Fear of What’s To Come
Navigating Anticipatory Anxiety With Grace
“Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dread has become a common theme within everyday conversation. Thanks to 2020’s multitude of issues, a disdain for the present is no longer considered a rude sentiment to share. Rather, it has become common ground for the kick-off to Zoom meetings and text exchanges alike. Yet, behind this seemingly innocent frustration with the ways of our world is often a growing seed of anxiety buried within our subconscious. Hello, anticipatory anxiety. This common symptom of anxiety and more commonly, the reality of this year, has created an atmosphere of worry and uneasiness for what is to come. Here’s a beam of truth to dispel some of this fear: It doesn’t always have to be this way. Let’s get to the heart of the matter.
First up, what exactly is anticipatory anxiety? Let’s start with what it isn’t. Anticipatory anxiety is not a mental health disorder nor is it a standalone diagnosis. Rather, it exists as a symptom and signifier of stress or yes, even an anxiety disorder. You’ll know you’re experiencing anticipatory anxiety if you find yourself tossing and turning the night before a big meeting or major national event (you know which one we’re talking about). Sleep disturbances aren’t all – lack of appetite or overindulgence in food for comfort, racing, or obsessive thoughts about the absolute worst-case scenario, or even panic attacks are also all signs. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Shit, this is exactly what I’ve been dealing with,” know you’re not alone. If 40 million adults struggle with anxiety, you can bet that the number of adults struggling with anticipatory anxiety is even higher.
There’s plenty of room for soothing solutions. If you’re experiencing somatic symptoms of anxiety-like sweating or dizziness, take a time out for a quick breathing exercise. Begin by exhaling all your breath. Then, slowly count to four as you breathe in, hold your breath for four counts, slowly exhale for four counts, then hold your breath for four counts once again. Repeat this sequence at least four times, but preferably for a few minutes. The counting paired with the breathing should help to slow some of the sensations you’re experiencing.
Once you’ve taken some time to breathe, begin to interrupt your thoughts. For example, if you’re obsessing over the worst possible outcome for an event in your life that means a lot to you, interrupt this thought by asking yourself what evidence you have for this belief that all will go wrong. This practice is often used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy sessions and can be quite effective in disrupting anxiety lingering in your subconscious. If your thoughts are going a mile a minute, try jotting some realistic thinking aka evidence-based realities into your journal to calm your mind and extinguish the fear. Finally, consider how you can make your life kinder for your mind, body, and soul moving forward. Maybe this means you don’t scroll news headlines in the morning or you take five minutes to meditate before a big meeting. Perhaps you’re craving a community in the wellness sphere and want to join a breathwork circle. The goal is to find what is sustainable and works for you.
If you find that you’re experiencing these symptoms frequently, it could be time to see a mental health professional. There’s no shame in bolstering support for yourself and a trained professional can help uncover some of the underlying causes of recurring anticipatory anxiety. If this is something you’re interested in exploring, we cover the process of finding a therapist here.