Anxiety cycle & CBT (3 useful tips)

The current blogspot will be based on the question “what is anxiety cycle cbt?”. We will learn about the anxiety cycle in cbt. We will also discuss the various aspects of the anxiety cycle cbt in detail.

What is the anxiety cycle cbt?

The anxiety cycle cbt is also known as the vicious cycle that begins with an anxiety provoking situation. The anxiety provoking  situation that starts the anxiety cycle is based on any triggering event that is related to a context or an apprehension related to a future event. It can be a trip, a meeting, a social context, a personal context or  a future event like an exam or a presentation. Anxiety can be triggered easily due to an internal body response like physiological body changes and anything that someone dreads to come in contact with on a personal level in near future. 

Anxiety cycle cbt  is based on the following four components :

  • Physiological
  • Cognitive
  • Emotional 
  • Behavioral

The physiological components 

The physiological components of an anxiety cycle cbt include :

  • Physiological symptoms
  • Bodily symptoms
  • Increased heart rate
  • Muscular tension
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Stomach ache
  • Sweating
  • Blushing

The cognitive components

The cognitive components of anxiety cycle cbt include : 

  • Apprehension
  • Constant worry
  • Catastrophization
  • Negative thought pattern
  • The “what if “ scenarios related to daily life routine activities. 

Usually the cognitive component is the main activating component behind an anxiety cycle. Thinking negatively, using cognitive distortions and having underlying negative schemas often gives rise to automatic negative thoughts. The automatic negative thoughts are our spontaneous thoughts that initiate our anxiety cycle and push us to pitfalls of functioning that makes us feel low and inappropriate related to ourselves. 

The vicious cycle usually starts with “what if?” and ends at all the possible negative scenarios that could be related to the cognitive trigger.

The emotional components

The emotional components of anxiety cycle cbt include :

  • Fear
  • Dread
  • Panic
  • Frustration
  • Anger
  • Disappointment
  • Sadness

The behavioral components

The behavioral components of anxiety cycle cbt include :

  • Reduced performance
  • Distorted relations
  • Increased stress
  • Irritability 
  • Anger outbursts
  • Avoidance of certain events due to apprehensions
  • Panic attacks

Example of anxiety cycle cbt

For example a child goes to a party with her mother. At the party the child is questioned by the friends of his mother about his grades. The child feels shy and inadequate as he is just an average student at school. Though he has never failed, he has never been highlighted for his grades at school. When he shares his exam performance with other women in the party, some of the women start bragging about their own child’s performance at school being efficient and above average. This makes the child feel inadequate and a failure as compared to their children who were above average in studies. The child feels his body shaking and his heart pumping a bit louder than usual. He felt like running away from the venue. He felt dizziness in his head.

At home whenever the child starts studying, he is preoccupied with the thought of being a failure or being incapable of making his mother proud. Thus the child feels low, is unable to concentrate on his studies, is unable to do well in exams and develops a social anxiety based on the thought that other people will judge or evaluate his personality.

Whenever the mother asks the child to go to a party or an event, he refuses to go and avoids social gatherings. Thus he develops a social anxiety and tends to isolate himself to places of his own interest where he feels being valued and appreciated. 

When the same child goes to school to take his exam, he feels panic attacks like symptoms that make him feel like having a heart attack. His heart pounds faster than usual, he sweats a lot, his hands feel numb and his head feels dizzy. He feels like collapsing and fainting out. 

In the above example, we can see that the child’s anxiety cycle cbt was triggered in reaction to the social situation and we could see that the child had physiological, cognitive, emotional and behavioral components in response to the cycle.

  • The physiological response of the child includes dizziness, increased heart rate and body shaking. Panic attacks occur as the extreme physiological response of the body due to an anxiety provoking event. 
  • The cognitive component of the anxiety cycle in this example is the child’s thoughts of failure and a sense of being inadequate. The thought of further doing worse in class makes it unable for the child to study and thus his behavioral symptoms  related to anxiety cycle appear. 
  • The child  is unable to concentrate well and learn his study material. He also starts avoiding social gatherings. These are the child’s behavioral component in response to the anxiety triggering event.
  • The emotional component of the anxiety cycle involves fear, anxiety and apprehensions related to the future. 

Safety behaviors and anxiety cycle cbt

Safety behaviors are certain behaviors that help us calm down our anxiety through coping skills that are not aimed at solving or breaking the cycle. The safety behaviors include : 

  • Relying on medication
  • Subtle avoidance of people or events to feel less anxious
  • Always having an exit plan for anxiety provoking situations
  • Relying on someone around you for feeling less anxious 

The safety behavior may prevent anxiety for a short term period. However, for a longer solution to anxiety, we need to get over the anxiety cycle by reversing the cycle.

How to reverse the anxiety cycle cbt?

The anxiety cycle cbt is a major factor for sustaining our anxiety and fear responses to situations. In order to change the anxiety and fear responses, we need to reverse the anxiety cbt cycle. Changing the anxiety cycle with a positive thought cycle will help us change our negative and unpleasant feelings related to triggering situations. Following are some steps related to reversing the anxiety cycle : 

  • Gradually confronting the fearful and anxiety promoting situations
  • Getting in touch with the situations and scenarios once avoided
  • For some people jumping in deep at once might work, this is known as flooding yourself with your fear.
  • For some people taking things step by step might work and this is known as graded exposure. In graded exposure we start with easy to reach and sort fears and move towards those that we dread the most.
  • By repeating the above steps in a structured way,we are able to get over negative things that are achieved through anxiety cycle cbt.


The current blogspot focused on the question “what is the anxiety cycle cbt?”. We learned about the various components of the anxiety cycle and the effect of triggering events on the components of anxiety cycle cbt. We also learned how to reverse the anxiety cycle cbt. 

Frequently asked questions : anxiety cycle cbt

What is an anxiety cycle?

An anxiety cycle is a process in which  a person avoids their fears, and as a result, those fears grow increasingly powerful. The anxiety cycle is a repeated pattern of triggers, feelings, cognitive processes and physiological responses and that is why it is considered cyclic in nature.

How does CBT work for anxiety?

CBT works for anxiety by identifying the underlying triggers, recognizing the associated cognitive distortions and surfacing the underlying schemas to overcome the cognitive biases and restructure the cognitive patterns in a healthy way.

How does the anxiety cycle work?

The anxiety cycle works in response to a triggering event or a situation. The individual in such a scenario adopts negative thought patterns that further aggravate the negative feelings and thus the brain gets signals of fight or flight.


The Vicious Cycle of Anxiety—Information-Sheets/Panic-Information-Sheet—03—The-Vicious-Cycle-of-Anxiety.pdf

What Is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)?

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