Anticipatory anxiety is the feeling of worrying about or dreading an event or situation in the future. It often builds as the anxiety-inducing event gets closer and may cause weeks or even months of insomnia and anxiety symptoms. Very often, the anticipatory anxiety is much worse than the actual event, which, if you brave it, is never as bad as you imagined it would be. When you really break it down, anticipatory anxiety is just our minds attempting to travel into the future and predict the outcome of an event. The only problem is, in our fantasy future, the outcome is usually not great!
Anticipatory anxiety is not recognised as a specific disorder in itself but quite often a symptom of another type of anxiety-related condition, such as social anxiety disorder, a specific phobia, or generalised anxiety disorder (GAD). It can also be related to control issues and general concerns about uncertainty.
Certain common events that cause anticipatory anxiety are:
Starting a new job or school
Tests or exams (including driving tests)
Giving a presentation or speech
Joining a new club or group
Of course, anticipatory anxiety may be related to a phobia, so someone with social phobia might experience anticipatory anxiety before going to a party. A person with a fear of heights may get anxious at the thought of attempting a car journey where they know they have to cross a high bridge. If you have a foreign holiday booked and need to fly there, a phobia of flying will cause anxiety to build maybe months in advance.
If it is a phobia that's causing your anxiety, it's best to get some professional help. Please contact me if you would like more information or wish to book a free consultation.
Understandably, many people with anticipatory anxiety will find it easier to avoid the party or cancel the holiday rather than suffer the months of anxiety they know it will cause. It just doesn’t seem worth it. However, this just feeds the fear and doesn’t help long-term as it’s likely that the next similar impending event will feel even worse. It can also lead to frustration and self-directed anger, which often turns into depression, so avoidance is never the answer.
Overcoming Anticipatory Anxiety
So, what can you do instead?
The first thing is to recognise that the scenario you imagine in your mind is often far worse than the actual event will ever be. You imagine all the worst-case scenarios and spend weeks (or even months) scaring yourself, only to find that you actually enjoy the event and wonder what you were so afraid of.
So, actually take a look at what your imagination is doing to you and remember how much your thoughts affect the way you feel and behave. Start to look critically at the things you are imagining and ask yourself how realistic they are. Are you only imagining the absolute worst-case scenario? If so, try some positive visualisation in self-hypnosis and begin to change the scenario into one where you shine and end up enjoying the event.
My previous blog post on Thinking Errors may be useful as you may find that you are guilty of a few of those. Relate them to that scenario or event you are dreading and start to change the messages you are telling yourself. What could you say to yourself that would be more useful?
If you need more help, get in touch and we can work together to help you overcome the anxiety.