Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety Attacks: How to Identify and Address Triggers

Breaking the Cycle of Anxiety Attacks: How to Identify and Address Triggers

There are typically four phases of anxiety. You might be able to manage your symptoms if you comprehend how the anxiety cycle functions.

Anxiety affects each person differently. But anxious sensations and thoughts—which can range from worry to fear to tension—are frequently felt by everyone. Sweating, a quick heartbeat, or high blood pressure are further signs of anxiousness.

Anxiety disorders come in a variety of forms. Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, panic disorder, and other phobias are a few of the most prevalent.

People who struggle with anxiety frequently go through what is known as the cycle of anxiety. You may be better able to control your symptoms as they develop if you are aware of the 4 phases of anxiety.

What is the cycle of anxiety?

The cycle of anxiety occurs when a circumstance or event occurs, the person feels helpless or afraid, and they avoid coping in an effort to block out their strong feelings. The cycle of anxiety is largely maintained by avoidance. People may become even more provoked when they make an effort to avoid feeling anxious.

More anxiety, fear, and anxious, negative thought patterns worsen their symptoms.

The 4 stages of anxiety

The cycle of anxiety includes 4 stages:

  • Stage 1: Feeling anxious and wanting to address it/ deal with it.
  • Stage 2: Trying to avoid the situation.
  • Stage 3: Feeling a momentary sense of relief
  • Stage 4: Returning to a situation of heightened anxiety.


The 4 stages may play out as follows in the following scenario:

  • Stage 1: You start to get a cold sweat just thinking about giving a presentation in front of a group of people at work.
  • Stage 2: You call in sick to work that day because your inclination is to escape
  • Stage 3: Since you don’t have to complete the work that’s making you feel so anxious, you immediately feel relaxed.
  • Stage 4: The news that the presentation has been moved to the following week causes you to feel anxious all over again, so this relief is short-lived.

How to identify the 4 stages

An automatic fight-or-flight response is frequently present in the initial stage of anxiety.

The second stage could involve physical reactions or experiences that could result in self-defense. You could feel exhausted mentally, emotionally, and physically by the fourth and last stage.

You can manage your symptoms by determining which stage of anxiety you are in based on your responses to the following questions.

Determine the stage

To determine which stage of the anxiety cycle you are in, try asking yourself any of the following questions:

  • What is taking place to cause this heightened anxiety? (i.e., Is it a thought, an event, memory, feeling, or image?)
  • What was your initial reaction?
  • What did you do in the moment?

Check your thoughts

It could be beneficial to examine your assumptions:

  • What unhelpful thoughts are you having in this very moment?
  • Do you observe any pattern toward catastrophizing, self-doubt, preoccupation, or overthinking?

Scan your body

You can identify any bodily response or reaction you could be having by performing a body scan:

  • What physical sensations or reactions are you noticing?
  • Is there an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, or sweating?
  • Are you having stomach pain or discomfort?


Thinking back on how you handled your anxiety can help you better handle it the next time it arises.

  • Did you avoid the situation?
  • Did you use unhealthy coping strategies to mask your feelings?

Tips to break the anxiety cycle

It will take time and commitment to alter your thought, feeling, and behavior, but you can successfully deal with anxiety whenever it arises. Understanding the cycle is the first step.

Here are a few ways for navigating the anxiety cycle so you can end any patterns you may be stuck in.

Reverse the 4 stages

Reversing the cycle of anxiety is a way to end it. Take into account the following 4-step reversal process:

  • Step 1: Without the aid of “safety behavior” situation (or unhealthy coping strategies), try to face feared events.
  • Step 2: Allow yourself a momentary or modest increase in anxiety, which will pass after which your physical symptoms will subside.
  • Step 3: To help you reduce your anxiety to a manageable level, lean into healthy coping skills.
  • Step 4: Consider your ability to control your responses and reactions.

Find ways to cope

Whatever phase of the anxiety cycle you’re in, there are coping strategies you can try.

Here are following tips to try to help you break the cycle:

Whatever stage of the anxiety cycle you’re in, there are coping mechanisms you can try. The following tips may hopefully assist you in breaking the cycle:

  • being mindful and present
  • deep breathing exercises
  • practicing meditation and yoga
  • prioritizing self-care
  • positive affirmations
  • building a strong support system
  • journaling your thoughts
  • confronting your thoughts (such as, “Is this helpful?” “Am I leading with facts or feelings?” “What proof do I have that supports what I’m thinking is true?”)
  • reminding yourself that your present feelings are temporary

Even though it could be difficult to overcome any form of anxiety in the heat of the moment, taking a break to remind yourself that you have power over how you feel and react may offer some relief.

The next step

The 4 stages of the anxiety cycle include feeling nervous, avoiding circumstances, momentarily feeling better, and then experiencing more anxiety.

This could develop into a “vicious cycle” that’s challenging to navigate, especially for people who tend to use avoidance strategies. However, being aware of each of the 4 stages can help you receive relief from your symptoms.


Back to blog

Leave a comment

Please note, comments need to be approved before they are published.