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What is Anticipatory Anxiety? Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Anxiety is usually related to the future, as we experience it when we anticipate a danger that hasn’t yet happened. In these cases, fear invades us and we experience a series of physical symptoms, such as tense muscles, rapid breathing, and increased heartbeat. Anticipatory anxiety occurs when we imagine the worst that can happen in a situation that hasn’t yet occurred.

In certain situations, it’s normal to feel some anxiety. It may even be necessary, as it makes us alert and helps us to deal with circumstances more effectively.

However, when we spend the day anticipating the negative scenarios of most of our actions, or the fear caused by our own thinking paralyzes us, then we’re facing an anxiety disorder that should be treated.

What is Anticipatory Anxiety?

The concept of anticipatory anxiety may be redundant, as all anxiety is anticipatory in itself. However, it’s important to keep in mind that there are different types of anxiety.

In this case, it differs from generalized anxiety and other problems in that its symptoms occur only before specific situations. Thus, anticipatory anxiety is severe fear or distress at the thought of negative things happening at a certain time or in a certain situation.

One such example is feeling anxious before a job interview because we imagine that the results will be fatal.

Causes

The causes of anticipatory anxiety vary from person to person. Among the most common are the following:

  • Intolerance to uncertainty and the need to have everything around us under control.
  • Traumatic experiences in the past that are related to the feared situation.
  • Problems of self-esteem and personal insecurity.
  • Suffering from other anxiety disorders or phobias.
  • Perfectionistic or obsessive traits.
  • History of failure.
  • Lack of positive reinforcement during childhood.

Self-fulfilling prophecy and anticipatory anxiety

Anticipatory anxiety is associated with self-fulfilling prophecy. This is a bias in perception, whereby we anticipate events and their consequences before they occur and with imminent certainty.

Our mind has so much power over us that it sometimes gets out of control. In this case, the fear of a particular event happening conditions our thinking in such a way that it affects the way we act. Eventually, it causes what we feared to happen.

For example, it’s common to experience fear before taking a major college exam, where failing means having to repeat the course and delay other goals. In this case, the fear of failing controls us, we get a mental block and we end up failing. In this way, the fear of failing the exam is fulfilled.

Symptoms of Anticipatory Anxiety

Symptoms of anticipatory anxiety are usually psychological, somatic, and behavioral. They can vary from person to person.

People with anticipatory anxiety are usually driven by fatalistic or catastrophic thoughts about a future situation. In addition, they can experience the following physical symptoms:

  • Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Fainting spells.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Palpitations, rapid heartbeat, and tachycardia.
  • Difficulty concentrating and stuttering.
  • Headaches.
  • Sweating.

Treatment

Anticipatory anxiety can create a lot of discomfort, and even be disabling and so it generally requires professional treatment.

Psychology, cognitive behavioral therapy, and relaxation techniques guided by psychologists have proven to be the most effective interventions. In these cases, the goal will be to replace anticipatory anxiety with a calm and peaceful outlook.

Tips for managing anticipatory anxiety

Finally, here are some tips that can help you cope with this problem. However, keep in mind that these aren’t a substitute for psychotherapeutic treatment, but, rather, a complement.

The first thing is to learn to control negative thoughts. Whenever you identify them, try to replace them with positive messages. For example, when you think “I can’t do this,” replace it with “I’m ready, I can do this”.

Focus on the here and now. Anticipatory anxiety occurs because we’re focused on the future. Try to focus on the present moment. Meditation can help you with this, as well as relaxation techniques to manage stress.

Change your stance on uncertainty. Recognize that life is full of uncertain things, which can end up being really positive. Accept the uncertainty in your life and learn to manage it without fear.

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