5 Tips to Manage Anticipatory Anxiety

January 14, 2021

Does thinking about the future keep you up at night? Do you run over every possible future scenario in your head out of worry? If your anxious feelings about the future are persistent and have interfered with your day-to-day life, you may be struggling with anticipatory anxiety.

What is Anticipatory Anxiety?

Anticipatory anxiety is the fear or worry that bad things could happen in the future. With this type of anxiety, we may fixate on the things we can’t control or predict. The uncertainty of the future can be scary because it is out of our control. Anticipatory anxiety is characterized with the phrase “What if…?”

  • What if I trip up in my job interview?
  • Or what if I fail an important upcoming exam?
  • What if my first date goes terribly?

We can apply these “what ifs” to our daily lives, but we can also become fixated on larger issues too. We may contemplate “what ifs” about the current coronavirus pandemic, racial injustices, the climate crisis, or economic instability. Worrying is normal and something that we all do. But anticipatory anxiety can begin to put stress on our personal relationships, making us less present. When these fears become overwhelming and intrusive, that’s when we may need to find new ways to manage them.

Signs of Anticipatory Anxiety

Here are some common signs you may be struggling with anticipatory anxiety:

  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Trouble managing emotions and mood
  • Loss of interest in your usual hobbies
  • Jumpiness or restlessness
  • Muscle tension and pain
  • Nausea and appetite loss
  • Sleep problems

Tips to Feel Less Anxious About the Future

Practice Relaxation Techniques

When we feel anxious, anxiety can take over our body. It takes a conscious effort to calm it down. To relax, focus on deep breathing. Focusing on breathing can significantly decrease our feelings of panic or nervousness. It can help root us in the present. And if your mind begins to wander, bring it all back to your breath. There are many wonderful guided breathing techniques to try out.

We can also focus on relaxation by closing our eyes and focusing on visual imagery that makes us feel more at peace. Or progressive muscle relaxation is another technique to try out. It involves tensing and relaxing each muscle, from head to toe. Any form of meditating and relaxing our mind can be a great remedy for our anxious thoughts.

Challenge Your Anxious Thoughts

It may help to challenge our anxious thoughts directly. We can wonder about the best and worst case scenarios of a given situation, then consider if what we’re thinking about is truly realistic. We may not realize how much we catastrophize the future in our heads. If we can acknowledge the uncertainty for what it is and make peace with it, then we can refocus back on the present moment.

Another way we can challenge our thoughts is through keeping a journal. We often have hindsight bias, which causes us to believe we had better control of things in the past. However, when we look back we can see how uncertain things truly were and how we handled uncertainty at the time and still ended up okay. This type of reflection can help us accept that uncertainty is a natural part of life, beyond our control.

Find a Healthy Distraction

Sometimes, we just need to focus on something other than our anxious thoughts. We can always come back to them and work through them. But it’s okay if you need to take some time to distract yourself with something else. Going for a walk, calling a friend, listening to music, doing chores around the house, reading a book, or watching a show are all healthy ways to divert our focus for a bit.

Take Action

Anticipatory anxiety can lead us to put off important things. We may search for ways to avoid the experiences that we fear. Although there is a lot beyond our control, there are still small things we can do to take action and feel less anxious than before. If you’re worried about the climate crisis, donate your time or money to an organization that helps with the cause. Or if you’re worried for the health of your loved ones, give them a call to connect with them and share life updates with them. There’s small ways that we can actively address our fears.

Speak to Someone About It

Lastly, it may help to talk to a trusted loved one about our concerns. They can be a source of comfort when we are feeling overcome with worry. However, if you are still experiencing persistent anticipatory anxiety, consider seeking professional help through therapy. At Eugene Therapy, our compassionate therapists will listen to your concerns and provide useful tools to manage your anxiety.

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