Combatting Anticipatory Anxiety and Fear of the Future

man stressed out at the dinner table

“Anticipatory anxiety” is more than just being afraid of what the future might bring; it’s when we find ourselves so anxious and worried that we’re catastrophizing and anticipating the worst-case scenario. Some symptoms of this type of anxiety can include:

  • Difficulty managing moods and emotions
  • Trouble concentrating on mundane tasks
  • Detachment and emotional numbness
  • Loss of joy and interest in your regular hobbies
  • Restlessness or jumpiness
  • Nausea and loss of appetite
  • Sleep problems
  • Muscle pain and tension

If you’re the type of person who worries about problems that haven’t happened yet, there are plenty of steps you can take today to help alleviate those anxieties. While we may not know what the future holds, you can choose to take care of yourself and your mental health now. Here are some productive things you can do to help alleviate anticipatory anxiety.

Identify your “hindsight biases.”

To fully understand our current mindset and where our fears are coming from, we need to recognize all the ways we allow our experiences in the past to inform how we view the present and the future. This is what experts call “hindsight bias,” or the phenomenon of trying to compare our past with our present to get a handle on how worried we should be about the future.

If all you have ever experienced in your life is disappointment and pain, then the tendency is to assume that pain is all you could ever anticipate in your future. But the thing is, just because your history brought a lot of uncertainty and suffering, it doesn’t mean you need to anticipate the worst for your present and your future. For example, just because you were betrayed in a past relationship doesn’t mean your next partner will betray you again. While there’s nothing wrong with being cautious, you certainly should not live your life in fear that you will get hurt again.

What are the painful experiences that you use as a lens to view your present and future? Weigh your current reality against the present. Don’t invalidate your concern, but don’t let it cloud your judgment today.

anxious man sitting on a bench

Plan ahead.

One of the best ways to help keep anticipatory anxiety at bay is to tackle your concerns now, especially when you can do something about it. Here are some examples:

  • If you’re worried about you and your family’s health, do everything you can in your power now to be as physically healthy and financially literate as you can. Eat a balanced diet and exercise every day. Create a budget and stick with it so that one day if you or any of your family members need medical treatment or home and hospice care, you have enough to ensure that you have the means to provide them the care that they need.
  • If you’re anxious about surviving a natural disaster, prepare some go bags for you and your family. Have a specialist conduct a test in your home to ensure that its structural integrity is intact and that it can survive earthquakes, heavy rains, and other potential calamities.

While we may not control everything that happens to us, some things are still within our power. Recognizing what we can and can control is a crucial part of finding a semblance of peace concerning our future.

Be objective about your current situation.

When our minds are taken over by worries and anxious thoughts, our risk assessment and ability to see things objectively are greatly distorted. You might even find yourself debilitated over the thought of a worst-case scenario happening when there isn’t any logical and real evidence that, that catastrophic event will come to pass.

One example is being anxious about being fired or losing your job because you’re not performing as well as you hope to. If your boss, or anyone else from the company, has not indicated that you’re not performing up to scratch, then realistically, you’re probably doing OK, if not well. To help keep your fears at bay, consider asking your boss politely and just once to know how you’re doing. Be objective about your current situation lest you take extreme steps to mitigate a risk that’s not even happening.

Ask for Help

And lastly, if you find that the state of your mental health is getting too much to bear, consider seeking the help of mental health professional. At best, you may only need help with problem-solving; at worst, you might need a medical plan to relieve your symptoms. Regardless of what it is, there is no shame in asking for help. You are worthy of healing and help. Your future deserves it.

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