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How to break free from Anxiety Feedback Loops

Updated: Apr 27, 2021

You know when you start spinning out in repetitive anxious thoughts and you just can't seem to get out? Here are some suggestions for how to break that loop.

Do you ever stuck in the same worried thoughts, trying desperately to come to a resolution, but just spinning around and around in your head? I call this an anxiety feedback loop.

What’s happening is that our anxious thoughts create anxious feelings in our bodies. And then our anxious feelings fuel our anxious thoughts even more, creating an endless feedback loop between our thoughts and feelings in our body. At some point it can feel like you’re stuck inside a black hole and can’t find your way out. Does this sound familiar?

The problem with anxiety feedback loops is that we usually try to think our way out of them. But once we’re caught in a feedback loop, our thoughts are colored by the underlying anxious feelings, and, therefore, we can’t think clearly anymore. We keep trying to come up with an answer that will make us feel better, but it doesn’t work.

So, what can we do?

We can stop trying to avoid how we feel. We may not realize it, but those repetitive thoughts are an attempt to resolve the underlying feeling of anxiety, to make the feeling go away. But once you’re caught in a mental feedback loop, you can’t talk yourself out of feeling anxious, otherwise you would have done so already. Instead, trying to think your way out of the feeling has only made it worse and created a sense of desperation. But, if you “drop the thoughts” and allow yourself to simply feel the sensations of anxiety instead, then the feedback loop is instantly broken.

“Dropping the thoughts” means asking your brain to let go of thinking for a moment and instead bringing your attention to what you feel in your body. Notice what sensations you feel that tell you that you’re anxious. Do you feel tightness in your chest, buzzing, constriction? Often there is a sense of relief simply from allowing ourselves to feel the feelings of anxiety that we’ve been trying to avoid. Often the feeling fades on its own if we simply let ourselves feel it.

Sometimes the feeling doesn’t fade. In this case, you can take a deep breath and see if you can notice the space around the difficult sensations. Where do you feel relaxed in your body, or at least neutral? You can also bring your attention to something outside of yourself. Notice what you see around you, what the air feels like on your skin, what you smell, etc. This is a great tool because mental feedback loops suck all our attention inside, creating that sense of being stuck inside a black hole.

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