Anticipatory Anxiety: Meaning, Symptoms and How to cope

Anticipatory Anxiety: Meaning, Symptoms and How to cope

Anticipatory anxiety

“I have a presentation tomorrow. I am so anxious if I would flunk it and would not do well”
“The thought of having to take my entrance exams next week frightens the soul out of me”
“What if he or she is just using me and would probably leave me soon?”
“How will I pay my bills if I fail this interview too?”

Most of us probably might have found ourselves in situations where we may have been anxious and frightened about approaching interviews and examinations. We may also feel apprehensive about having to face significant changes in our lives, such as shifting jobs, moving out of one’s city, or getting married. While in layman’s terms, we call it fear or anxiety, psychology terms it as anticipatory anxiety.

What is Anticipatory Anxiety?

American Psychological Association defines anticipatory anxiety as the worry or apprehension that one may have about an upcoming event or situation because of probable negative outcomes, such as danger, misfortune, or humiliation by others. Most of us spend almost our entire lives fretting over one or another of the concerns that crop up in our lives.

We mostly tend to remain stubborn to find answers for these concerns and unconsciously it becomes a part of all our conscious actions. In most scenarios, people think that their anticipation would prevent the disaster and this may or may not be the case. However, the unconscious fears that we shelter in our minds could impact our brain activities. These fears can affect its effectiveness in coming up with actual plans if a disaster occurs as anticipated.

Also Read: Anxiety: Symptoms, Causes and Intervention

While anticipatory anxiety details the normal amounts of apprehension one may have about a future event, panic disorder entails these apprehensions going beyond a normal level of control. Anticipatory anxiety can be considered one of the main symptoms of panic disorders and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD).

Symptoms of Anticipatory Anxiety

Anticipatory anxiety can manifest through multitudes of signs and symptoms.
Individuals suffering from anticipatory anxiety may experience at least some of the following symptoms:

  1. What-if thoughts
  2. Inability to focus
  3. Dissociation
  4. Increased heart rate
  5. Dizziness
  6. Nausea
  7. Tensed muscles
Tips to Cope with Anticipatory Anxiety
A. Taking care of basic needs:

Individuals can maintain the homeostasis of their bodies only if they take care of their basic physiological needs. These physiological needs include a good and nourishing diet, an adequate amount of sleep, proper intervals of exercise etc. While this can help maintain the dynamics of one’s physiology, it minimizes the effects of anticipatory anxiety on one’s body. However, this tip cannot assure that it is potent enough to prevent or control anticipatory anxiety.

B. Mindfulness meditation:

This form of meditation involves bringing one’s complete attention to his or her present moment and leaving behind their thoughts about the past and future. Mindfulness meditation, thus, can bring great ease to people suffering from anticipatory anxiety by reducing their morbid thoughts about the future.

C. Journalling:

Just like journaling about the things that make one happy and grateful in their life, which is known as gratitude journaling, one should also write down all those feelings that he or she may cultivate in them. These feelings make them vulnerable to anticipatory anxiety. Writing these down will help them get clarity of the issues that they are facing and at face value, they would be able to assess whether there exists anything that they could carry out to improve their circumstances.

D. Deep breathing:

whenever we feel anxious before a stage performance or test paper, the foremost thing that one may be asked to do would be to take a few deep breaths. This would help them to concentrate on their breaths for quite some while. Hence, it unconsciously aids them in taking away their attention from their triggering events. Deep breathing exercises decrease feelings of pain and discomfort and are also considered effective. They further help the individual calm their body as the symptoms of anticipatory anxiety may be accompanied by shallow and rapid breaths.

E. Progressive muscle relaxation:

Progressive Muscle Relaxation or PMR technique is a technique in which individual will be trained to relax their entire bodies. This is done by becoming aware of the tensions built in different groups of muscles and subsequently relaxing one muscle each at a time. Sometimes, individuals are also instructed to consciously create tension in different groups of muscles which they later bring to a relaxed state. This technique can be as effective for people suffering from anticipatory anxiety as the deep breathing technique, as it enables them to calm their bodies and simultaneously put off thoughts from their minds.

F. Interrupting the train of thought:

This is a conscious way of controlling one’s anxiety. This involves being conscious enough about one’s thoughts. It requires efficiently interrupting the negative train of thoughts as and when they disrupt mental well-being. However, this technique may not always be efficient in controlling anxiety every other time, because there might be instances wherein one may be too vulnerable to consciously control the thoughts.


To be anxious about the future is a very humane characteristic. However, one should also be well aware of when and where they should draw a clear line between wishing to have a pleasant future and being anxious about every activity that may add up to their future. Once realise that they are unconsciously moving to the undesirable extremes of anxiety, one should try and employ suitable ways to bring it back under control.

If they find it quite impossible to alone manage their anxious thoughts, they should never hesitate and shy away from seeking professional help. After all, as much as one wishes to own up a pleasant future, they should rightfully have a peaceful present as well.

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