Anticipatory anxiety is when a person experiences worry and fear when thinking about an event that may or may not occur in the future. This is particularly debilitating, as it can begin anywhere from minutes to years before an anticipated event. The intensity can vary from person to person and event to event. Anticipatory anxiety is not a condition itself, but a symptom of other conditions. While anticipatory anxiety may begin as worry over a specific event, it can transform into fear of having another panic attack, prompting a continuation of anxious thinking. Overcoming anticipa-tory anxiety is possible by using a variety of coping tactics, but you may need the assistance of a professional that can help you talk out your feelings and prescribe medications if required.
Anticipatory Anxiety is Pretty Common - Read More About What Causes It Here
During attacks of anticipatory anxiety, individuals are drowned in potentials of what may happen during an event. They usually sort through every possibility that could go wrong, becoming unable to focus on anything else. Those with anticipatory anxiety find themselves wondering “What if …?”, usually followed by something awful happening.
When approaching an important event, such as making a speech, many individuals experience the usual side effects of a racing heart, sweaty palms, or butterflies in the stomach—all signs of antici-patory anxiety. However, when these are a daily or hourly occurrence, at much smaller events, the condition is considered more serious. Often, the symptoms become worse and include shortness of breath, dizziness, or even numbness. Some people become so alarmed by the symptoms, they be-lieve they've contracted a fatal illness. When the occasion nears, those with chronic anxiety experience fear and stress, anticipating the worst possible outcome. They often react by avoiding participation in activities, even if these activities are their favorite hobbies or seeing their friends and family.
There are different levels of anticipatory anxiety based on how much of a burden the anxiety is to someone's life. When worrying about a future event extends for over a month, it is classified as chronic anticipatory anxiety.
What Causes Anticipatory Anxiety?
Anticipatory anxiety is not a condition. It is a symptom of other conditions, such as generalized anxiety or panic disorder. It often stems from, or is intensified by, previous events that aroused fear. For many with panic disorder, their first panic attack comes on naturally, without any warning signs. In severe circumstances, anticipatory anxiety can cause agoraphobia. In these cases, individuals develop a phobia of situations that may cause a panic attack, which incentivizes them to avoid most situations altogether.
Conscious versus Unconscious Anticipatory Anxiety
Anticipatory anxiety can exist both in the conscious and unconscious. Sometimes, people will go through their days fretting what is to come next. However, sometimes it can be more complicated. The tension creeps into dreams or manifests itself in outbursts the person cannot understand or even control. In these unconscious circumstances, we must understand the underlying fear to attack it head-on.
Can You Overcome It?
Everyone fears some events in life. However, for those with anticipatory anxiety, it is important to face these fears as soon as they arise. Instead of pushing off a meeting you are sure to worry about, schedule it as soon as possible to limit the time of worry in between. If you continue to face the fears as they arise, the anticipatory anxiety is likely to diminish as it becomes increasingly clear that it is often unwarranted. With a little effort, you can be like the 37% of Americans that get help managing and overcoming their anxiety.
In addition to working on yourself through therapy, sometimes medication is required to success-fully manage anticipatory anxiety. Work together with a professional to determine if you need relief from your anxiety and panic symptoms with these medications.
Anticipatory Anxiety is Pretty Common - Read More About What Causes It Here
While medication may be needed to help you fully manage your anxiety symptoms, here are some tips and tricks that can help get you through your bouts of anticipatory anxiety.
Have a Support System. As human beings, we are hardwired to seek out social support, and it's no different with anticipatory anxiety. Try talking about your concerns with a loved one or someone you trust.
Relax. Learning to relax can keep your anxiety at bay and can even work to defuse panic attacks. Find a relaxation technique that works for you, whether it is yoga, meditation, journaling, or using deep breathing exercises.
Practice Gratitude. Practicing gratitude daily can retrain your brain to focus on positive emotions and thoughts, rather than the negative input that comes with anticipatory anxiety. Actively finding things to be grateful for and focusing on the positive can reduce the anxious uncomfortable feelings that come with anticipatory anxiety.
Have Compassion for Yourself. If you find yourself struggling with anticipatory anxiety, don't beat yourself up over it. Instead, treat yourself with love and kindness and talk to yourself in a soothing manner to quiet the inner conflict you are facing.
Seek Help. Dealing with anticipatory anxiety can be challenging, but overcoming this anxiety is possible. While the tips and tricks mentioned in this article can help reduce symptoms, developing a game plan to manage your symptoms and the intensity of your anxiety often requires the help of a professional. Both cognitive behavioral therapy and panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy have proven beneficial in coping with and overcoming anticipatory anxiety. With cognitive behavioral therapy, a therapist helps you identify and change the thought processes and behaviors that are playing a role in your anxiety. On the other hand, panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy is where a therapist works with you so that you become aware of unconscious conflicts and defense mechanisms that play a role in your anxiety.
The good news is that therapy has been proven to be an effective treatment for anticipatory anxiety that becomes a chronic symptom. A technique known as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to effectively treat anxiety in patients without any use of medication. Help and a life beyond anxiety is waiting for you.
It’s also easier to access than ever with online counseling. Having an online therapist means you can discuss your problems in the comfort of your own space and on whatever device you choose. Set up your appointment at a time that works for you, and then communicate with your therapist via texting, email, voice chat, or video chat. Check out some reviews of BetterHelp counselors be-low.
