A vicious cycle can sometimes develop which can keep your anxiety going. 

Because the symptoms of anxiety can be both uncomfortable and frightening, people can think that something terrible is actually happening. This can make you feel more anxious and, in turn, make the symptoms even worse. 

This diagram shows how we can mistake the symptoms of anxiety as evidence that we really are in danger. 

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Someone who has felt anxious in a certain situation may start to expect and fear feeling these symptoms in future situations. And this can actually help to trigger the symptoms that they were fearing.

Safety behaviours and avoidance

Feeling anxious can be very unpleasant and once a vicious cycle has developed, it’s common for people to look for ways of reducing them.

Safety behaviours are things you might do to feel safer or less anxious, such as always carrying medication with you or sitting near the exit. Some people can also start avoiding or wanting to escape from situations that make them feel anxious like being in a crowded place or travelling on the bus. This is called avoidance.

The Vicious cycle of anxiety shows how our thoughts, feelings and the way we behave (safety behaviours and avoidance) can all be connected.

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Safety behaviours (and avoidance) may reduce the discomfort that you’re feeling, right now. You can become dependent on them, however, and start to believe that you can’t do certain things without them.

And what’s more, they can make you believe even more strongly that certain situations are putting you in actual danger. So that the next time you need to try and face a presentation or job interview the anxiety continues…

MindWell self-help activity

You will need to print off the worksheet or download it to a computer or laptop to complete this activity.

Completing our Blank Vicious cycle of Anxiety worksheet can help you to take a look at how anxiety could be affecting you.

We have created an example to help you. The example shows how in a certain situation, in this case a job interview, safety behaviours can lead to wanting to avoid situations and actually increase anxiety.