Anticipatory anxiety is when you have an event coming up, or you’re planning to face a fear, or you’re planning to do something that often leads to anxiety and you’re anxiously anticipating how things might go. And most usually, you’re anticipating that things aren’t going to go well (cue the worst case scenarios). You anticipate that you’re going to be faced with feeling anxious, experiencing the symptoms, or experiencing a panic attack. And when you’re anticipating a bad outcome, you often actually experience the physical and mental symptoms and even panic just thinking about doing whatever the thing is that you’re planning to do.
Anticipatory anxiety is often filled with what-ifs... What if I experience panic? What if I can’t handle it? What if something bad happens? What if I have a bad panic attack and nobody is around to help me? What if I pass out?
If you struggle with panic disorder and agoraphobia, you probably often anticipate experiencing the symptoms or a panic attack everywhere you go. It's like your whole world revolves around how you might feel and whether or not you'll be able to "handle it."
When I was struggling, I was extremely scared of experiencing the symptoms and panic attacks and I would always try to prevent them from happening. I most frequently experienced the symptoms and panic attacks in cars, on public transportation, in public places, and being “too far” from home, and so I’d often avoid going places at all. Does this sound familiar?
This meant that I would often end up making up excuses not to do whatever it was that I had planned to do, or I’d bail on plans at the last minute. It also meant that I avoided facing my fears, because I would always avoid feeling anxious or panicky. And avoiding... well, it only kept me stuck, it prevented me from doing fun things, and it reinforced my fears and the anxious response (aka I was the reason why the symptoms and the panic attacks kept showing up).
If all of this resonates with you, let me share some tips with you that will help you to work through anticipatory anxiety!
01. Don’t try to make the anxious thoughts and feelings go away. Yep, the anxious thoughts and feelings can be scary, uncomfortable, and hard, but the more you try to fight them, suppress them, or avoid them, the stronger they’ll become. It’s okay to have anxious thoughts and it’s okay to feel anxious, uncomfortable, and scared. I know that you don’t want to feel these things, but it’s really important to give yourself some space to acknowledge your thoughts and to feel your emotions, otherwise you’ll continue to welcome in all of the stuff you’re trying so hard to push past.
02. Remind yourself of your strengths and abilities for working through hard things. When you’re anticipating the outcome of something, you’re often fearing things that have happened before - like a bad panic attack, experiencing scary symptoms, or feeling embarrassed. And when you're caught up in anticipating, it’s so easy to go along with the possibilities, so much so that we often forget that we’ve faced panic, the symptoms, and embarrassment many times and have always come out the other side!
You are incredibly smart, strong, and powerful. YOU hold so much power. Remind yourself of your strengths and abilities for facing the hard things.
03. Allow uncertainty in. The more we chase after certainty, the more discomfort we feel. I learned this one the hard way! I tried to make every moment certain when I was struggling with anxiety and panic. And when I say that I tried to make every moment certain, I mean that I tried to make sure I wouldn’t experience anxiety. And you already know that by doing this, you actually welcome in the anxiety, symptoms, and panic.
In life, there are so many uncertainties, and it’s truly about allowing yourself to feel the discomfort that comes along with uncertainty. Acknowledge how you feel, feel it, and keep moving forward! Practice allowing uncertainty in. This is such an important one!
04. Remind yourself of your realities. We often focus on the things that we don’t have control of, so much so that we lose sight of all of the things that we do have control of. And the things you have control of are the things that are going to help you work through your anxious thoughts and feelings.
You have control of how you respond to your anxious thoughts and feelings.
You have control of when you ask for help.
You have control of what actions you take.
You have control of what you tell yourself.
That last one, your self-talk, is super important. How you talk to yourself will either help you to push forward, or it’ll keep you stuck. It’s important to acknowledge when you’re not being supportive of yourself, and to work to change your self-talk, this includes reminding yourself of your strengths and abilities!
05. Get present! Anticipatory anxiety truly steals the present moment. It pulls you out of the present and into trying to predict the future. And we all know that we can’t predict or control the future. And the more we try to, the more we actually create the outcomes that we’re working so desperately to prevent.
Practicing getting present is a great way to get you back into the present moment and away from the what-ifs.
Here are some things that can help you to get present:
Pause and acknowledge your thoughts and feelings.
Go for a walk in nature.
Do some mindfulness or meditation.
Relax your muscles and do some movement.
Do something that you enjoy doing!
06. Be courageous! I can remember saying to myself so many times, Shannon, you just have to do it anxious! Oftentimes I didn’t feel ready, or confident, or up to it, but I just did it. And that’s the thing, you can try to prepare for an event and come up with a plan, but sometimes you just have to accept your anxious feelings and do it anyway. Because you know when the true healing happens? Doing things WHILE you feel anxious.
07. Acknowledge when you're anticipating! It's so important to pause and recognize when you're anticipating. Anticipatory anxiety is truly an attempt to solve for events that might happen in the future, which just isn't possible! Instead of wasting your time and energy on trying to solve for a potential in the future, try the last tip!
08. Envision & manifest! Focus your time and energy on what you want! With whatever it is that you are anticipating... What do you want to happen? How do you want things to go? How do you want to feel? Take a few moments to envision these things. Tell yourself what will happen, how things will go, and how you'll feel. I know it sounds silly but envisioning the worst case scenario is only going to bring in more of the stuff you're trying so hard to avoid. Remember, you're in control of where you put your focus and what actions you take! Envision and manifest things going well!
And as always, start small! Take one tip that I shared with you and work to implement it. And if you find yourself avoiding, or making up excuses, or bailing on plans, it’s okay! Don’t beat yourself up. Acknowledge it and see it as an opportunity to make a more helpful decision next time.
You are capable!