Anticipatory Anxiety is a symptom that creates and maintains the various forms of anxiety disorder including phobias, panic disorder and generalised anxiety. It is characterised by a heightened state of alertness and obsessive worry before a stressful event is about to happen. You can waste hours or even days going through every possibility of the upcoming event, running “what if…”- scenarios without being able to focus on a helpful solution.
Whether it is a job interview, a social meeting, or a public speech, anticipatory anxiety will take over your mind for the remaining period of time that you have left before the event starts. In its essence, anticipatory anxiety happens because of your nature to try to predict how things will happen and your attempt to remain safe from harm. We are individuals who make use of anticipation to function well in everyday life, but someone with this form of anxiety expects a lot of these situations to be real disasters or catastrophes. This state is also reinforced when past experiences in life have left you with a deep sense of disappointment or shame that has sunk into your unconscious mind. Now, the unconscious alerts you with this stressful anticipation to avoid similar episodes and their associated recurring anxious feelings again in the future.
How does anticipatory anxiety affect you?
Anticipatory anxiety influences you to obsess about the catastrophic scenarios that are likely to happen. Avoidance tactics are considered to prevent your future distress. You might even lose focus on the tasks you are required to prepare and end up being haunted by what can humiliate you and guarantee your failure. You are generally fooled into believing that these anxious situations will happen, when in reality they rarely do happen.
The physical symptoms of anxiety can be triggered at an early stage of knowledge of the event. You are likely to have varying degrees of stomach “butterflies”, sweaty palms, and a racing heart (palpitations). The body can get very distressed because of these symptoms, and as a result, anticipatory anxiety becomes a huge physical discomfort to your well-being. These symptoms, moreover, become a serious form of anticipatory anxiety when you begin to focus on them in ordinary and daily events, and for long sustained periods of time.
It is normal for people to have reasonable levels of worry about important future events, but the alertness should resolve itself as the event passes. With the prolonged form of anticipatory anxiety, the symptoms persist much after the event. And the more debilitating this anxiety gets, the more you will experience psychological problems too. For example, you may develop insomnia, depression and constant panic attacks. Eventually, if anticipatory anxiety has been experienced for periods of more than a month, it becomes a chronic state of anticipatory anxiety.
What causes anticipatory anxiety?
Many of the causes that contribute to developing anticipatory anxiety are related to past experiences. At some point in your life, you were faced with experiences that aroused extreme fear or a suffocating shame within you. Such experiences, if they get reinforced, tend to set deep roots in your psyches and render you avoidant and phobic to those stressful events in the future.
In addition, some people may develop panic attacks that build up because of extreme stress. With the knock on effect of this situation and repeated negative reactions, the sufferer becomes not only afraid of the events, but also of your own anxiety symptoms or the panic attacks. As a consequence, you become locked into this fear of symptom-reaction or “panic about panic”. It can render some sufferers helpless influencing a state of agoraphobia in its progression.
General anxiety is not excluded from this either. If anxiety troubles you at every turn in your life, anticipatory anxiety becomes a symptom of it when too many stressful incidents keep giving you anxiety symptoms. Furthermore, anticipatory anxiety may not be just conscious but may descend into an unconscious form when it creeps into your dreams. Thus, it is very advisable for any person suffering from it to learn about some of the coping techniques that reduce this anxiety and eventually break you out of the cycle of anticipatory anxiety.
Coping with Anticipatory Anxiety
Primarily, anticipatory anxiety can be seen as a state of mind where different ideas are affecting your psyche. It is a line of emotional thinking that zooms in on all the disastrous and negative outcomes that can harm your self-esteem and well-being. Let’s briefly explore some common coping techniques. They all need further development and practise to be helpful in dealing with your anticipatory anxiety.
