Anticipatory Anxiety: where a person experiences increased levels of anxiety by thinking about an event or situation in the future
Do you ever feel anxious about something that hasn’t even happened yet? It could be a family event, an interview, a meeting, or a long flight. It’s completely normal to feel a little nervous about the future, each of us experience anticipatory anxiety from time to time. However, if you’re future fears are dampening your present joy, it’s time to do something about it.
What causes anxiety?
Feeling anxious about the future is normal. Anticipatory anxiety can be a symptom of other anxiety disorders, such as generalised anxiety disorder. It can occur if you’re experiencing feelings of apprenhension or dread about a future event. There is no ‘one size fits all’ as to what causes anxiety. It is often a combined effect of environmental triggers (such as stressful events and childhood trauma) and biological factors (such as family history of mental health challenges).
Is it really anxiety?
Nervousness and anxiety can sometimes help us to reaffirm our beliefs about a situation. Physiologically, there is little difference between fear and excitement. In both cases, your palms may get sweaty, your heart rate may increase, and your pupils may dilate. However, there is a big difference between how we react to these two emotions. If you’re feeling nervous and fearful about asking a special someone on a date, your anxiety might be telling you:
“I feel so nervous to ask them on a date. It’s making me feel sick. What about if they say no? I will feel so embarrassed!”
But what about if you reframed that? If instead of thinking of the situation negatively, you decided to feel excited, and look forward to what you were dreading? What happens if everything goes well?
“I’m so excited to ask them on a date. It’s making my heart beat so fast I’m that excited. If they say yes I’ll feel super confident.”
How to stop anticipatory anxiety
When you next feel anxious about a future situation, ask yourself “how can I reframe this?”. The reasons why you feel anxious can be varied. It could be a huge event like moving accross the globe for a new job. Comparatively, you could also feel anxious about driving to your local supermarket if you’re a nervous driver. Instead of thinking “what is the worst case scenario?”, start thinking “what if this goes right?”. Really focus on how you will feel if you accomplish this. How proud of yourself will you feel? Who will be the first person you tell? Are you going to celebrate this victory?
Reframing your mindset to think optimistically, rather than pessimistically, will open up new doors for you. Imagine if the next time you have a job interview you feel excited about the possibilities this new role could offer you. Understandably, you may be thinking “but what about if I don’t succeed?”. Regardless of whether or not the event is a success, the important thing is that you have started to retrain how your brain anticipates uncertainty. Now you’ve done this once, it will be much easier to turn fear into excitement next time you’re feeling anxious. It will eventually become a habit. There is science behind this, too!
Saying goodbye to anticipatory anxiety
Each time you overcome something which you were dreading, make a note of it! Add it to your journal and it’ll reassure you that you are capable of incredible things. In conclusion, next time you feel anticipatory anxiety:
- Pause, ask yourself why are you feeling this way?
- What is the best case scenario?
- Reframe your thinking and turn the fear into excitement.
- Accomplish your goals and be proud!