Anticipatory anxiety is where a person experiences increased levels of anxiety by thinking about an event or situation in the future. Rather than being a specific disorder in its own right, anticipatory anxiety is a symptom commonly found in a number of anxiety related conditions. It can be extremely draining for people as it can last for months prior to an event. The worries people experience specifically focus on what they think might happen, often with catastrophic predictions about an event. The nature of negative predictions about the event will be the difference between an anxiety level that is incapacitating or merely uncomfortable.
Anticipatory anxiety has many of the characteristics of generalised anxiety: increase of attention, apprehension, restlessness and avoidance. During anticipatory anxiety, a person’s body may be habitually tense, waiting for the event. This can also have a disabling effect, since having a tense body may actually lead to problems such as hyperventilation, chest pain and muscle spasm. Anticipatory anxiety may also shape behavior (i.e. decisions about how to behave, what to say, where to go, etc.) in hopes of avoiding a return of symptoms. At lower levels this fear is referred to as ordinary “worry;” at higher levels it may become so intense that it can be called “anticipatory panic”.
Common conditions that have a component of anticipatory anxiety include, panic (with common predictions regarding a fear of having a further attack, fainting or dying), social phobia (with predictions about saying or doing something embarrassing, e.g. blushing, sweating or saying the wrong thing), before public speaking (for example, forgetting what to say) and generalised anxiety (with negative worry or fears about the future). Anticipatory anxiety may cause problems in relationships with others, since individuals are often preoccupied with the thought of the feared event. It can also affect a person’s ability to concentrate, which may prevent them from working to their full potential, or enjoying favorite activities.
If you can answer YES to most of the questions it is likely that you are affected by anticipatory anxiety.
- Do you experience feelings of tension and anxiety in the build up to an event?
- Do you have images or negative predictions about what may happen at this event?
- Do you sometimes avoid events or situations because of the increased anxiety they provoke?
Anxiety UK strongly advises that people seek further information and guidance from their GP who will be able to make a formal diagnosis.
How we can help
Anxiety UK is a user-led charity with more than forty years experience in supporting those living with anxiety. By becoming a member of Anxiety UK, you will have access to a range of benefits, including:
- Access to reduced cost therapy within two weeks of submitting your therapy request
- Free access to Headspace, worth £95
- Access to our infoline, email, text and live chat services (available Monday-Friday, 9:30 am – 5:30 pm) staffed by volunteers with personal experience of anxiety
- Receipt of four issues of Anxious Times, our quarterly members” magazine
- Access to the members only section of our website, featuring regular support surgeries facilitated by anxiety experts
- Access to specialist helplines, including the psychiatric pharmacy helpline and the psychology information helpline
And many, many other benefits that will help you manage your anxiety long term. To become a member of Anxiety UK click here or ring 08444 775 774 today.
Top five tips for dealing with anticipatory anxiety
- Exercise! When we exercise, it burns up the extra adrenaline produced when we are feeling anxious.
- Distract Yourself! If you can find a task to occupy yourself in the short term this can reduce anxiety and occupy your mind, for example doing a crossword or counting. This is not a long term solution, however.
- Do some relaxation! Yoga, breathing exercises and listening to music are all good ways to decrease your physical anxiety symptoms.
- Try an experiment! See if you can postpone your worry to a set time in the day. It can help you feel that you are more in control of when you worry- rather than letting it take over your day.
- Look at the evidence! Ask yourself “What’s the best that could happen, the worst that could happen and what is the most likely thing that will happen?” What could you do to cope if the worst did happen?
Do you suffer from anticipatory anxiety and want to share your experience with other people? Post your personal experience in the comments box below where it will be sent to our moderator for approval. Many people find this part of the site very useful when trying to understand their disorder so your comments really do make a difference. Please note, all comments submitted to the Anxiety UK website may be used by Anxiety UK for (but not limited to) publicity and promotional material.
“For the past 15 years I have worked in a casino both as a croupier and at a managerial level, however it wasn’t the managerial post which caused me the anticipatory anxiety, it was when I was a croupier. It used to begin a few hours before I was due to begin my shift, with butterfly feelings occurring in the pit of my stomach, an increased body temperature which got progressively more intense the closer I was to starting my shift.
Once at work, the feelings of anxiety increased tremendously whilst I waited to be assigned to a gaming table and my hands and underarms used to sweat excessively. The butterfly feeling used to make me feel almost nauseous at times. Once on the table and dealing the games to the customers, the feelings subsided considerably if I didn’t make any mistakes. However, as many of the customers within the casino are extremely experienced gamblers and know the bet calculations almost instantaneously, there is a considerable amount of pressure on you to get it right first time; if you don’t the anxiety takes over once more. For me it was almost like my brain used to switch off creating an even bigger feeling of anxiety which made me feel at times like I just wanted to run away from the situation. The added pressure of customers looking at you and perhaps thinking that you weren’t particularly competent at your job just seemed to justify my fear. It also didn’t seem to matter how much experience I had, I still seemed to experience anxiety in anticipation of commencing a shift.”
Adam, Anxiety UK member