Anticipation anxiety is one of the most well-known concepts in the world of psychology, and the truth is that it is also frequently present outside the academic sphere, in the personal relationships that most citizens experience. .
In this article we will see how anticipatory anxiety arises in those interactions with others that we consider important: on a date with someone we love, in a situation where we are trying to make friends, etc.
Anticipatory anxiety: a psychological phenomenon based on ambivalence
Let’s start by knowing what anticipatory anxiety is. This psychological phenomenon is a type of anxiety characterized by discomfort at the idea of undergoing a “peak” of anxiety and / or losing control in the face of a specific situation that we know or believe to occur in the near future. . While virtually all forms of anxiety have a “fear of fear” component, in this case, this emotional component takes center stage. in relation to a specific event for which we feel we are not prepared.
One of the key ideas to remember is that there is a strong emotional ambivalence in anticipatory anxiety. On the one hand, the mind of the sufferer is frozen or “anchored” in a catastrophic prediction of what is to come, assuming we are exposing ourselves to one of the worst possible futures given the circumstances. But on the other, this feeling of pessimistic certainty about what will happen is combined with uneasiness in the face of uncertainty: the person also feels bad because he realizes that depending on what he says or does in the present tense, this can have very relevant and unpredictable consequences in what will happen at this moment at which he is afraid of to arrive.
So, for example, if a person is feeling very anxious because the next day they have a date with someone they love and have met on the Internet, it is likely that their mind is combining two lines of thought that generate discomfort but which, at the same time, they are apparently contradictory.
On the one hand, he assumes that he won’t make a good impression because he assumes that the other person has fallen into the disappointments of an idealized “avatar” that only exists on social networks; You can flip over and over what types of photos of your face show you from an angle that is not representative of what it looks like, or the types of preconceptions the other person may mistake for reality based. from what he read in his chat sessions.
And, on the other, this person is also probably obsessed with trying to take control of the present to prepare as well as possible for this date, so that your own anxiety (among others) does not ruin it. So, there is a fear of losing control and at the same time there is a fear that the outcome of an action will be out of its control; This combination of ideas and sources of worry turns anticipatory anxiety into a vicious cycle.
What role does self-fulfilling prophecy play in all of this?
Self-fulfilling prophecy is a curious psychological phenomenon whereby people help create the future we predict by thinking about it. In the case of anxiety problems, this is a very present element: when we are anxious, we “warn” ourselves and this leads us to adopt behaviors that fuel anxiety.
In the case of anticipatory anxiety applied to personal relationships, self-fulfilling prophecy plays a lot with expectations. On the one hand, leads us to assume that we will make a fool of ourselves or fall short when it comes to giving a picture of who we really are to someone we care about, and that predisposes us to behave in unnatural ways to try and desperately correct that possibility.
On the other hand, the fact that the other person sees that we perceive the situation as uncomfortable or even grotesque (not in a good way) makes me suppose the situation is so.
How to deal with anticipatory anxiety when interacting with others?
Keep these tips in mind to avoid getting swayed by anticipatory anxiety when it comes to making new friends, public speaking, flirting, and more.
1. Don’t try to block the discomfort
Trying to keep anxiety and the associated thoughts out of your mind is a rookie mistake when it comes to dealing with emotions. Not only do you not have to try to block the anxiety, but you have to accept it and not give it more importance than it is. Once it has arisen in you, instead of fighting it, devote yourself to directing your attention to other stimuli and experiences. This way, it will weaken without you realizing it.
2. Suppose that the humor of a situation can be used to demonstrate the security that you have in yourself.
If you pay attention people with better social skills are so sure of themselves that they can afford to perform actions that could technically be ridiculous, but because of their attitude, they are not seen that way.
In fact, there are those who have deliberately used this type of action to show that they are not afraid to “break the ice” in a social situation in the craziest way possible: by dancing in the middle of the crowd. street for no reason, telling very bad jokes, etc. Showing that you are aware of the extravagance of these actions generates a feeling of complicity, and on the one hand, it shows self-confidence.
If these people can behave in this way, you certainly don’t have to worry about the possibility of “getting out of the script” of what is considered normal or conventional; It all depends on the attitude with which you do it and with which you admit your mistakes or even laugh at them. Remember that If you generate the expectation that the other person will laugh at you and not at you, that is probably what they will do..
3. When you notice that you are having a very difficult day, resort to relaxation techniques.
Relaxation techniques can help you as a resource for a specific use that allows you to bring your nervous system to a state of least activation. A few minutes of an exercise like Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation will give you a mental reset.
4. Don’t memorize, focus your attention on the moment
When preparing to talk to someone who is intimidating you in some way, don’t try to recite memorized lines; this will make you suffer from even more anticipatory anxiety. On the other hand, accept that it is an experience based on spontaneity in which your imperfections will be seen, but at the same time you will be able to see those of your interlocutor.
Do you need psychological help to learn how to deal with anxiety?
If in your daily life you notice that you have anxiety problems and that you wish to benefit from professional psychological support, contact me.
My name is Javier Ares and I am an expert psychologist in emotional issues and relationship issues. In psychotherapy, we can work on improving the psychological abilities and skills related to the management of anxiety and the thoughts and behaviors that influence it.
I work in person in my office in Madrid, and also online via video call sessions.
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