Anticipatory Anxiety is something that many feel but is not often talked about. It is the type of anxiety you feel prior to giving a speech or when your boss says they want to speak to you “tomorrow” and now you must wait a day to see what he/she wants. It is also the type of anxiety you feel when the doctor leaves you a message and tells you that your test results are in, but you know you cannot get those test results until you are face-to-face with the doctor. These types of events create an anticipatory feeling that can lead to unrelenting anxiety and worry if it persists.
The anticipation that one’s feels under these circumstances is called Anticipatory Anxiety. It is a condition of or type of panic disorder which involves a reaction to a future threat. Individuals are submerged in potentials about what could happen. Normally, they work through any scenario that might go wrong and become unable to concentrate on anything else. Those with anticipatory anxiety ask, “what if”, usually followed by thinking something horrible is going to happen.
Anticipatory reactions can range from subtle feelings of anxiety to severe feelings of anxiety. The mere thought about thinking about the anxiety can cause further anxiety which in turn makes it more difficult to reel it in and control.
The key here, whether you are dealing with a small or severe case of Anticipatory Anxiety is to understand what it is and take actions to remediate it. A lack of awareness of what is going on with you can lead to suffering much longer than you need to and result in you not knowing what steps to take to bring yourself back to homeostasis.
One of the major organs in your brain that is responsible for your reactions/emotional responses to different situations is your Amygdala. It is the almond-shaped mass of gray matter inside each cerebral hemisphere. What happens when you feel afraid or threatened, is your thoughts trigger the Amygdala. Under less stressful situations, your amygdala can be overridden by the frontal lobes. However, in more severe case, the amygdala automatically activates the flight-or-flight response by sending out signals to release stress hormones (Cortisol and Epinephrine) that prepare your body to fight or flee.
When this takes place, you can consider yourself officially hijacked. Meaning, your response to the stressful situation is now being controlled by the Amygdala.
The Amygdala cannot be reasoned with, so once the Amygdala is triggered, thinking it away won’t work! You must calm the amygdala first. This can done by taking slow deep breaths from your diaphragm and combining breathing with mindfulness (resting your attention on whatever is happening in the present moment.) It also involves the use of imagery to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system.
The parasympathetic nervous system is the main function responsible for activating the “rest and digest” response and can return your body back to homeostasis. So, when the doctor says, “relax and take a deep breath,” now you know why.