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Anticipatory anxiety: causes, symptoms and therapy

Anticipatory anxiety: causes, symptoms and therapy

March 29, 2023

In situations of danger or stress, we need to trust that our body will respond to the challenge. Imagine, for example, the situation of running away from a wild beast: if a tiger pursues you, it is better to have all the collaboration of your body to have the senses, muscles and reflexes more active and effective than ever.

We can say the same thing applied when suddenly dodging a car or avoiding any unexpected danger of modern life. Fortunately, our body has tools to 'activate the alarm', and in fact, another virtue is the ability of our mind to anticipate events, especially if they entail danger . It is a skill that allows us to plan, organize and, in short, be prepared for what (perhaps) may come. This is true both for immediate physiological reactions and for long-term planning.

These two capacities are essential for survival, even in our apparently calm and orderly society. However, there is a type of psychological alteration in which those tools become a problem: the so-called anticipatory or anticipatory anxiety .

  • Related article: "The 7 types of anxiety (causes and symptoms)"

What is anticipatory anxiety?

Have you ever felt a great panic before speaking in public? So, what you have experienced is an example of anticipatory anxiety, with a picture of great nervousness and panic. We talk about the feeling that feels minutes before having to speak in public, when we think, even, that the worst can happen. This type of anxiety is shown by suffering pathological panic attacks at the prospect of future events .

These events, which have not occurred and for which there are no reasonable grounds to deduce that they will do so, are catastrophic and very negative.

How does this alteration appear due to stress?

Life is uncertain, but there are certain statistical ranges that minimize the chances of the most terrible events occurring. Fearing to leave the house because lightning might strike you is something that ignores all likelihood of it actually happening. Normally, life does not happen with jumps in which you go from bad to much worse.

Anticipatory anxiety disorder is related to the difficulty of assuming that idea. Those affected suffer from certain intolerance in the face of uncertainty and the need to have everything that surrounds them under control. Therefore, it frequently occurs in people with a high degree of demand on their own performance.

Extreme unfounded fear can occur without prior motivation, but it is very common for these people to show attacks of anticipatory anxiety as a result of a previous trauma . If you have suffered a specific anxiety attack, you may discuss any situation in which you believe you are exposed to conditions such as those of that occasion.

You too It can happen if you have any phobia . For example, if you suffer from snake phobia you may feel anticipatory anxiety at the idea of ​​visiting a zoo. Imagine that you will see snakes, you experience a picture of anxiety and your body reacts with the symptoms of terror. Your catastrophic perspective will not change although there is no security to see a snake.

  • Related article: "Psychic traumas: concept, realities ... and some myths"

Symptoms of anxiety in anticipation

Extreme stress has consequences on the body . Bringing the body to the limit, with the corresponding hormonal torrent, is necessary in situations of real danger. However, a continuous exposure to these physiological conditions ends up being harmful to our body and our psyche.

With anticipation, Fear appears before a nonexistent threat that looks with the worst expectations. Catastrophic thoughts appear ("I can not do it right", "there is no solution", "I will be ridiculed", "everything will go wrong", "the worst will happen", etc.) that start a torrent of panic signals. Your body reacts with physical symptoms such as the following:

  • Tachycardia and palpitations.
  • Dizziness, nausea, stomach pain, vomiting, diarrhea ...
  • Tremors and instability.
  • Sweating
  • Muscle tension.
  • Stuttering and inability to concentrate
  • Headache.

These and other physical symptoms they may present themselves with enough intensity to be disabling, and may even be confused with the symptoms of a heart attack. Subsequently, overcome the anxiety attack, you may develop fear of fear. That is, you may feel anticipatory anxiety at the prospect of an anxiety attack being repeated. It is a snowball.


Anticipatory anxiety can be really traumatic and requires professional treatment.

From psychology, cognitive-behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques guided by psychologists have proved their effectiveness for bring patients from that terrible future to a controlled present . Having an online psychologist gives facilities that bring therapy closer to home: you can enjoy an online therapy with tranquility in a comfortable and safe environment.

The objective is that this safe environment grows, so that you can increase your self-confidence until you can face the situations that cause you anticipatory anxiety. It is a journey in time, but with the mind: let's return from that future to stay in the present.

If You Struggle With Anxiety, This Mind Trick Will Change Your Life | Mel Robbins (March 2023).

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