Anticipatory Anxiety: How to Cope with Fear of the Fear

Tuesday, August 3 2010 Kate White

Learn about the symptoms of anticipatory anxiety and how to cope with anticipatory anxiety using anxiety coping skills. From the Treating Anxiety blog.

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:

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.

Author: Kate White

View all posts by Kate White.

Anticipatory Anxiety: How to Cope with Fear of the Fear

Patricia
says:
August, 3 2010 at 12:56 pm

Great blog Kate, welcome to HealthyPlace!

Trish Riley
says:
August, 4 2010 at 6:44 am

Hi Kate!!
I am so glad I found your blog! I have to learn how to not anticipate. I've been out of work for almost a year now and every time someone mentions going back to work - I FREAK OUT. We'll that's what i call it, but its an anxiety attack.
Anxiety is also what got my fired from my job...it is so hard for people to understand, especially when you say your afraid of the phone or customers, things "normal" people wouldn't be afraid of. It's like all my past experiences come to mind all at once, the person on the phone is going to curse me out and the customer at the counter is going to throw something at me and tell me how stupid I am.
I've tried meds, but they make me more depressed (Im on anti depressants) and suicidal, so I only take them when I feel I need them. I've tried "re-thinking," ya know telling yourself the cause of your anxiety isn't what you think, but when the phone litterally get HUGE before your eyes... So far the only thing that works is prayer, but I'm still getting worse... IDK what to do.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

kwhite
says:
August, 4 2010 at 12:01 pm

Hi Trish,

Freak Out. Haha. Yes, it's much more accurate. I use that one quite a lot.

So sorry you got fired because of your anxiety stuff. It's hard enough to lose your job but to know it is because of something like anxiety just seems so unfair, and I would think it was a very frustrating and difficult time for you.

It sounds like your anxiety has built up over quite a while and with things like that -- fears of supposedly easy daily things like phone calls etc. -- I think it's quite common for the fear to have had a basis in reality at one point or another. Maybe accumulated work stress you hadn't had the space to deal with? Or even just general life stuff that then put more and more pressure on those daily things, which are stressful. Usually not as stressful as you experience them as being, of course. But there is a level at which most people can relate... when it goes on and starts interfering with your life that fundamentally, then it's tough.

Definitely anxiety does change your perspective of the world. It distorts your thoughts, exaggerates worries and plays tricks with your perceptions. Explaining that to other people, to friends, let alone employers, and before you've had a chance to even get your own head around what's going on, boy, yeah, that's tricky.

Prayer is a wonderful, safe base to have in your life, though! Just having that sense of not being totally alone must help... you can always talk it out when you pray and that's a help. Not a solution exactly but great all the same.

And maybe it's OK you don't know what to do right now. Because you'll get there. With practice and a few more skills available to you, it is possible.

It's a bit of a journey but i can tell just from your comment that you're working really hard and that work pays off in time. It's hard to believe and even quite hard to see for yourself when it is changing but the point is to just keep at it. A little bit everyday, whatever you can handle, build your faith. You've already got it in God so maybe that could be a good base to go on and build from -- faith in yourself, and faith in the world around you again. Because it sounds like your world, right now, it's like quicksand and a lot of things probably feel quite dangerous.

Be gentle with yourself 'eh.

Kate

p.s. 'normal' is overrated ;) :)

Svasti
says:
August, 5 2010 at 12:53 am

Anticipatory anxiety for me manifests as avoiding certain things. As in, I might be afraid to return a phone call, see certain people or even just checking my bank account (if things are a little sketchy!). These days, I catch those evasive actions and most of the time I can turn it around. But it's still something I have to keep on top of!

As you say, breaking it down is important. Otherwise it just remains as a "bubble of fear" and there's no way to get inside it. Until you do.

And yes, 'normal' is overrated!

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

kwhite
says:
August, 5 2010 at 6:32 am

Hey Svast,

I can relate to the way it manifests. It's actually about the only time I relate to my star sign -- cancer, the crab. All those evasive actions. LOL

"bubble of fear" is just it. good call.

Isa
says:
August, 6 2010 at 3:16 pm

Wow,. It is always so refreshing hearing about other people in the same situation as me. If this helps anybody and I sure hope it does. It gets better and the episodes last less and less. But only with alot of hard work, meditation, support from family and friends and Cbt. Oh ya, lets not forget meds. It can be done, it sucks but we have to enjoy when we are feeling "normal".
Oh ya and I am a cancer sign as well. lol

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

kwhite
says:
August, 6 2010 at 11:57 pm

Hi Isa,

Yeah, takes all that plus a little luck and the right kinds of support at the right time but it definitely can be done! :)

blazer45
says:
August, 7 2010 at 5:25 pm

I'm glad that I found this blog so that I can share some of my experiences I have in past few years especially in my college days. Anticipatory anxiety is really a problem to me because when going to school I have anticipate things to happens negative things and I almost quit my studies because of that. My parents got me into cognitive behavioural therapy and support by friends it really helps me a lot. Now I'm having my own business and happy with my life.

