Anticipatory Anxiety

Is anxiety harmful?

When anxiety remains at an appropriate level, it is a completely natural response to certain stressors. Indeed, anxiety may even be helpful if we are presented with potentially dangerous or harmful stimulus. Learn about anticipatory anxiety below.

However, when anxiety occurs at the wrong time, or in excessive doses, it can become problematic. While anxiety may occur temporarily, it can also result in a long-term, chronic condition occurring.

What is anticipatory anxiety?

Anticipatory anxiety occurs when an individual becomes fearful or anxious about an upcoming event or situation. While someone may experience anxiety when speaking in public, for example, a patient with anticipatory anxiety may suffer from anxiety in the days or weeks preceding the event.

Most people are familiar with some feelings of anxiety but when anticipatory anxiety occurs, the level of psychological and physical stress is increased. Constant worry over the dreaded event, combined with catastrophic thoughts and negative predictions, can leave the patient in a constant state of anxiety.

As a result, they begin to suffer from physical symptoms. When intense anxiety occurs, it may result in a panic attack. Although these are relatively short in nature, they are overwhelming for the individual. Patients may exhibit signs of distress, experience chest pain or feel unable to breathe. In many instances, a panic attack is mistaken for a heart attack and medical help is sought.

While anticipatory anxiety may cause a person to suffer from panic attacks, they will also find that chronic anxiety and stress occurs. Although this may be less intense than an acute period of panic, the ongoing nature of the anxiety means that it can be extremely harmful.

How does anticipatory anxiety affect people?

The condition can result in people feeling chronically overwhelmed and this may affect their interpersonal relationships. If the patient only experiences anticipatory anxiety before rare events, such as a one-off exam, they may not seek treatment.

However, if anticipatory anxiety occurs because of common situations, such as going to work, accessing medical help or socializing, it can be extremely debilitating.

Physically, the effects of anticipatory anxiety can be unpleasant and harmful. People may experience ongoing headaches, stomach upsets and chest pain due to the additional stress placed on the body. When chronic anxiety continues for long periods of time, patients may even experience hormonal changes.

Is treatment available for anticipatory anxiety?

When anticipatory anxiety occurs, it is often in conjunction with another anxiety disorder. If a patient has a social phobia, for example, they may also experience anticipatory anxiety when there is an upcoming event that is troubling them.

In such cases, anticipatory anxiety may be treated at the same time as their existing condition.

However, anxiety can be difficult to treat and it may require a range of therapeutic interventions. Some patients find that medication can be helpful when trying to reduce feelings of anxiety. While certain pharmaceuticals, such as benzodiazepines, may be effective at reducing anxiety, they are highly addictive and are not, therefore, given for long periods of time.

Instead, physicians may prescribe an SSRI aimed at treating anxiety. While these medications are often used to treat depression, they can have a beneficial effect on long-term anxiety issues too.

However, medication may simply mask the problem rather than resolving it. Due to this, complementary therapies can be extremely effective in treating anticipatory anxiety and other anxiety problems. Patients may find that yoga or meditation, for example, enables them to reduce their anxiety levels naturally.

Similarly, some individuals find vitamin supplementation useful if a deficiency is contributing to their anxiety.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is often recommended for anxiety disorders and many patients find that it helps to reduce anxiety to manageable levels or helps them to overcome potential stressors. Designed to help patient’s challenge their anxiety-inducing beliefs, effective cognitive behavior therapy can successfully treat anticipatory anxiety and other forms of anxiety.

However, anticipatory anxiety may have plagued a patient for months or years prior to them seeking treatment. As a result, the thought processes associated with condition can be deeply engrained and difficult to modify.

Whilst a range of effective treatments, such as therapy, relaxation and medication, can enable a patient to successfully overcome anticipatory anxiety, it may take some time for a full recovery to be made.

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Last Reviewed:
July 02, 2017
Last Updated:
October 17, 2017