Anticipatory Anxiety: The Suffering and Solutions
How to deal with Monday morning dread.
Posted Jan 26, 2011
Anticipation is such a contentious way of relating to the world. When we wait for our Christmas presents, or for our parents to come home when we are children, anticipation signifies the beginning of expected relief. But as life progressively disappoints us and as we register and process our first fears, this belief in a promised outcome and a much-wished for end-result becomes translated into a hideous form of disappointment that happens in our heads often long before it happens in life. In fact, I would contend that it happens in life often because it happens in our heads.
People spend their lives fretting all the time: What if I am not able to pay the bills? What if he or she leaves me? Where could he or she have gone? What will the dreaded Monday be like? What if I get another panic attack? How will I ever get to the gym? These and other questions of anticipation haunt our daily lives, and life often becomes a complex system of what we do consciously. And these anticipations eventually reside in the unconscious as well.
For everything that you want in life, a disaster anticipation often wants to take root in the mind. We think we anticipate to prevent disasters, but this is rarely the case. This unconscious anticipation of disasters often gets us exactly the opposite of what we want, and the unconscious fears that we hold impact the fear centers of the brain and disrupt any actual plans that the brain can come up with.
When you are in this state of anticipation, consciously or unconsciously, what are some of the things you can do at any one point in time? You get up, it is Monday morning, and the world feels like it is going to fall apart. Here are some tips to deal with anticipatory anxiety:
1. Emotion interrupt: Rather than thinking of fears as one-time events, think of them as landslides. And when you do, simply interrupt the anticipatory fear with a random positive thought. If you can't think of a thought in time, keep some positive images near you, so that you can look at them, or keep some positive music near you. This almost always works. You don't have to wait for the end of the anticipation. End it by interrupting.
2. Anticipatory anxiety is a negative projection of an unknown outcome. Learn how to convert this into hope, the positive anticipation of an unknown outcome. Positivity not only reflects reality but it also creates reality
3. Change your attentional focus: Rather than focus on your heartbeat that is getting faster and faster, or doing something that is just going to go along with that (like surfing the net), change your attention to something completely different. Keep a comforting object nearby and touch it, or develop the habit of writing down and focusing on the one good thing of the day. You can also simply look at a brief video that comforts you (collect them in your online library).
4. Place your attention on the anxiety but do not judge or analyze it: Notice where your anxiety is (heart, gut) and simply watch it without judgment. If you do this, a sudden calmness will come over you. Resist the temptation to analyze.
5. Ask yourself the following questions:
If this is bad, what's good?
If this is so horrible, what can I look forward to?
If this makes me feel sick, what makes me feel great?
Learning the answers to these questions will get you to develop them into your life more naturally, and perhaps even schedule them.
This is just a start to making those changes, but they are important moves. If you do them, you will move one step closer to understanding that anticipatory anxiety creates an illusion of control, and in life, the key is not to control everything but to recognize what you can and what you can't control and to live accordingly.