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

kwhite
says:
August, 11 2010 at 8:15 am

Hi blazer45,

That's brilliant cbt helped you out so much. I hope you will pop back and share some thoughts sometime. Cheers!

slimgirl1953
says:
March, 16 2011 at 4:00 am

Hi i am a 58 year old female who has never driven far only on a back road where there is no traffic. when i try to drive on a road with traffic i get nerves and my hands go to sweating and i get sick on my stomach my feet get stiff where i can not move it, and when i do see traffic up ahead i be think the cars are going to run into me . i just do not no what to do . my spouse is getting sicker and i need to no how to drive. please tell me what i do. all my children and sister and brothers can drive what is wrong with me.

Kate White
says:
March, 16 2011 at 4:45 am

Hi slimgirl1953,

Keeping in mind I'm not a medical professional and this is really a very brief window into your experience, it's hard to say "what's wrong" exactly. It sounds like, for whatever reason, you've developed what's called a specific phobia. In this case, of driving.

With a specific phobia, the fear that the activity or object (in this case getting behind the wheel) promotes is so great that it's overwhelming. This makes it extraordinarily difficult to think about, let alone engage in, the activity. That you're driving at all is a good sign.

"when i try to drive on a road with traffic i get nerves and my hands go to sweating and i get sick on my stomach my feet get stiff where i can not move it, and when i do see traffic up ahead i be think the cars are going to run into me ."

What you're describing is panic, and it's a natural body response. Please don't blame yourself - it's the brain/nervous system doing what it's designed to do. In response to our biggest fears the "fight, flight, or freeze" instinct kicks in.
It is an instinct, a primal one that let us survive tiger attacks way back when in caveman days, and it just takes over, and my experience of it has been that it's just too strong to fight my body when it's busy doing that.

Which isn't to say there isn't hope that you can overcome a phobia. Absolutely you can :) It just takes a more gradual approach. Usually counseling is recommended - and a good counsellor can really help you understand what's going on, and why.

Some people are afraid of spiders, which is a common specific phobia. One that's relatively easy to avoid, is the thing. Not being able to drive is, I imagine, having a far greater impact on your general ability to get along in life and feel good about all that than being afraid of spiders would.

Basically I would really recommend talking to a licensed counselor - just tell them what you've told me. Perhaps there was an experience in your past that set the fear off. Sometimes phobias just gradually develop over time and the more we fight and fail to conquer our fears, that harder it is to face them all by ourselves.

Some people find hypnosis really helpful in dealing with phobias, as well. So that might be something you could raise as an option if you do choose to talk to someone about it.

The kinds of therapy used to treat specific phobias are fairly time limited. So, theoretically, a course of at most 12 weeks of combined cognitive behavioral therapy along with very gradual exposure and hopefully some family support along the way will be enough to combat this kind of anxiety.

But again, because I have very little information to go on here and I'm not a trained mental health professional, I may be off base. Don't take my theories as fact. I hope you will talk to someone.

There's also lots of further info re: phobias and panic attacks, as well as finding a good therapist, available round the HealthyPlace site.

I hope you can find the treatment that works for you! :)

Kate

Beckey
says:
November, 5 2012 at 4:43 pm

WOW, just WOW. This is such a great thread on Anticipatory Anxiety. I've had these panic attacks most all my life. It's a childhood trauma thing. I am now 50 and so outta control. I am seeing a great psychologist and I've really stuck in there and I'm learning to call it a cow when it IS a cow so to speak. NOW I know what it IS. NOW I can MANAGE IT instead of it manage ME. This is so comforting to read and I just want to tell you THANK YOU.
B

Pat M
says:
October, 28 2013 at 10:57 pm

I have only just realized that the years of worry since at least the age of 8....I am now 47 actually has a name. This is my first view on the internet trying to find out a bit more and if there is more than medication which I have only recently started however after a week on medication I seem to feel worse, I am told to stick with it for at least a month before I feel results. A little lost at the moment trying to understand how to put into practice the ideas in this blog.........scary !!!

