Taking Control of Anticipatory Anxiety

July 1, 2018 George Abitante

Anticipatory anxiety can be paralyzing. But there are things you can do to take control of anticipatory anxiety and move forward. Learn more at HealthyPlace.

Anticipatory anxiety occurs when you experience anxiety while thinking about an event in the future and it can be a very difficult form of anxiety to challenge. Since I started graduate school, a number of deadlines and events have popped up that require significant planning and time management. Thinking about all of these can be challenging and makes it hard to focus on the present and feel positive about what I've accomplished so far. This form of anxiety can occur for a variety of situations, whether you're trying to achieve a goal, facing a frightening event, or worrying about something you don't want to happen. Engaging with anticipatory anxiety can also make you feel like you have no control over your life -- when you focus on things you haven't done yet, it's easy to lose sight of what you have been able to do already. Consequently, the challenge of anticipatory anxiety is shifting focus from the events you're concerned about to the actions you can take in the present to achieve your goals. Here are some steps I use to take control of my anticipatory anxiety and stay engaged in the present.

Three Steps To Take Control of Your Anticipatory Anxiety

Anticipatory anxiety is manageable when you follow these guidelines:

  1. Identify the first step you can take. When thinking about how to achieve a long-term goal or overcome an obstacle, the hardest part is often figuring out how to get there. I'm often tempted to try thinking of everything I need to do before I reach a goal, but I've discovered that the key is actually to just figure out the first action I need to take. By identifying one manageable, concrete step I can take towards a goal, I transform a fuzzy goal into a tangible action that I can complete, and in so doing, bring my focus to the present. This also bypasses the overthinking that occurs so easily with anxiety and allows me to productively engage with the goal I'm working toward. 
  2. Take pride in each step you take. This step is crucial for establishing a sense of efficacy and taking control of your anticipatory anxiety. For every action step you identify, take note when you complete that act and celebrate your accomplishment. By noticing the short-term actions you take that are successful, you develop a greater focus on the present and improve your awareness of your competence. 
  3. Keep track of the times you've successfully worked through your anticipatory anxiety. As of this moment, you've already anticipated, waited for, and faced countless situations you were anxious about. It is completely natural to forget about previous successes when facing novel challenges, which is why keeping track of the times you succeeded in facing your fears is so important. The more you keep track of times you went through a challenging situation, the more you'll notice that you've already faced similar fears to what you're anticipating now. This context empowers you to look at your current anticipatory anxiety as exactly what it is: another challenge that you are capable of handling.

These steps have allowed me to take control of my anticipatory anxiety and face future challenges with confidence. What other strategies do you use for handling anticipatory anxiety?

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2018, July 1). Taking Control of Anticipatory Anxiety , HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 18 from

Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

July, 17 2018 at 8:54 am

Thanks for the helpful blog on quick steps to deal with anticipatory anxiety. I also find that it's helpful to start small and stick with the basics of what you can manage most effectively in the moment. Recognizing when to take a time out and have a few deep exhaling breaths can be a great first step.

July, 17 2018 at 12:28 pm

Hi Petra, thanks for your excellent comment. I completely agree, starting small so you gain confidence and make consistent improvement is really important. I really like your idea of taking time to recenter before re-engaging with whatever challenge you're facing.

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