I was always a nervous wreck when it came to going away with friends. And sometimes, I still am. My heart beats faster at the thought of leaving my home and my mind sorts through all of the possible negative outcomes. Sometimes, I even get light headed and tingly at the thought of it. This is because I’ve experienced panic attacks while away from home before. Therefore, my mind links being away from home to that bad experience, causing me to fixate on a possible, recurring future situation. This is called anticipatory anxiety.
What Is Anticipatory Anxiety?
Anticipatory anxiety is when you experience an increased level of stress or anxiety when you think about a future event. The event can be weeks away, like an upcoming work presentation, or right around the corner, like going to the grocery store.
Typically, those who struggle with anticipatory anxiety fear possible negative outcomes and link the future to the past. It also causes our imaginations to run wild. This magnifies situations, which can debilitate us from even carrying out day-to-day activities.
Anticipatory anxiety is also not a distinct mental health condition. Rather, it is linked to other mental health disorders such as generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, social anxiety, specific phobias and post-traumatic stress disorder.
How Can I Identify It?
The symptoms of anticipatory anxiety usually include difficulty concentrating, trouble managing emotions or feeling numb, loss of interest in daily activities, muscle pain, nausea, appetite loss, sleep issues, rapid heart beat, shortness of breath, dizziness, tingling in the body, upset stomach or hot and cold flashes.
Symptoms can vary per individual and may come and go, however, these are usually good indicators that you may be suffering from anticipatory anxiety. But don’t worry, there are helpful tools to combat it.
How Can I Manage It?
While anticipatory anxiety can seem overwhelming, there are various grounding techniques (a practice that helps calm you when faced with negative or challenging situations) to combat the situation. Check them out below.
Take Deep Breaths
When you are beginning to feel overwhelmed or sense fear of the future slowly creeping in, try box breathing.
Box breathing is a technique used by police officers, U.S. Navy SEALS, nurses, and more. First, exhale through your mouth, ridding of all oxygen in your lungs. Next, slowly breathe in through your nose and count to four. You should feel the oxygen filling up your entire chest. Now, hold your breath for another slow count of four. Then, using the same four-count, exhale all of the air through your mouth.
Be conscious of each breath, count and movement. It will help center you and calm your thoughts.
Go Through The 5-4-3-2-1 Technique
This five step process can bring you back to the present and slow your heart rate.
First, acknowledge five things you can see around you. Examples include a phone, a dog or an outlet. Pay attention to detail and call it out. Next, acknowledge four things you can touch (and actually touch them!). It can be your hair, a desk, a rock or the floor under your feet. Now, acknowledge three things you can hear outside of your body. It can be a bird singing, your cubicle partner typing or the soft music playing in the area. Then, acknowledge two things you can smell. Examples include your sweatshirt or a pencil. And lastly, acknowledge one thing you can taste. Maybe it’s the taste of morning coffee left in your mouth.
While it’s a lengthier process, it can slow down your heart rate and steady your breathing. Just stay focused on the various sensations.
If the above grounding techniques weren’t much help, pull out your journal and begin to write.
One prompt that can help calm the anxious mind includes writing down all of your worries. Without hesitation, spill every thought in your head onto the page. This creates a form of release. Another writing prompt includes writing about past anxious experiences and how you overcame them. If you got through them once, you can get through them again. And if neither of those are your cup of tea, then take action by writing down what you will do if your fear comes true. This gives you a sense of control and puts you back in the driver’s seat.
Anticipatory anxiety can be mild, or it can have severe side effects if linked to a deeper disorder. If you feel like you need professional help, don’t hesitate to reach out to your local provider.