Anticipatory Anxiety: How to Cope with Fear of the Fear
Tuesday, August 3 2010 Kate White
Sometimes I'd wake up in the morning, wondering how the bed could hold the weight of it all. Before opening my eyes, the fear that I might experience anxiety today overwhelmed me. I felt stuck and stupid for not knowing how not to be afraid. I struggled with seemingly simple things like going to the store because those things 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.
Is Anticipatory Anxiety Coming On? Take Stock
Cognitive behavioral therapy often gives you a set of questions to ask yourself. These questions both bring you to the present (away from the fear of the fear) and help you figure out what anxiety coping skills you could use to calm yourself in the now.
Here are questions to ask yourself with anticipatory anxiety flares:
- 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 okay to be afraid; it's only natural if you don't have words for how disturbing panic actually is.
Anticipatory Anxiety Doesn't Make You a Psychic
Anticipatory anxiety comes into being with one main question: What If?! When the what-ifs begin, I remind myself that no matter how hard I try, I can't predict the future. But, if I'm not having an episode now, then in all probability I won't be having an episode 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 of coping skills increase with practice.
Learning to Cope with Anticipatory Anxiety
Learning to cope with anticipatory anxiety is very much like coping with any other type of anxiety. The questions above should help, but also, simply knowing a few different anxiety coping skills will probably keep you calmer (because you know what to do if anxiety attacks).
So to that end, here are other pages with anxiety coping tips that could work for you:
- Anxiety-Panic Coping Tips
- Tips on Coping with Anxiety and Bipolar Disorder
- Reduce Morning Anxiety With These 5 Useful Tips
- 10 Tips to Reduce Your Anxiety in 10 Minutes Or Less
- Anxiety Coping Strategy: The Benefits of Relaxation
- Top 21 Anxiety Grounding Techniques
But please don't beat yourself up if tips like these don't work perfectly the first time around. Don't give up on a coping skill you think feels right due to dissatisfaction with the first-use results. Anxiety has probably been hanging around a fair while and it's based in very real physiology; so tackling anxiety with any tool can take time. You know yourself best; it is 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.