Anticipatory Anxiety

Anticipatory Anxiety: What It Feels Like

I’ve experienced all kinds of anxiety—from social anxiety where I overthink interactions, to general anxiety that feels like a constant sense of doom. But one type that really gets to me is anticipatory anxiety. It’s not an official diagnosis, but it’s definitely a major part of my anxiety experience so let’s talk about what it looks like and some coping strategies for anxiety.

What is Anticipatory Anxiety?

Ever find yourself stressing about an upcoming event, imagining all the worst-case scenarios in vivid detail? That’s anticipatory anxiety, and trust me, you’re not alone.

Imagine the worry that creeps in before a job interview, first date, or big presentation—now amplify it until you’re shaking and feel like vomiting for days or hours beforehand. That’s what anticipatory anxiety feels like. For me, the anticipatory anxiety is often 100x worse than the actual event.

Why Does Anticipatory Anxiety Happen?

Anticipatory anxiety is your brain’s way of trying to protect you from potential danger. Back in our caveman days, it kept us on high alert for hungry predators lurking in the bushes. Nowadays, it’s more likely triggered by social situations, performance pressure, uncertainty about the future, or traumatic experiences.

Here’s what it looks like for me:

  • Obsessive thoughts about the upcoming event, affecting your ability to get through the days/weeks/hours before.
  • A panicked feeling in your chest whenever you think about THE THING.
  • Trouble sleeping or staying focused, especially the night before—hello insomnia.
  • Physical symptoms like sweating, trembling, or a racing heart. TMI – anxiety poops, feeling sick to your stomach, stomach upset.
  • Avoidance behaviors, like procrastination or canceling plans.

Coping Strategies for Anxiety

Dealing with anticipatory anxiety is tough, but here are some strategies that help me:

  1. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practice deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation. For example, doing a 5-minute breathing exercise helps me calm my racing thoughts before an anxiety-provoking event.
  2. Challenge Negative Thoughts: Challenge those catastrophic thoughts by asking yourself, “Is this worry realistic? What’s the worst that could happen, and how likely is it?” Often, I remind myself that 95% of the things that trigger my anticipatory anxiety will be fine. I might even have fun or have a great time.
  3. Stay Present: Focus on the present moment rather than getting lost in future what-ifs. Ground yourself with sensory activities or mindfulness exercises.
  4. Prepare, But Don’t Overdo It: Preparation is key, but don’t drive yourself crazy with overplanning. Set realistic goals and trust in your abilities.
  5. Get Support: Talk to a friend, family member, or therapist about your worries. Sometimes, sharing your fears can bring relief and perspective.
  6. Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself. You’re doing the best you can, and you are not alone. Tons of people also struggle with the same thing.

How do you cope with anticipatory anxiety? Share your coping strategies for anxiety and tips in the comments below—I’d love to hear from you!