I’ve always been what my mother calls a “pre-worrier”. Even before I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I would plan meticulously for new events and stay up worrying about them the night before, turning possible outcomes over in my mind. After my first panic attacks, this habit of anticipatory anxiety became debilitating. Now, I didn’t just fear frightening future events– I was effectively terrified of the power of my own fear as well. My symptoms became physical as well as mental: a lightheaded, vertiginous feeling; an inability to focus; constriction in my chest. I constantly defaulted to an overwhelming and highly imaginative stream of “what-if?” thoughts, crafting and predicting a literally dizzying array of dangerous, unpleasant, disappointing, and otherwise negative outcomes.
I’ve recently started taking anxiety medication on a trial basis, so I’ve been attempting to direct mindful (nonjudgmental!!) attention toward noticing what parts of my anxiety have or haven’t changed as the daily pills take effect. Interestingly enough, I’ve noticed that, while my ability to stay physically calm and mentally rational in previously anxiety-inducing situations is improving, my anticipatory anxiety hasn’t gotten the message yet. As a result, I’m somewhat back to my pre-panic-disorder version of anxiety: spending a disproportionate amount of time mentally fearing/attempting to prepare for/trying to find all the ways I can theoretically control negative outcomes of future events that, when they finally arrive, are both a) not in my control and b) not such a big deal.
I imagine that noticing this tendency toward anxious anticipation is the first small step toward turning it around. I can feel my reluctance to let go of the habit of anticipatory anxiety: what if I stop worrying, and then something does go wrong that I haven’t mentally prepared for? (Of course, this is the anxiety talking. My rational self understands that worrying about the future doesn’t actually give me more control over what will transpire– it only sets me up to be more worried as whatever happens, happens). My guess is that, because I’m so habituated to preparing for the worst, it will take several rounds of positive experiences in each of my various fear categories (solitude, driving, etc) before my expectations for those situations recalibrate accordingly.
I’m interested to hear all of your experiences with anticipatory anxiety. Is this something you experience often? What is the relationship between your anticipatory anxiety and the situational anxiety that occurs when actually doing something you fear? Please share in the comments!