"This is my second time working with Alex and although we are only a few sessions in, I'm so grateful that I was able to reconnect with her. She challenges me to re-frame my negative and anxious thoughts and I've seen my anxiety improve significantly over the past year. I would highly recommend Alex. She is truly amazing!"
"I've been talking with Emily with a couple of months now. She has been amazingly supportive and thoughtful during our sessions. The tools and techniques she has shared with me for managing my anxiety have been incredibly valuable and will bring me benefits for the rest of my life."
The feeling of being overwhelmed by fear of what might happen is something you can move beyond with the right set of tools and support system. A combination of self-care techniques and therapy can play a major role in getting you to a point where you can manage and overcome your anticipatory anxiety. Take the first step to a life free from anxiety today.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is anticipation anxiety?
Anticipation anxiety, or anticipatory anxiety, refers to worries and fears regarding potential situations in the future. It is the kind of anxiety that causes people to think about all of the what-ifs and become unnecessarily concerned with possible outcomes of situations that may or may not take place. Anticipatory anxiety most often deals with worries of things that cannot be predicted or controlled. Symptoms of this type of anxiety include:
Trouble with concentration
It’s important to note that anticipatory anxiety in itself is not considered a disorder, but a type of anxiety. People who have generalized anxiety disorder or other anxiety disorders may experience anticipatory anxiety, but anticipatory anxiety is not a diagnosis.
What is anticipatory stress?
Anticipatory stress is simply stress over a situation that could happen. Anticipatory stress often has to deal with a situation or activity that takes place in the near future, or even in the distant future. People who experience anticipatory stress typically become very concerned with the potential outcomes of future events, so much so that they cannot focus on the present and their current responsibilities.
How do you calm anticipatory anxiety?
Anticipatory anxiety can be very challenging to handle, but luckily there are many different methods you can try to calm it. First, try interrupting the anxiety with positive thoughts, rather than waiting for the anxiety to end. Next, try to be more aware of your thoughts so that you can notice when anticipatory anxiety arises. Then, reframe your anxious thoughts into a positive form of anticipation: hope. Imagine all of the positive outcomes that could come from the situations that are on your mind.
Another method of calming anticipatory anxiety is to distract yourself with something that requires your full attention. Mindlessly scrolling through social media isn’t a good choice here because it doesn’t draw in your attention enough to distract you. Instead, try spending time with a pet or a loved one, taking a walk, or enjoying a cup of tea. Exercise and meditation are also wonderful ways to distract your mind and keep the anticipatory anxiety at bay.
Also keep in mind that it’s normal for everyone to have some level of anticipatory anxiety. But when it reaches a point where it interferes with your everyday life, that’s when you know you need to take action. If these simple solutions don’t seem to make much of a difference in your anxiety levels, it’s a good idea to speak with a mental health professional. BetterHelp is a good place to start, with thousands of credentialed counselors who provide online services.
Can the brain heal itself from anxiety?
Our brains are pretty amazing, and they’re capable of much more than you realize. For example, the human brain has an ability to form and reorganize connections within itself; this is called neuroplasticity. In simpler terms, neuroplasticity means that your brain can adapt to change. When you experience something and learn from it, your brain is able to make new connections.
Neuroplasticity allows the brain to essentially heal itself from anxiety and other negative thought patterns. Meditation and listening to binaural beats are a couple of ways to facilitate the brain’s healing powers. In addition, repeating positive mantras and affirmations helps your brain to form new connections as well.
How do I rewire my brain from anxiety?
For many people with anxiety, the news that they can actually rewire their brains to be less anxious is absolutely amazing! But how does one go about rewiring their brain? Here are a few methods:
Meditate: Meditation and mindfulness are a couple of ways to begin rewiring your brain. There are many guided meditations available online that you can follow along with, or you can play calming music and focus on your breath for a few minutes every day. In addition, exercises that incorporate breathwork, such as yoga and tai chi, are also effective methods of rewiring your brain. Even taking a few moments here and there throughout the day to breathe deeply and focus on clearing your mind can benefit you greatly.
Optimize your environment: The spaces you live and work in can have a major effect on your mood, so do what you can to optimize those spaces. This could be as simple as cleaning up clutter around the house or hanging up photos and decorations at the office. Imagine your ideal living space, and see what you can do to adjust your current environment so that it’s closer to your ideal one. Improving your environment so that it causes you less stress is an easy way to release some tension and anxiety.
Consider your perfect day: Get out a piece of paper and a pen and write out your perfect day, from the time you wake up in the morning to the time you go to sleep at night. Then see what aspects of your perfect day you can begin to incorporate into your life now. Chances are, there are quite a few small changes you can make to your usual schedule in order to improve your daily life. This new satisfaction with your daily routine can then lead to less stress and anxiety.
Engage in self-care: Be kind to yourself, reward yourself when you accomplish goals, and allow yourself to take breaks when necessary. Find some self-care activities that you enjoy and feel that you can benefit from. For some people, this may be taking a bubble bath, and for others, this could be curling up with a favorite snack and an episode of a show they haven’t had time to catch up on. In reality, self-care is anything that allows you to relax, decompress, and maintain good mental health. It’s a great way to relieve anxiety and leave you feeling refreshed and ready to take on anything life throws your way.
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