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How To Break Free From the Anxiety/Depression Cycle

You may be confused as to whether you first experienced depression or anxiety, but now you have a diagnosis that includes both.  That can feel overwhelming and that you must have something terribly wrong with you.  That isn’t necessarily the case and I am going to explain why. I am actually going to take it a step further and say that it actually indicates that your brain is working just right. It is a basic chemical process that can be easily understood without a degree in neuroscience.

You may remember being very anxious over a long period of time, maybe you even possess an anxious temperament from birth. You may have experienced a trauma that overloaded your brain with stress chemicals. Perhaps you have had long term bouts of anxiety or panic attacks. If this is the case it is likely that stress chemicals such as cortisol have been working overtime in your brain.

Short term, these chemicals are good and necessary. Long term they wear you down. They also begin to crowd out or eat up the good chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin that are associated with calmness and a non-depressed state. You cannot function well with just the stress chemicals running amok up there.  After a while, with the time period being different for each individual, the brain finally says, “I can’t do this anymore” and begins to draw back its resources. What it is doing is trying to slow you down a bit in order to replenish the good chemicals needed for healthy functioning. You are overstimulated at this point.

You don’t feel like going out anymore, you don’t feel like talking to people, you have no energy and you just want to lay around. You may crave carbohydrates and be putting on weight. Your brain has put you in “down mode” to protect you and build itself back up. You can’t do that in an overstimulated state.  At this point it is actually doing you a favor and it is working just as it should. It is not a disorder when this happens. It is your body telling you something is out of balance. It is not something to be ashamed of. In fact, give yourself a pat on the back for having a good brain.

You may have found that you have repeated this cycle many times during your life. Anxious-Depressed, Anxious-Depressed. The key to eliminating this cycle is to learn a middle ground. If you don’t, you go straight from depressed back up to anxious and the whole thing starts over. If you haven’t learned to moderate your anxious or panicky thoughts you find yourself right back where you started, burning yourself out with the stress chemicals. These chemicals are designed to be used in emergencies, not on a daily basis.

You may find that when you were younger the depressed periods didn’t last as long as they do now. You may find that they come more frequently. You may have exhausted your system to the point it needs additional rest. I can’t think of any system or machine that doesn’t eventually give way under too much duress. That is why it is critical to unlearn any dysfunctional thought patterns that may be keeping you in a stressed out state for no reason. All of our emotions and feelings start with our thoughts, and these thoughts all have a physical counterpart or reaction in the body.

For example, if I have out my crystal ball and see a disaster of some sort in the future, I am going to think something scary, its going to scare me and my body is going to produce the chemicals and reactions that go along with fear. If I do this several times a day I am really overworking the fear factor in my brain. The best part is, none of it is for sure, it is just based on something I think might happen or could happen.

If during the “depressed” period I tell myself that I am disordered for life, mentally ill or not in control of my life, I am going to bring about worse feelings of sadness to add to the ones already there. Be kind to yourself and just understand you need some down time.

There is a saying, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortunes; most of which never happened”.  How true for those of us who are the worrywarts. The “what if’s” come into play here also, plaguing us with all the possible horrific scenarios.

In the “old days” you might have been sent to a rest home or some such place to recover. If it were financially feasible you could go to a spa setting or resort for a few months to tune out. This is not a reality for most of us, but there are some things you can do.

  1. Rest. You are overloaded. Cut back on anything you can for a few weeks.
  2. Meditate and learn mindfulness. You are the type that needs it most. No, its not silly.
  3. Examine your thoughts and the way you handle anxiety and stress. You are not doing a great job if you have found yourself in this pattern. It is time to learn.
  4. Check your environments for daily stressors such as clutter. This includes your car and workspace. Clutter is a form of overstimulation.
  5. Give your schedule a reality check. Does your weekly regime call for more than what is realistic to keep yourself in a good state? Think of when you feel irritable during your week, at that point you have probably overloaded yourself.
  6. Check your thoughts, don’t be hard on yourself about this. Feeling poorly about yourself keeps you down.
  7. Learn to self soothe while you are in anxious mode to prevent future relapses.
  8. Do natural things that increase serotonin such as seek novelty and eat complex, healthy carbs.
  9. Exercise a little but not a lot. The point is to reduce stress on the system, taking on a a strenuous new exercise regime does not accomplish that. If you are already working out a lot you might want to cut back a bit. Thirty minutes to an hour a day would be plenty.


I have developed a free worksheet to help you get started eliminating the dysfunctional thoughts that can keep you in this cycle, visit me at and get the freebie “How to Break Free from 12 Dysfunctional  Thought Patterns … and a handy chart to help you track your progress”

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How To Break Free From the Anxiety/Depression Cycle

Audrey Sherman, Ph.D.

Dr. Audrey Sherman is a licensed psychologist, coach and the author of the book Dysfunction Interrupted-How to Quickly Overcome Depression, Anxiety and Anger Starting Now. Her expertise is in defining, describing and transforming dysfunctional behavior and thought patterns learned in childhood or beyond that keep you anxious, depressed, angry, stuck in unhappy and unproductive relationships, jobs and more. Dr. Sherman developed the Dysfunctional Patterns Quiz and other free resources to help you determine the effects of these on your life. She works with individuals, conducts live and online workshops and trains others in her programs. To learn more about Dr. Sherman, you can visit her website.

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APA Reference
Sherman, A. (2016). How To Break Free From the Anxiety/Depression Cycle. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Aug 2016
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