Fear of the Fear: How to Combat Anticipatory Anxiety

Sometimes I’d wake up in the morning, wondering how the bed could hold the weight of it all. I felt stuck and stupid for not knowing how not to be afraid. There were days that I’d struggle with simple things, even just going to the store, because they seemed like asking for trouble.

I’d fret and fidget, and do just about anything to avoid thinking about next time. That’s anticipatory anxiety, and it’s common to most every single person with an anxiety disorder.

The funny thing? Anticipatory anxiety can mean you’re trying too hard. Yes, you heard that right. It’s counter-intuitive, but sometimes the best thing to do about anxiety is to stop fighting it.

Feeling Anticipatory Anxiety Coming On? Take stock

  • What can you sense, right now?
  • Are the waters really that rough, or are you more afraid of what lies beneath?
  • Are your thoughts fast or slow?
  • How’s that breathing thing?

Those questions can be tricky if you’ve every expectation the answers aren’t so pleasant. Sadly, it’s all too common for people with anxiety disorders to suffer in silence, left to challenge those thoughts and expectations alone. That’s not easy, so let yourself know it’s OK to be afraid; it’s only natural if maybe you don’t even have words for how disturbing panic actually is.

What, exactly, am I afraid of?

If my answers to that question are largely prefaced by ‘what if’, then I remind myself that no matter how hard I try, I can’t predict the future. And if I’m not having an episode now, then in all probability I won’t be in 30 seconds, or 5 minutes, or an hour either.

That mental process is such a great ally when things get tough. I mean it’s not much use feeling better one minute, if you don’t feel any control over the next. It’s a way to manage anxiety by bringing your anxiety down just enough that you can start to see more options and remember your anxiety coping skills. Even better, the benefits increase with practice.

Learning to Cope with Anticipatory Anxiety Takes Time

But please don’t beat yourself up if tips like these don’t work perfectly the first time, or even the tenth. Anxiety has probably been hanging around a fair while and it’s based in very real physiology; so go at your own pace. It’s your mind, after all.

You know, I’d be willing to bet that you’ve more going for you than you’re able to see when you’re worried about next time. Anxiety induces uncertainty and a sense of lack, even failure, regardless of how competent you really are.

The tighter you can hold onto the thought that you have anxiety coping tools to stay on course, the less fear will be steering you. You’ll feel better about where you are, and where you’re going, because you’ll be paying more attention to how you got there. And awareness like that is key.

by Kate White

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