mind, targeted on those uncomfortable feelings and emotions, not the thoughts. This is a very clear distinction. Giving love to the feelings and emotions associated with an event, not the thoughts surrounding the event.

If negative thoughts or fears enter your mind and you struggle to move on to positive thoughts, try a different approach to “dissolve” unhelpful thoughts.

Whether you have children or not you can probably associate with the fact that hearing a baby scream continuously is very upsetting and stressful. We all know in that situation the solution is not to ignore the baby screaming, turn the music up loader, put on some headphones and hope it stops.

For most people the instinct is to go to the baby see what is wrong, pick it up, cradle it and give it Unconditional Love and comfort.

Yet with our own fears, we tend to hide away from them, rather than comfort ourselves, we challenge ourselves as to why we feel so bad, making ourselves feel guilty. In fact, we give the thoughts in our mind more time and attention, which just helps them grow and find similar thoughts, with the clustering effect of thoughts attracting similar thoughts we discussed much earlier in the book.

To use a different analogy, if we focus our thoughts on what causes us distress, we give it “oxygen” to attract more of the same. A bit like giving a fire more oxygen, so it burns more fiercely. Instead, just observe the fire, don’t judge it, just let it be and it will die down in time because you are not fanning the flames.

Ok, when we are in pain and have a fear, many times we do the equivalent of putting our headphones on, turn up the music and hope it will go away, of course it does not. As we learnt earlier, trying not to think of something does not work. You just end up focusing more on what you are trying to block out, so you cluster more thoughts on the area of your attention.

In Ruby Wax book Frazzled she describes the default process of our brains as an endless loop of having feelings, which turn to thinking about those feelings, which results in thinking about those feelings. Where the loop starts with feelings does not really matter, we just get caught up in this turmoil of thinking and feelings. Ruby’s book also supports the idea of placing your attention on your feelings, not on the thought, to break this endless loop.

Next time you feel fear or pain over something try this.

Do this

Let your attention rest on the feelings that those negative thoughts create. This is an important and clear distinction, focus on the feelings not the thought itself.

Notice where you feel them in your body and just send comforting, accepting feelings in the direction you sense the uncomfortable feeling, associated with the thought that is troubling you.

Give unconditional feelings of support.

Notice where in your body you have those feelings. If those feelings move just follow them in your mind’s attention. If the feelings change in form, intensity, if they change from being constant to pulsing, whatever they are doing, just observe the feeling and be mentally present with it.

Do not judge the feeling, just accept and acknowledge it. If you are comfortable doing so, send the feeling your love or compassion, unconditionally.

Often people find the intensity of the feeling rises at some point, but just keep going with the process, eventually the feeling subsides and disappears. When you try to recreate the scenario that caused the fear it has either gone or feels much better than before.

By focusing on the feeling and not the thought that created the feeling, you dissolve it, you starve the thought of “oxygen” it cannot grow and increase.

You have in fact stopped thinking about the issue or thought, by focusing on its by product, the feeling. In doing this, you achieve the seemingly impossible of not thinking about what is upsetting you, by focusing your attention on the feeling and sending comforting thoughts to it.

If you are wondering what these feelings are like, they will be different for everyone and any given thought or situation. The most common feelings are sensations of tightness or a slightly nauseous feeling. Sometimes the feeling is constant, it can be pulsating, growing or declining in intensity.

When we have an uncomfortable or negative sensation in our minds, it translates into how our bodies respond physically as well.

I have just shared with you a powerful insight and technique regarding how to change your response to anxiety and ruminating thoughts.

This technique focuses on feelings and emotions, the language of the unconscious mind.


So what?

Quick recap.

  • Anxiety is horrible.

  • We get all anxiety, for some occasionally for others it reoccurs.

  • Anxiety feels unexplainable most times.

  • In short its own brains flight and fight system kicking off and starting a nasty chemical chain reaction.

  • The merry go round of thoughts, feelings and emotions starts.

The solution,

  • Accept it is happening, no judgement.

  • Let go of analysis, guilt, shame etc.

  • Focus on the feelings – where they are, how they show up.

  • Send unconditional love to those feelings – no judgement.

  • Keep following the feelings, send love.

  • Repeat if necessary.

P.S. If you want to go beyond this try my book and associated digital course,

“Nuclear Powered Resilience”

A really simple and fun solution to ongoing anxiety or bringing healing to past events. This was inspired by how I helped my friend who spent a lot of time and money for over 60 years trying to free themselves from a childhood trauma. I showed them how in 2 hours in a walk in the snow during Covid.

If you choose, links below or in my LinkedIn profile or website

See you next week. If you haven't already, follow me on LinkedIn and hit the bell for daily posts on tips, insights and techniques.

Want more? 

When you're ready, 3 ways I can help you:

1. Build self confidence and resilience fast - £48 training course

Golden Resilience Habit

2. Work with me 121 - start with a FREE 15 minutes exploration session.

Lets have an open chat and explore how I can help you and what is troubling you.

If we both think we can work together and I have what you need we can go from there.

3. Workshops and Speaking - I run workshops and speak. Book me to help your team increase their productivity.

Nuclear Powered Resilience – learn one golden habit that gives incredible inner strength, comfort and support, that keeps growing by instilling Unconditional Love in your mind.

7 guiding principles to better thinking – what trips up our thinking and how to create different habitual responses.

What they should have taught you at school – awareness of how we think and how to get better results.

Vitamin C for the mind – how to feel and have more control in life, with simple techniques built into a habit.

Happy habits – simple habits to make you feel happier everyday.

That's it for this week. Thanks for reading, really hope this helped. Contact me if you think I can help you further at [email protected].

Happy thinking.