Anticipatory anxiety can effect any one, but I run into it occasionally when training baby boomers. Anticipatory anxiety has its roots in our early childhood. We attach expectations to upcoming events. For example, we anticipate the coming of Christmas Day. We project that we will receive presents that are on our list and a few surprises. Our anticipation is rewarded on Christmas Day. As we go through life, our expectations many times become disappointments. Sometimes, those expectations were too high, and brought bitter disappointments, producing the foundation of anticipatory anxiety.
In the fitness world, the majority of people will feel some level of anxiety immediately before some big event, especially if it means a lot to them. Some examples might be a tennis match, a long bike ride, running a 5k, 10k, half-marathon or marathon, or a very, long swim,. The anxiety can be attributed to the flight or fight response. We are wired to expect the worst, and is a protective mechanism that ensures that we will get out of the situation if it is dangerous. For most people a "little case of the nerves" is a positive thing, and easily quieted once the event begins. Depending on their failures and disappointments of the past, some people can experience higher levels of anxiety that is experienced long before the event ever takes place. The anticipatory anxiety can produce: tense muscles, headaches, stomach problems, fatigue, changes in appetite, changes in sleep patterns, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, hot flashes or cold chills, numbness or tingling, and dizziness. The basis of the anticipatory anxiety stems from the unrealistic scenarios that played out over and over in the mind--what if this happens, what if that happens, what will I do?! Pretty soon the anticipatory anxiety takes on a life of its own and can actually produce its own reality. The worst possible scenario is that it can turn into reality if anticipatory anxiety is allowed to fester. At the very least, there will be mental ping pong on how to get out of the event. Avoiding the event only makes the anxiety that much stronger. We can convince ourselves that avoiding it reduces it, but Martin N. Seif, Ph.D. suggests, that "the truth is that anticipatory anxiety generates additional anxiety." Finally, anticipatory anxiety, if allowed to continue, can invade other areas of your life.
The key to dealing with anticipatory anxiety is to label it for what it is--anticipatory anxiety. Anticipatory anxiety creates an illusion of control in life and needs to be dealt with. Please seek professional help if your level of anticipatory anxiety is high, but here are some strategies to deal with mild to moderate anticipatory anxiety:
1. Think of your fears as a landslide, and try to interupt the anticipatory fear with a positive thought--positive image, relaxing music, etc. Don't wait to the end of the anticipation, interupt it before it turns into a landslide. (Srini Pillay, M.D.)
2. "Anticipatory anxiety is a negative projection about an unknown outcome" (Srini Pillay, MD). Turn it around with positive imagery. Rehearse positive outcomes in your mind for the event Professional tennis players, for example, will play the entire upcoming match and how they will effectively meet the challenges.
3. Place your attention on the anxiety, but do not judge or analyze it. Notice where the anxiety is (heart,gut, etc) and watch it without judgement. A sudden calmness will come over you. (Srini Pillay, MD)
4. Understand that anticipatory anxiety, 95% of the time, is much greater than the anxiety we experience when we actually make contact with what frightens us. (Martin N. Seif, Ph.D.)
5. "What if" thoughts are not real, even though they feel like they can happen.
6. Commit to the event no matter what. Don't give yourself a way out. This will stop your anxiety from increasing, let you understand your anxiety was unfounded, and give you some experience in the future should it reoccur.
7. Focus on the preparation that was done. Generally, an event in the fitness world that produces anticipatory anxiety required a great deal of preparation and achievement of much smaller goals. Running a marathon, for example, required the successful completion of much smaller runs. Proper preparation breeds readiness and confidence.
Once again, I do encourage those individuals where anticipatory anxiety is a major problem in their life to seek professional help. As an experienced, professional personal trainer, anticipatory anxiety on the mild or moderate level is just one of the psychological aspects that I encounter while training baby boomers. Using some of these strategies, I have been able to help clients walk through and conquer their anticipatory anxiety.