Anticipatory Anxiety

Anticipatory Anxiety: What It Feels Like

I pretty much have all flavors of anxiety. Social anxiety where I waaaay overthink social interactions. General anxiety which often shows up as a feeling of general DOOM. Agoraphobia which can make the outside world feel so scary that I don’t ever want to leave my cozy little home. Then there are the little sub-categories of anxiety: morning anxiety, homeowner anxiety, tax time anxiety, allll the anxieties. One of the aspects of anxiety I really struggle with is anticipatory anxiety. Anticipatory anxiety is not a diagnosis, but an aspect of the anxiety experience.

Do you ever find yourself stressing out about an upcoming event or situation, imagining all the worst-case scenarios in vivid detail? Well, you might be dealing with anticipatory anxiety, and trust me, you’re not alone.

What is Anticipatory Anxiety?

Imagine the feeling of worry that creeps in before the job interview, the first date, or the big presentation – now imagine it amplified until you’re shaking and want to vomit for days or hours beforehand. That’s pretty much what anticipatory anxiety feels like. For me, the anticipatory anxiety is 100x worse than the actual event.

Anticipatory anxiety is an extreme physical and emotional reaction to an upcoming event.

And if you’re like me – it also happens before the little things like going to the store, going out with friends, or traveling somewhere new. You KNOW in your brain that once you get there it’s going to be FINE but everything in your body is like A BIG BAD THING IS COMING UP PREPARE TO FIGHT/FLIGHT.

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: (As with all things mental health related – your experiences may vary.

  • Obsessive thoughts about the upcoming event, so much so that it starts to affect your ability to get through the days/weeks/hours before the event.
  • Feeling that 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 Skills & Strategies

This is the hard part, right? I think therapy and medication are really important, especially if the anticipatory anxiety is making it hard (or impossible) to do things you need to do like tackle health problems or important appointments. If it’s interfering with your daily life or causing significant distress, don’t hesitate to reach out for professional help.

A huge part for me was developing a sense of safety both within myself and outside of myself. My brain sees the world as a constant threat. I don’t know why – it just does.

A really important thing for me to do is reinforce that things are not as scary as they feel and that I am safe.

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Practice deep breathing, meditation, or progressive muscle relaxation to calm your mind and body. When we focus on making our body feel calm it can also help calm the brain, and vice-versa.

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?” 95% of the things that trigger anticipatory anxiety, I know are going to go FINE. I will even have fun or have a great time, or whatever. Focusing on those positive outcomes/feelings are essential for me.

Stay Present: Easier said than done right? But we try our best to focus on the present moment rather than getting lost in future what-ifs. Ground yourself with sensory activities or mindfulness exercises.

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.

Get Support: Talk to a friend, family member, or therapist about your worries. Sometimes, sharing your fears can bring relief and perspective.

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?

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