A powerful way to bring the anxiety into a halt is to interrupt the emotional anxious thinking with positive thinking. It won’t be apparent to you how much effect a positive thought can help you until you can employ and master the use of them. The state of mind suddenly shifts to a stronger and more relieving way of thinking. In other words, the anticipation can be translated into a positive reality as this immediately stops the physical stress and breaks the habit of anxious “over-thinking”.
Another technique that can reduce this anxiety is the act of changing your focus of attention. When your attention has been set on something completely different, the anticipatory anxiety stops taking over your mind and has fewer effects on you. Moreover, a change of focus of attention can give you the strength to not succumb to excessive worry. This is because your selected attention decides what mindset you can have.
The use of your attention, though, need not be limited to motivating thoughts. You can reduce the anticipatory anxiety even by focusing on the nature of your anxiety or your breath, without analysing it or judging it, just becoming mindful of it. This is the basis of mindfulness.
Lastly, you can ask questions that alter your mode of thinking to balance out the negative anticipation. For instance, you may ask about the possible good things that can happen in the short-term and long-term if those bad scenarios might happen. Or by accepting that it’s going to be bad anyway, you can ask yourself how you may recover from the situation and build coping resources in the process. In so doing, you can motivate your state of mind to drop the anxiety and entertain the confident ideas and expectation that you deserve to have.
More self help techniques can be found here: ways to deal with anticipatory anxiety.
How can hypnotherapy help you deal with anticipatory anxiety?
Hypnotherapy can break your obsessive thinking patterns
As you become more anxious, your view of reality will favour that which confirms your anxious reality; in your anticipation, you become convinced that these catastrophes will ensue. In the relaxed state of hypnosis, you can detach this reality and be helped to view the positive alternatives.
Hypnotherapy can help you to visualise the anticipated event as a successful event
Positive visualisation changes the neural pathways in your brain. When you can picture the dreaded event e.g. a public speaking presentation, as one in which you are coping with, the journey leading up to the event can feel less traumatising. With less anticipation, you can then be left to cope with the event itself, accessing the resources needed to deal with the demands in that moment. Hypnotherapy is an excellent way to assist your visualisation abilities enabling you to maximise the potential of your imagination.
Hypnotherapy can help you reframe your past experiences
When you have anticipatory anxiety, the emotions from past traumatic events continue to alert you to similar situations to prepare for another upset, sometimes exaggerating the nature of the future event. But when the emotions from those past traumas are reframed and released, they can become experiences to learn from. Using regression techniques, hypnotherapy can be used to revisit an “open” negative past experience, safely reprocess its meaning and close the event so that you can view future situations as challenges.
Hypnotherapy can be used to restructure your avoidance strategies
Avoidance is one of the main symptoms of anticipatory anxiety. Whilst the “avoidance voice” is there to protect you from harm in the short term, it creates a bigger obstacle to overcome in the long term. Hypnotherapy can use analytical methods to access the decisive “parts” in your mind and employ their resilience to confront the situations that you would previously seek to avoid.
Hypnotherapy can alleviate your anticipatory physical symptoms
Your physical anxiety symptoms like heart palpitations and tense breathing patterns can convince you that your fear is “real”. Hypnotherapy can used to alleviate your physical symptoms and view them as separate from your current distress, helping you to feel relaxed and ready to confront the situation when needed.
In summary, anticipatory anxiety is one of the psychological disorders that can burden your life. Most of the time, it becomes nurtured because of the stressful life that you have led in your past or through some developed phobias e.g. social phobia.
Your past experiences may overwhelm you now because you previously lacked the tools to handle emotional situations back then. That’s why it’s important to appreciate what anticipatory anxiety is, how the various symptoms can affect you and be ready to confront those situations that cause you excessive worry. Then, you can learn relevant coping techniques and apply them when anticipatory anxiety is dominating your life.
Furthermore, it is important to seek professional help if you are struggling with anticipatory anxiety in your daily life. Coping techniques can place you back into a measure of stability. Therapy such as hypnotherapy can strengthen and help you develop new coping strategies in a relatively short treatment course.