What Is Anticipatory Anxiety?

Anticipatory anxiety isn’t a monster that you can’t resist. It not special, nor is it a different kind of anxiety that requires some different approach.  This is not an external, uncontrollable force.  As with every other aspect of your anxiety issues, it comes from within.  This is not a mystery

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Lets Break This Down

  1. A panic attack involves being afraid.
  2. Panic disorder is being afraid of being afraid.
  3. Anticipatory anxiety is being afraid of being afraid of being afraid.

In a nutshell, anticipatory anxiety is just the third layer of fear you add to your situation.  You do this when faced with situations that you’d rather avoid, escape from, or hide from.  You know that the way to overcome your driving anxiety is to drive, but you may say that you can’t because anticipatory anxiety has you “stuck”.

There’s No Magic Tips and Tricks

If you’re thinking that you have to find a way to eliminate anticipatory anxiety so you can get on with the work that needs to be done, you are mistaken.  As with the rest of this problem we’re trying to solve, the goal is not to make it go away.  The only way that this will go away is when you learn not to be afraid of the your own body, sensations, feelings and thoughts.  If anticipatory anxiety has you struggling to get out the door to do your exposures, then the way to solve that problem is to get out the door to do your exposures.  Sorry, there’s no magic wand here.

(Special note to anyone that works at “Choosing Therapy”.  Your mother was a hamster, and your father smells of elderberries.  Your constant stream of 1997-style cookie cutter emails begging for links to your content is getting old. I figure I’ll get another one soon about this exact post, even though I’m including this message to you, and in that email you will claim that you “read and loved” my article. I’m glad you “loved it”.  You are annoying AF. )

What Can I Do?

While you can’t wipe out anticipatory anxiety, you can learn to move through it so that you can get on with the work you know needs to be done.  This involves a few different concepts:

  1. Make a plan.  If you have a plan for how you will get ready to “get out the door”, then you can execute that plan even when afraid.  Don’t make it up as you go. This leaves you a way out and that is NOT what you want or need.
  2. Learn to live mindfully and in the moment.  You do not have to live the events you dread before they happen.  By learning to live mindfully while executing your “pre game” plan, you can avoid the trap of speculating and trying to predict the future.
  3. Accept that the only way to overcome anticipatory anxiety is to move THROUGH it and actually do the work required to face your fear and un-learn your bad brain habits.

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Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Therapist-in-training specializing in anxiety and anxiety disorders. Author. Podcaster. Educator. Advocate. Former anxious person.