Suffering from anxiety isn’t easy, especially when it’s anticipatory anxiety. I remember years ago I heard the term “anticipatory anxiety” for the first time during a therapy session. I had no idea what it was, but it was a concept that made perfect sense. Just being aware of this concept and knowing what it was made a difference for me. Eventually, this meant that I was able to start to focus on recognizing it and then working to combat it.
Though anticipatory anxiety is a phenomenon that anybody can experience, today I’m addressing it with regard to those already suffering from clinical anxiety.
What is anticipatory anxiety?
Anticipatory anxiety isn’t its own disorder, but rather, it’s a phenomenon that commonly occurs in people who have some form of an anxiety disorder – such as Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).
Anticipatory anxiety occurs when an individual begins to anticipate a situation in the future. This anticipation causes anxiety levels to rise and can have adverse side effects.
Why does it matter?
Anticipatory anxiety matters because while a normal person can have anticipatory anxiety, they’re most likely going to still go and do whatever they were going to do – there were just some feelings of uneasiness involved before the situation. When you’re already suffering from anxiety however, anticipatory anxiety can really interfere with your life.
With clinical anxiety, it’s not just anticipation of the event, the possibilities, or the things that could happen. With clinical anxiety, it’s also anticipation of the anxiety that is normally experienced before this event, if that makes sense. It’s almost like a double-dose of anxiety: the “oh crap, that’s coming up” anxiety and later on we experience the “Okay, I’m going to go do this now” anxiety.
The reason I’m addressing all of this is because anticipatory anxiety can literally prevent you from doing things – from going out, from seeing people, from accomplishing things, from socializing. As an agoraphobe, anticipatory anxiety is the number one reason for me not doing things. I start to shut down when I think about possibilities: embarrassment, harm, bullying, etc. I literally convince myself that I’m doing myself a favor by not going out and not doing something – Like I’m preventing some sort of terrible thing from happening.
How do I recognize it?
You recognize anticipatory anxiety by being aware of the moment. What I mean by that is that anticipatory anxiety is something that occurs when we’re thinking about the future and what’s coming up. Often times, we get lost in that train of thought. For example, many times I’ve had plans with people and I catch myself stuck in this train of thought about how somebody might attack me, somebody might make fun of me, or someone might embarrass me. It’s important to catch that and try to focus on the fact that you’ll have an enjoyable time.
With anticipatory anxiety, we have to be able to realize that we’re living in the future. We’re putting too much weight on things that haven’t come yet – and more importantly, things that aren’t in our control.
If you need help managing anxiety, check out my article Three Grounding Techniques For Severe Anxiety.
What do I do to stop it?
Stopping anticipatory anxiety is really about learning. Anxiety isn’t always logical, so we have to learn about what sort of things make us anxious and are more likely to put us into an anticipatory train of thought.
Personally, when I catch myself in an anticipatory train of thought, I like to say to myself “task at hand”. A great example here is exercise. During my daily exercise routine, I am almost always thinking about what I have to do when I finish. This really pulls my mind out of the workout and starts to put a damper on my session. So, I say to myself “task at hand” – meaning focus on what you are doing right now and worry about the other task when it comes. Focus your energy on what you are doing now.
Knowing how to properly deal with anticipatory anxiety can significantly improve quality of life for those suffering from anxiety disorders.