Serenity
says:
February, 2 2014 at 5:24 pm

I just now discovered that there is a different meaning between panic and anxiety, for so long I've been seeking help on sites like these for anxiety coping, and for so long those tools just didn't add up right or work in the end. I just googled anxiety vs panic and found and website comparing the two, and found the term "anticipatory anxiety". I then googled anticipatory anxiety and found this page. Expressing how I felt after reading this: like I'm so deep in this hole, and I just saw a beam of light. And it actually lead to more beams of light that eventually became an entire glimpse of the sun. All of this seems to tell me what I have really been dealing with. Not anxiety, but panic. Pure, panic. This is gold to me. Thank you Kate

medjeraf manal
says:
May, 6 2014 at 11:40 am

hi..i really want to chare my experience with you..i'm an algerian woman,married and recently i found out that i'm pregnant..i have a lot of peoblems with my hasband for about two months and maybe i'll ask for divorce..i'm relly tired of thiking of the futur and of what will happen next and i cant control myself..please help me out

medjeraf manal
says:
May, 6 2014 at 11:43 am

i have serious problems with my hasbands and im always waiting for the worst..please help me out

Beverly
says:
August, 30 2014 at 7:06 am

This type of anxiety rules my life if I don't stop and use grounding skills. It's so hard since I'm in a pattern of this type of thinking, and it's normal for me. I hate it . It robs me of my peace and joy. I only recently found out this type of anxiety has a name.It's very hard to cope, sine when I'm experiencing it, I don't even realize I'm doing this behavior, I's horrible. Glad I found this blog

In reply to by Anonymous (not verified)

Greg Weber
says:
August, 30 2014 at 4:47 pm

Hi Beverly,

Kate White is no longer writing for the Treating Anxiety blog. I'm the new author. I didn't write this post, but have also found it extremely helpful. Anticipatory anxiety is the worst because it can paralyze us into not moving, not trying, and not living.

Linda B
says:
September, 19 2014 at 7:56 am

Hi! Hope you don't mind a Brit posting on the site. I'm almost at my wits end as I am travelling to Toronto tomorrow to visit my son and daughter-in-law. I've been getting myself wound up over the journey for the last week and now I feel on the point of desperation! I think it goes back to a trip to New York that was planned about 12 years ago. I got in such a state I just had to cancel at the last minute. A couple of years later I booked another trip, again to New York this time I went but prior to the journey I was again a total wreck. Four years ago my son married a lovely Canadian girl and I went out to Toronto for the wedding and yet again the same old nonsense rose it's ugly head although while I was there I did relax and enjoy myself. It seems to only be a problem with transatlantic flights as I have flown to Ireland many times and also to Rome without any problems! I keep thinking I'll be ill while I'm away and spoil it for everyone! I just don't know what to do! Any help or advice would be much appreciated!

olwyn
says:
October, 12 2014 at 5:34 am

I have constent anxiety it never leaves all day,
how do you deal with that even tho, I am on Valium
and antidepresent.

Paula
says:
October, 22 2014 at 3:05 am

To respond to Olwyn,
I have learned that walking daily and stretching every day as well as eating well avoiding alcohol, chocolate, caffeine, salty foods, things with added b vitamins and sugary things ..........drink water or milk (calcium, magnesium and vitamin d) all help me. Biggest thing for me is prayer. Hope it helps you.

Paula
says:
October, 22 2014 at 3:14 am

To respond to Linda
Maybe it's not where you are going as it may be who you are seeing and what is going on at the time when you do suffer anxiety. Are there triggers of memory of these places that may make you feel anxious...??? Maybe it's the anxiety of the time you are taking from other responsibilities that are weighing you down? Is your schedule already too loaded up and you're trying to fit these trips in? I have learned to open my mind up to the possibility of triggers or what my mind thinks of in relation to past experiences , people or places....even if they weren't personal experiences but others you have read or heard about. Also taking care if yourself in preparation to your journeys? Sleeping enough before your trip, planning way ahead of things that need to be taken care of in your absence....like care if the family pet or paying bills before you leave? I know for me it's the loss of control over my own capabilities. I stay away from alcohol, caffeine and sugary things all the time but especially if I'm traveling...all of which are anxiety triggers for me. Peace to you and prayers that you can travel to see your son and daughter in law without anxiety..:)
You can do it!

Merlin
says:
December, 25 2014 at 4:40 am

Hi. So what is trying to ruin my life actually has a name - anticipatory anxiety. Others like Linda suffer from it to in a very similar way.
I feel like I can see a pin prick of light in the distance now having read about this. Briefly my story. I work as a freelance on around 10 high presure contacts a year. The last one in October I withdrew from as I suddenly felt very anxious and that I could not manage the workload even though it's work I enjoy and think I'm good at. Still, I had a family holiday to New York and onto New Zealand to look forward to in December. I started getting anxious about this too and the day before nearly pulled out. Took the flight but felt dreadful. After a week I flew back home on my own while the family continued onto New Zealand without me. Put onto antidepressants and sleeping pills. It's a struggle being alone especially at bloody Christmas but hey ho!
I will now read up and learn about this stupid anticipatory anxiety as I want to beat this and get my life back. It's helped just writing this down too...if anyone has any other tips to help get over this I'd be your friend forever!

