If you suffer from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) or panic attacks, then you’ll already be very familiar with anticipatory anxiety. If you don’t suffer from either of these types of anxiety, then allow me to enlighten you.
Almost every one of us has some nagging thoughts about unwelcome future events. These thoughts are entirely reasonable as nobody wants to have to do something that is outside their comfort zone. A person not suffering from anticipatory anxiety, however, will stop thinking about the undesirable event and will get on with their day-to-day life until the event occurs.
For people who do suffer from anticipatory anxiety, the thought process is different. Instead of being able to push the unwanted thoughts to the back seat, the negative anticipation of the upcoming event takes the front seat – and stays very firmly at the wheel.
The effect of this all-consuming negative anticipation is constant anxiety, and the sufferer will likely show symptoms of this highly energized nervous state.
The Symptoms Include Some or All of The Following:
- A feeling of impatience towards anyone and anything. Dropping a spoon in the kitchen is a major event rather than merely being a commonplace occurrence. A comment from another person which may even be a joke is suddenly a personal stab at your abilities or your personality.
- Not having the ability to enjoy anything. Events that most people would look forward to and enjoy once they took part becomes ‘just another thing’ to irritate you.
- Lacking the ability to look forward to the happy moments in your life. Life is usually a mixture of ups and downs, but not so much if you suffer from anticipatory anxiety. Sufferers of anticipatory anxiety can feel like even the happy events aren’t enjoyable as they feel so overpowered by the sense of foreboding caused by another negative activity in the future. The “negative event” always seems to produce the most potent emotion.
- The concentration performance of a person suffering from anticipatory anxiety also suffers. Trying to keep focused on simple everyday home tasks or work procedures at the office can also take second place to the ever-present feeling of anticipatory anxiety.
The list above could continue, but I think that you get the idea!
15 Everyday Events That Can Trigger Anticipatory Anxiety
The following list is once again not exhaustive. Countless events can fill a person with constant dread when they suffer from anticipatory anxiety.
For anyone reading this blog post who does not suffer from anticipatory anxiety, you are going to think perhaps that some of the items in the following list are a joke. I can assure you that they are certainly not a joke. The reason why some of the things may seem like events that couldn’t possibly make anyone feel anxious is that some of the events triggered Panic Attacks for the sufferer in the past. It is then the fear of suffering another panic attack at the same (or similar) location that creates the anticipatory anxiety once again.
- Having a haircut.
- Taking a ride on public transport such as buses, trains, taxis or trams.
- Going to the movie theater.
- Driving on certain stretches of road.
- Driving anywhere at all.
- Having to attend meetings at work.
- Going for a meal at a restaurant.
- Going to the dentist (not counting common dentist phobia, but merely going to the dentist.)
- Going to a party.
- Taking a ride in an elevator.
- Flying in a plane.
- Shopping at any large store.
- Having to meet someone official such as an accountant.
- Going to have your eyes tested for spectacles.
- Waiting in any queue such as while shopping or while in the bank.
For anyone who has never suffered from anticipatory anxiety or panic attacks, I am sure that the list above is entirely a shock to read!
For myself who has been a sufferer, I know full well that any or all of the above list-items are significant events for sufferers. From my insider-knowledge, it is evident to me that there is ONE SINGLE CONNECTION between all the items in the list above. That connection is this: All the items in the list are situations where you cannot easily, or politely, or reasonably exit if you wanted to leave at this very moment.
At first, when I tried to analyze my own fears of these types of ‘everyday events,’ I thought that I perhaps was a claustrophobia sufferer. That label kind of made sense as I knew that it was the inability to escape that made me feel anxious and sparked my panic attacks. But I also had the feeling that I was wrong. Why would I feel claustrophobic in a huge store?
I concluded that it was merely the inability to be able to leave if I wanted to (quickly, or politely, or reasonably,) and that alone was enough to make me feel trapped in some way.
The next significant level of fear comes from how you believe other ‘normal’ people will react if you do pluck up the courage to make your exit. If you want to leave the hairdressers’ chair when your haircut hasn’t been completed, then you are trapped, aren’t you!
If you want to leave a major road while you are driving, but the nearest exit is 25 miles away, then you are once again kind of trapped.
If you are on a train and you wish to exit, then you have to wait until the next station is reached.
If you are shopping at a large store and you need to leave right this second, then how can you quickly leave when the queue to pay will halt your quick exit?
People suffering from anticipatory anxiety and also panic attacks all have the same feeling that other people’s opinions of you needing to leave a situation, are stronger than your own right to leave. This aspect is a powerful “gun to the head” feeling.
- Every situation has some kind of exit. In a large store, you can leave your shopping cart where it is and leave the store without buying anything (when I started to think of this straightforward strategy, my own panic attacks in supermarkets ended immediately.) But you can’t leave a plane, can you?! No, but you can leave your seat and walk around for a while (the trapped in your seat feeling can be released.) The same applies to bus rides and trains, nobody can stop you standing up, and that is often enough to shake-off your trapped feeling.
- The “other people” who you think will be offended or confused by you leaving somewhere, will have to be offended or confused. Your need is more significant than theirs. If any one of those people felt ill, then they’d leave without giving you a second thought.
- Start to be honest with other people that you suffer from anticipatory anxiety and panic attacks. If a work meeting scares you then confide with the most approachable person who’ll also attend the meeting that you suffer from panic attacks. That person will cover for you if you have to leave. Frequently, however, just having that one friend who knows how much you suffer can be enough to give you strength to stay. The same goes for most of the other items in the above list, merely confide with the relevant person that you suffer from panic attacks. If the person is your hairdresser then even tell them. They’ll most likely want to make the experience as easy as possible for you.
- The people that you fear may judge you, can also be the people who can help you.
Anticipatory Anxiety Infographic / Panic Attacks Infographic:
Please include attribution to xogiving.org with this graphic.