Anticipatory anxiety can flare up when you confront something that has scared you in the past. Here’s how to calm such anxiety side effect
Rego, PsyD, supervising psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, both in the Bronx, N.Y. This fear is known as anticipatory anxiety.
Sweaty palms, racing heart, and upset stomach are the body’s natural ways of preparing for the event. We’re programmed to anticipate the worst, Rego says, because it’s our body’s way of ensuring we’ll get out of the situation if it is dangerous.
Problem is, most of the time when we experience anticipatory anxiety, we’re not about to put ourselves in any real danger. By gaining a better understanding of such anxiety problems, you can ultimately limit their negative effects on your life.
Anxiety Side Effects: Panic Attacks and Anticipatory Anxiety
Everyone has anticipatory anxiety at some point, Rego says. You don’t have to have a psychiatric anxiety disorder or anxiety problems to experience it.
However, anticipatory anxiety is a component of panic disorder. By definition, someone with panic disorder has panic attacks that include classic anxiety side effects and symptoms, such as:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Upset stomach
- Numbness or tingling
- Hot flashes or cold chills
The physical symptoms of panic attacks are so intense in some people that they think they’re dying or having a heart attack.
For people with panic disorder, their first panic attack is completely unexpected. But after the first attack, someone with panic disorder will experience anticipatory anxiety because she fears that a panic attack will happen again.
The same is true for other anxiety disorders. People who have phobias have anticipatory anxiety about what they fear and are excessively careful to avoid it, even if it means driving across the country to avoid getting on a plane.
Anxiety Side Effects: Anticipatory Anxiety Symptoms
Rego describes anticipatory anxiety symptoms as “feeling your engine rev” as you face doing something that scares you. Anxiety side effects include a racing heart, sweaty palms, and trembling.
Anticipatory anxiety can be chronic if you find yourself worried about something for months at a time, such as losing your job in a poor economy. Besides feeling anxious and fearful, you may also experience anger, confusion, hopelessness, loss of control, numbness, sadness, moodiness, irritability, guilt, and preoccupation with the threat, to the point where you can’t concentrate or make decisions.
If anticipatory anxiety is chronic, you may also find that you’re withdrawing from people and things you enjoy doing. You may have memory problems and physical symptoms such as:
- Tense muscles
- Stomach problems
- Changes in sleep patterns
- Changes in appetite
Anxiety Side Effects: Managing Anticipatory Anxiety
It’s only natural to want to avoid the things that make you anxious. But the only way to get over anticipatory anxiety is to go toward what’s making you fearful rather than backing away, Rego says.
For example, if you’re anxious about public speaking, a therapist will have you give speech after speech, “until you’re doing it so much that you get used to it,” Rego says. That way, you challenge your fears and learn that giving a speech does not mean inevitable doom, and you become less anxious.
If you’re feeling chronic anticipatory anxiety, ask yourself how realistic your fears are and remind yourself that you can cope with what’s to come.
Remember that the body is great at adapting, Rego says. As long as you continue to do the things you fear, your anticipatory anxiety should subside. Short-term use of medications that calm anxiety may also be useful — talk to your doctor to find out what is best for you.