Connie Fuller
says:
May, 12 2015 at 2:53 pm

Just found ya'll - need help coming up on MAY 19, 2015!!!

IN A NUTSHELL:

YES I have A.a.
Actually, I have CFS FMS IBS ADHD OCD and Aa
(not necessarily in order...). Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, Fibromyalgia, Irritable Bowel Syndrome . FMS's brainfog +ADHD and OCD and Aa round out the initials of my life.

I have a psychology/sociology degree from eons ago, so I understand the basic hows and whys of Aa. I also know the trigger. I'm losing the battle NOW and grabbing at straws because timeline is so short:

Because of FMS, I can't depend on my body day to day etc, and neither can anyone else. Severe Aanxiety began six years ago. Between my body and my brain, I was not able to attend my daughter's high school graduation. TRIGGER! So much regret... A few months later she flew 2,000 miles to begin her education at a service academy. Now it has been five years since her high school. I have yet to see her school (due to pain and Anticipatory anxiety) and IN ONE WEEK SHE WILL GRADUATE! If I am able to attend, the other one I missed will be 'erased.'

I did the research on Aa, I have been gaining slow ground, my self-confidence was improving ... but three nights ago I could not force myself to shower and get ready to ride to a small, familiar venue for a concert by my most favorite band the Moody Blues! All I had to do was shower, ride, sit on my rear, and listen.

I couldn't do it! I STILL can't believe I couldn't make me go to an event I truly wanted to attend! And now, how am I gonna get ready to get on a plane in ONE WEEK? ** GOING IS EVERYTHING - including forgiveness for not going five years ago. But 'disappointment' is looming up ahead like a neon sign...

HELP????
thank you.

Karan sharma
says:
June, 29 2015 at 9:52 am

Hi
This blog is really helpful and it made me more aware of the attacks..... Today I got an attack and it was very strong.... My left arm started paining... Hard breathing......... Tongue stumbling....... Depressed..... Restless..... These were the of.... I thought m going to die..... I started calling my family.... Talked to them.... After reading the blog I could say it was an anticipatory attack..... I was thinking a lot about the family future.... I decided to go to the doctor but a medical store gave me a sleeping pill after that it was a little easy.... But I don't want to take the pill so from now I will try to fill the anxiety diary... And if needed will blog u too.
Thanks
Please take care
Karan

carla
says:
September, 18 2015 at 2:20 pm

TRISH - I can totally relate to what you are saying. My work (which I didn't like much but gave it a try) let me go because of the anxiety too. I wasn't a machine to keep up with a 40+ work week, phones/emails/faxes/customers and demand and after demand - I cracked. I couldnt sleep and i had horrible nausea/ vomitting before going to work EVERY day (anticipation of what next). Now - Im left picking up the pieces slowly and my family knows this as well. The thought about going back to work scares me - but I know that I can do it and I just need to be ready to give it a try and say my affrimations and finding a job I like. Medicines didn't work either and they made me more sick (physically and mentally). Prayer has also helped me and listening to music. I know what I will get thru this difficult period but It will take time. Good Luck to everyone :)

I love this site.

Dolores
says:
September, 1 2016 at 3:10 pm

I'm so glad I found this blog tonight. I am suppose to visit my son in Ohio (less than 2 hour flight). Do you think I can get on that plane? No! I do actually anticipate turbulence or the plane taking a drop. I just fear all the feelings of flying. Talk about anticipate. I am so afraid. I can't go. But I now have a name for this fear which makes it a little better. I'm going to pray and work on this. Thanks everyone for sharing.

Gfd
says:
September, 8 2016 at 5:51 am

Wow this site is really interesting. I have suffered from depression and was hospitalized once then next time i was depressed I became very anxious. I take medication for anxiety and depression. Now
I will soon retire from a job I have worked at for 29 years, moving to another city and getting married. My thoughts are racing and
having trouble sleeping. I think think there is a
state between anxiety and depression. It'scalled anticipatory anxiety. Hope to learn from everyone.

Sharon
says:
October, 24 2018 at 12:33 pm

Just found a name for Whot I’ve got . Anticipatatory anxiety at long last .after struggling for years with holidays ,would it be a good idea to take diazepam a week before the hol to keep me calm ?

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