Anticipatory Anxiety is where you get a stress response when there is nothing in your immediate environment that can cause you harm. Or put another way, the sensations and worry that you feel have evolved to protect you from real danger, but because you have the capacity for thought, they can arise due to the fact that you can think!
I think it is necessary for you to understand anticipatory anxiety if you have anxiety, social anxiety, panic attacks, health anxiety or stress, as this is something that you can not only control, but change.
I am going to talk to you about
- Fear and Anxiety
and then I shall give some examples in relation to
- anxiety and stress
- panic attacks
- health anxiety
- social anxiety
Understanding the difference between fear and anxiety.
I’ve spoken about this before, but I shall give a quick recap here.
Fear is what you feel when you are in immediate danger, such as suddenly being confronted by a bear!
Anxiety is what you feel when there is no bear (no real danger.) You are responding to an anticipated threat, that may or may not occur in the future.
When you feel fear (when you see the bear) the feelings you get are a result of the stress response – fight or flight. Once the threat has passed (the bear goes away), you calm down as you are no longer in danger.
When you are lying awake at 4 in the morning going over your favourite worries, this is where you can experience anxiety. Your threat is no longer tangible (such as a bear) your stress response is getting activated due to the demands placed on you ( or the demands you place on yourself ), the worries you have in your head, negativity – these start to become your threats, and your brain can start to identify them as such.
There are different ways that you can experience anxiety, as opposed to fear, and I am talking to you about one of them now. In future posts I shall go over some more.
Anticipatory anxiety, and anxiety
Some examples that you might worry about (or anticipate) are
- Am I good enough?
- How can I get through tomorrow?
- What if I don’t get enough sleep tonight?
- What if I can’t pay my bills, my mortgage?
- What if I loose my job?
- What if I fail?
- What if my boss sees that I haven’t done my job properly?
- What if I mess up?
and the list goes on.
One thing you might notice is that none of these things are happening right now. If you are awake at 4am, lying in bed, they are really only occurring in your thought processes.
Hopefully you can see the difference in this example between fear and anxiety. Fear would mean something is really happening right now. I am not dismissing your worries, rather I am hoping to get you to think that at 4am you are probably lying in a nice comfortable bed, so your immediate environment is okay. The problem arises due to your thoughts.
Further reading: Anxiety
Anticipatory anxiety and panic attacks
If you have panic attacks you will know that they can occur out of the blue, with no real thought processes present, but in this article I am only going to talk to you about them in relation to anticipatory anxiety.
Some examples are
- What if I have a panic attack when I am out, when shopping, driving, or in places that they have occurred before?
- What if I make a fool of myself?
- What if I end up in hospital again thinking I am dying (been there, bought the tee-shirt on that one!)
- What if I can’t catch my breath next time?
Similar to the anxiety examples, these are all worries about something that may, or may not occur in the future
Further reading: Panic Attacks
Anticipatory anxiety and health anxiety
- What if the doctors have missed something?
- What if there is something seriously wrong with me?
- What if I really do have cancer, tumours, MS, heart problems?
As in the other examples, you might be worried that these things could happen, but if you have been to the docs and got a clean bill of health, they are not happening right now.
Further Reading: Health Anxiety
Anticipatory anxiety and social anxiety
- What if I blush?
- What if I have nothing to say?
- I won’t fit in
- What if I get anxious?
- What if I say something stupid?
- I’m boring
- No-one is interested in what I have to say
- They won’t remember who I am (something I personally struggled with for many years)
- What will I talk about?
- Planning out conversations so you have something to say
Hopefully you will see from all the examples, that they all have one major thing in common – they are all worries about something that may occur in the future, hence where the name comes from – anticipatory anxiety, as you anticipate that something bad may happen in the future.
Further Reading: Social Anxiety
Why does it happen?
In two words, repeated practice. Think of your worries as being the result of a repeated experience. The more often you have a particular type of thought, the more likely you are to have it in the future.
How to stop anticipatory anxiety?
There are two approaches that immediately come to my mind – CBT and Mindfulness.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) will help you to change the type of thoughts you have in your head and Mindfulness will help you to let them go.
Combining various approaches you can Retrain Your Brain® to unlearn anticipatory anxiety.
Retrain Your Brain® to Unlearn Anxiety
As well as having anxiety myself, I am the only psychologist that specialises solely in anxiety disorders
RETRAIN YOUR BRAIN®
You don’t need to wait to see me, all my materials are available to use now, in my online self help course
Find out more
see also AnxietyUK