Originally posted to BrainzMagazine.com:
According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety affects 40 million adults aged 18 and older in the United States. Within those 40 million adults, there are a multitude of types of anxiety that are reported. In my practice as a licensed marriage and family therapist as well as in my personal life, anticipatory anxiety is what I find to be the most prevalent type of anxiety reported.
What is anticipatory anxiety? Anticipatory anxiety is extreme worry over events in the future that COULD happen. For example, you may be anxious about an upcoming trip, a new beginning, such as starting college or a new career, a big presentation at work, or a family or social event where you will see people you don’t necessarily want to engage with. The list of anticipatory anxiety triggers is endless. Often we are stuck for days, weeks, sometimes even years, in anticipatory anxiety. It consumes us – yet .and most importantly…it’s a part of life.
One of my personal epiphanies, that I often share with clients, is from when my now teenager was a toddler. We had a swimming playdate set for a Friday. It was Monday. I was having so much anxiety about getting in a bathing suit in public with my new mommy friends. The anxiety was all consuming. I knew I didn’t want to cancel or change the playdate because I didn’t want MY issues with being in a bathing suit to get in the way of a fun playdate for my toddler, but that was certainly in the back of my mind. I spent the entire week with my mind and heart racing thinking about the playdate. Well, what ended up happening on Friday? IT RAINED! My brain was so consumed with wearing a bathing suit that I hadn’t, once, even considered the weather.
While feeling a sense of relief that the playdate didn’t happen, I was also made very aware of the energy I spent worrying about something that didn’t even happen. True anticipatory anxiety. If it had happened, I know it would have been great and no big deal….so why did I waste SO much time worrying about it? Maybe the truth is, I just need something to worry about. Or maybe I was nervous to be with new moms and that is the true anxiety? The real reason doesn’t necessarily matter…it’s just recognizing that a majority of the time everything goes just fine….even better than fine…and the anticipatory anxiety clouded an entire week of my life in something I had zero control over.
Using the situation above, what could I have done differently? I could have told myself that I would worry about the situation on Thursday, the day before, rather than spending an entire week anxious about the playdate. I could have focused on the activities that I had with my toddler today, not tomorrow or a week from now. I could have prepared myself for being in a bathing suit by finding one that made me feel good about myself. I also could have canceled the playdate, but at the time, that did not seem like an option.
We can’t predict the future, so what CAN we do?
Of course, it would be nice if we could wave a magic wand and say “poof” don’t worry anymore. Unfortunately, that is just not how our brains are wired. Instead, you can try the following:
- Schedule a time to worry and compartmentalize it until then. Instead of feeling all consumed by the worry, set a timer or a reminder on your phone to worry about it at a later time. Sometimes we need to give our anxiety the attention it needs, but it is more productive when it’s compartmentalized.
- Stay present. Focus on the here and now. Being present is not always easy, but it’s a healthy and mindful way to reduce anxiety.
- Have faith and remember…what will be, will be. As humans, we often want to control what’s going to happen, but when other people are involved, we simply can’t. You need to try and go with the flow. Have faith that the universe has your back.
- Prepare. What you CAN do is prepare. For example, if you’re a nervous flyer, you can prepare by having the things you may need to calm your anxiety, such as lavender essential oil, your favorite music or a special treat. Once prepared, it is important to recognize that you aren’t in control of the situation, but you are in control of your anxiety about the situation.
Anticipatory anxiety, in my opinion, is the worst type of anxiety because by nature we live with so many unknowns. We do not know what the future holds. We have zero control over the universe, so wasting our precious time and energy being anxious about it is truly in vain. Next time you find yourself worrying about something in the future, take a moment and remember you can worry all day long, but ultimately that will have ZERO effect on the outcome.