What is anticipatory anxiety?

What if everything goes wrong? What if I get fired from my job? What if I make a fool of myself? These are some of the concerns that arise in anticipatory anxiety.

Last update: October 21, 2021

Anxiety is often related to the future, for we experience it when we anticipate a danger that has not yet happened. In these cases, fear invades us and we feel a series of physical symptoms, such as tension in the muscles, rapid breathing and increased heartbeat. Anticipatory anxiety occurs when we imagine the worst that can happen in a situation that has not yet occurred.

In certain situations, it is normal to feel a little anxiety. It may even be necessary, as it alerts us and helps us face circumstances more effectively.

However, when we spend the day anticipating the negative scenarios of most of our actions, or the fear caused by our own ideation paralyzes us, then we are facing an anxiety disorder that must be treated.

What is anticipatory anxiety?

The concept anticipatory anxiety may be redundant, since all anxiety is anticipatory in itself. However, it is important to note that there are different types of anxiety.

In this case, it differs from generalized anxiety and other problems in that its symptoms occur only before concrete and specific situations. In this way, anticipatory anxiety is the severe fear or distress at the thought that negative things can happen in a certain moment or situation.

For example, feeling anxious before a job interview because we imagine that the results will be fatal.


The causes of anticipatory anxiety vary from person to person. Among the most common are the following:

  • Intolerance to uncertainty and need to have everything around us under control.
  • Traumatic experiences in the past that are related to the feared situation.
  • Self esteem issues and personal insecurity.
  • Suffering from other anxiety disorders or phobias.
  • Perfectionist character traits or obsessive.
  • History of failure in the past.
  • Lack of positive reinforcement during childhood.
This type of anxiety is based on thoughts that anticipate what could happen.

Self-fulfilling prophecy and anticipatory anxiety

Anticipatory anxiety is associated with self-fulfilling prophecy. The latter is a perception bias, through which we anticipate events and their consequences before they occur and with imminent security.

Our mind has so much power over ourselves that it sometimes gets out of control. In this case, the fear that a specific event will occur conditions thought, in such a way that it affects the way of acting. Finally, it causes what we feared to end up happening.

For example, it is common to experience fear before taking an important college assessment, where failing means repeating the course and delaying other goals. In this case, the fear of failure controls us, blocks our knowledge and we fail. Therefore, the fear of losing the evaluation is fulfilled.

Symptoms of anticipatory anxiety

The symptoms of anticipatory anxiety are usually psychological, somatic and behavioral. They can vary depending on the person.

Usually those with anticipatory anxiety get carried away by fatalistic or catastrophic thoughts around the future situation. In addition, they present the following physical symptoms:

  • Dizziness, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea.
  • Fainting.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Palpitations, rapid heartbeat, and tachycardias.
  • Difficulty concentrating and stuttering.
  • Headache.
  • Sweating


Anticipatory anxiety can cause a lot of discomfort, and even be disabling: So requires professional treatment.

From psychology, cognitive-behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques guided by psychologists have proven to be the most effective interventions. In these cases, the goal will be to replace anticipatory anxiety with a calm and calm present.

Anticipatory anxiety needs to be treated so that symptoms are reduced.

Tips for managing anticipatory anxiety

Finally, we leave some tips that can help you cope with anticipatory anxiety. However, keep in mind that these are not a substitute for psychotherapeutic treatment, but rather are a complement.

The first thing is to learn to control negative thoughts. Every time you identify them, try to replace them with positive messages. For example, when you think “I am unable to do it”, replace it with “I’m ready, I can handle this”.

Focus on the here and now. Anticipatory anxiety occurs because we are focused on the future. Try to focus on the present moment. Meditation can help you with this, as well as relaxation techniques to manage stress.

Change your position in the face of uncertainty. Recognize that life is full of uncertain things, which can end up being really satisfying. Accept the uncertainty in your life and learn to manage it without fear.

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