Often in life, we struggle with anticipatory anxiety. This is anxiety about something that hasn’t happened yet—but might happen in the future. The tough thing about anticipatory anxiety is you can’t really do anything to resolve the problem, because you haven’t taken action yet. You aren’t actually in the situation itself—you’re just thinking about what the situation might be like.
Many times in life, the anticipating is worse than the doing. In other words, the anticipatory anxiety is higher than the actual level of danger present in the situation. Our minds heighten the danger level a bit (and for some people, the danger gets heightened a considerable amount).
The reason our minds do this probably has to do with evolution. When our minds evolved thousands of years ago, survival was key. Being ultra-focused on possible dangers that might happen in the future probably helped us survive in a dangerous world. Now, however, our lives are considerably safer, but our minds are still operating in “danger mode.”
To Switch, or Not to Switch
Here’s a quick example of how this looked in my own life: The other day, I was feeling anxious about whether I should switch electric companies. (In Texas, electric companies operate in a free market, and they compete for your business.) I found a different company that was offering a better deal, but I wasn’t sure if I should switch. I also wasn’t really sure how it worked, because I hadn’t ever switched electric companies before without moving.
I worried about it for a few days. Should I switch or shouldn’t I switch? I was feeling quite a bit of anticipatory anxiety about it, even though this was a minor issue.
After a few days of putting it off, I forced myself to get on the computer and figure it out. It was actually really easy to switch electric companies, and I finished the process in less than 10 minutes. My anticipatory anxiety didn’t match the actual situation at all.
Move from Thinking to Doing
The lesson here is that the anticipating is usually worse than the doing. If you find yourself experiencing a lot of anticipatory anxiety about something that might happen in the future, it’s a good idea to actually get into the situation and do something. When you’re in the mix of things, you can do something to fix or change your situation. You can make something happen. You can get help if you need it. You can deal with whatever comes up. Don’t just worry about it—get yourself into the process of addressing the issue as quickly as possible.
What has been your experience with anticipatory anxiety? How well does it line up with the actual danger in the situation? What have you found to be helpful to deal with anticipatory anxiety?