Overcoming Anticipatory Anxiety
Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness or unease in response to a stressful situation. It is normal to feel anxious before an important event, such as sitting for an examination, going for a job interview, a first date, before a sports competition, a public performance or even before a plane ride. In most cases, the anxiety is mild and tolerable, i.e., we may experience symptoms like sweaty palms or a faster heart rate. Still, it does not deter us from facing a stressful situation or carrying on our plan. However, some people experience such overwhelming anxiety that the thought of going through a particular event can lead to hypertension, heart palpitation or flight response, which can cause them to avoid the situation at all costs. This type of anxiety is called anticipatory anxiety.
There are several types of anticipatory anxiety. One of the anticipatory anxiety is aerophobia, which is the fear of flying. A person with aerophobia will imagine potential disasters that could happen while flying, such as engines breaking down or a crash landing. These thoughts and feelings of anxiousness can go to the extent that they dare not travel by plane at all. Another type of anticipatory anxiety is social phobia, which is the fear of being judged by others. People with social phobia often imagine that they would say or do something embarrassing in front of others, leading them to distance themselves from social gatherings or events that may cause potential humiliation.
Some signs that you may have anticipatory anxiety include:
Ruminating about potential negative things that could happen
Overwhelming sense of dread or apprehension
Hyperventilation, chest pains, twitching, or muscle spasms as you think about that particular event or activity
Strong flight response
While anticipatory anxiety is not life-threatening, it may hinder you from some life opportunities. For example, if you have aerophobia, you may decline a lucrative job offer or your dream career position because it requires you to travel. You may also be jobless because of the intense fear of going for job interviews, or you may keep feeling so fearful before an examination that you forget everything you have studied. If you have difficulty with anticipatory anxiety, please work through your fears with a counsellor. A therapist trained in Cognitive-Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can work with you to reframe your thoughts and overcome your fears. Quite often, anticipatory anxiety is the result of unprocessed previous traumatic experiences, e.g., turbulent plane ride or being shamed in public. Therefore, it might be helpful for you to consult a trauma-informed therapist who can help you reduce the impact of traumatic experiences by using Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) or brainspotting therapy.
Restoring Peace Counselling and Consultancy offers counselling and psychotherapy for individuals facing stress, fears and anxiety. For more information, please visit www.restoringpeace.com.sg or WhatsApp us at 8889 1848.
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