While this week’s big east coast storm dumped snow in many places, here in Baltimore, we were prepared for upwards of 8 inches of snow and ended up with nothing. People flooded the grocery stores for milk and TP, clients rescheduled, school was cancelled, and as it turned out, it was all for rain. All the anticipation was for something much smaller and less consequential than expected.
In anxiety treatment, we talk a lot about anticipatory anxiety because it tortures people so….and often for an event that winds up being something like our snowless snowstorm. People spend so much time anticipating the way any certain event may go wrong that there is almost no way reality can live up to the imagined tragedy! Anticipatory Anxiety does a number of unhelpful things to its sufferers:
- It makes living fully in the present moment nearly impossible.
- It can make sufferers extremely sensitive and reactive to any physical experience of anxiety.
- It can make connecting with God very difficult.
- It can cause loss of sleep.
- It builds a dysfunctional myth that anxiety does something useful for its sufferer.
In treatment, it becomes very important to talk about the experience of anticipating stressful events. And it is not helpful to convince clients that the snowstorm won’t have snow! The ability to convince ourselves something will go well is not the cure for anticipatory anxiety. Well-meaning friends all too often fall into this trap! Some more helpful skills to develop are:
- Learning to allow anxious thoughts, but not drill into them.
- Developing mindfulness and the ability to observe one’s own inner experiences.
- Learning how to be prayerful without over-focusing on anxious thoughts.
- Getting clear on what is and is not in your control, and learning what acceptance really means.
What of this connects with you? How does anticipatory anxiety negatively impact your quality of life? I hope you’ll share your thoughts.