anticipatory anxiety

What is Anticipatory Anxiety and Why Does it Matter?

Do you struggle with an unhealthy dose of anticipatory anxiety? We all go through some anxiety about future events, but maybe these worries regularly interfere with your wellbeing. When your mental and physical health begin to decline due to concerns over what might happen, that’s when it’s wise to look for better ways to handle these stressors.

Maybe you find your thoughts going in endless directions at night as you fail to fall or stay asleep. Family, career, and other personal matters loom large as you try to envision tomorrow and the following days. You find it increasingly difficult to relax as worst-case scenarios play out in your mind like a sci-fi horror flick.

You also could have an upcoming work presentation, challenging discussion, flight to catch, or funeral to attend. There are thousands of possibilities with one common enemy: What could happen might be bad or even catastrophic. Can you relate? Let’s take a closer look at anxiety about the future.

Consistent Anticipatory Anxiety Often Indicates an Anxiety Disorder

Anticipatory anxiety isn’t a diagnosable mental health condition. Instead, it’s an anxiety type all of us go through regardless of mental wellness levels. Surely, anyone who does experience an anxiety disorder, though, will be well acquainted with this worrisome trigger.

Negative anxiety, such as this forward-looking type, exists on a spectrum. Although we all encounter it, only some of us experience it to the point of an anxiety disorder. If you regularly experience anticipatory anxiety, that often is a good indicator of an anxiety disorder.

In their Psychology Today article entitled Anticipatory Anxiety: Bleeding Before You Are Cut, Martin Self Ph.D. ABPP and Sally Winston Psy.D. share the following:

“Anticipatory anxiety is the primary driver of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), a tendency toward unproductive and excessive worrying. Simply put, the anxious imagining and distressing “what if” of GAD is anticipatory anxiety.”

To sum it up, although anticipatory fear isn’t an official mental health condition, it is perhaps the most common trait of generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. It turns out that “bleeding before you are cut” as the writers describe it too often leads to significant mental health challenges if not adequately addressed.

Common Anticipatory Anxiety Symptoms

Anticipatory anxiety can take place leading up to many perceived stressors. Here are some of the more common ones.

  • Performance anxiety before the scheduled time (musical, speaking, sports event, etc.)
  • Social anxiety before a date or group gathering takes place.
  • Interview anxiety that takes place beforehand
  • Worries over other bad things that could happen in all life areas (natural disasters, relationship distress, and many others)

Specific symptoms commonly experienced by individuals wrestling with anticipatory anxiety include:

  • Feeling restless or irritable
  • Expecting the worst possible outcome
  • Constantly worrying about the future
  • Hypervigilance/looking for indicators of potential danger
  • Sleep problems/insomnia/anticipatory sleep anxiety
  • Fatigue and headaches
  • Stomach upset, diarrhea, or frequent urination 
  • Twitching, tremors, or increased sweating
  • Jumpiness or feeling tense
  • Feelings of dread or uneasiness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Racing or pounding heart

 

What Can You Do to Cope with Anticipatory Anxiety Better?

There are numerous ways you can work to manage this type of worry better. Here are some tips for dealing with anticipatory anxiety.

Envision the Best-Case Scenario: Instead of thinking of the worst-case scenario, picture what your future event would look like if it went unusually well. If you struggle to come up with how this would look, have your family, friends, or therapist help. 

In his Psychology Today article entitled Anticipatory Anxiety: The Suffering and Solutions, Srini Pillay M.D. shares, “I would contend that it (disappointment) happens in life often because it happens in our heads.”

By regularly envisioning success, it can improve your results. Over time, those positive outcomes can help your worry about the future to decrease too as you see more consistently favorable results. Of course, doing this doesn’t guarantee stellar outcomes every time, but it sure will take you much further than constantly envisioning the worst possible one!

Health Improvement: Like with any mental health concerns, you’ll see improvement if you prioritize your health by maintaining a healthier diet, exercise, and better sleep habits.

Journaling: Writing about your challenges can be a great way to improve anticipatory anxiety. While this technique has proven helpful for many, you want to ensure it doesn’t cause too much ruminating or focusing on the negatives. For that reason, this technique is most effective when done while working with a mental health professional.

Relaxation Techniques: Your therapist will also help you come up with and implement relaxation techniques. This could include deep breathing or guided imagery, among other possibilities.

Improving Your Thinking: Through therapy, you’ll learn more useful ways to frame your thinking. This will help you break free from negative thoughts patterns that only make your anticipatory anxiety worse. Several techniques can help with this, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT).

Counseling Can Lead to Relief from Anticipatory Anxiety

If you’re struggling with anticipatory anxiety, please know that it often is very treatable. One of the most effective ways to address this anxiety type is to see a therapist who’s trained to assist you in that way.

If you’d like to learn more about how the OC Relationship Center can help you with anticipatory anxiety treatment, please get in touch with us. It’s super easy to schedule an appointment with us and could become a significant, meaningful step in your anxiety management plan.

Our trained and compassionate counselors are here to help. Please call (949) 393-8662, text (949) 393-8662 for an appointment, or schedule online.

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