Anticipatory Anxiety, What It Is, and How to Deal With Panic Attacks

Ever had a doctor’s appointment scheduled and found yourself anxiety-ridden with a racing heart long before you even stepped foot into the waiting room? 

Perhaps, you had an important exam lurking on the horizon; did you spend the weeks before it tied up in knots with panic and anxiety?

You may have noticed how this badly hindered your day-to-day performance and productivity. However, that is not all that anticipatory anxiety does. It also stands in the way of your mental peace, and consequently, all aspects of your life, from relationships to eating habits, everything that’s dependent on it.

But before we dive into the coping mechanism you can turn to, it is important to understand exactly what you are dealing with.

What Is Anticipatory Anxiety?

Anticipatory anxiety is the mixture of stress, dread, and fear that eats you long before an event takes place. This is what keeps you up at night the entire month before exams and what has you on edge long before your mother’s diagnosis is confirmed.

People at a restaurant.

Everyone experiences this. We all have rough patches in our lives riddled with stress and worry about life-changing things that are beyond our control. We all fear bad outcomes, pitfalls, failures, and curveballs.

Anticipatory anxiety is not always pathological. Sometimes, it just means our body and mind are getting us ready for what they perceive to be a threat to our stability. 

When Does It Become A Problem?

Sometimes anticipatory anxiety can be a component of certain mental health disorders. These typically include panic disorder and phobias.

Issues such as these are characterized by panic attacks. In such cases, anticipatory anxiety develops due to fear of panic about the situation rather than the actual situation.

Understandably an unpleasant experience, a panic attack can have much more far-reaching effects than its typical duration of ten to fifteen minutes. As many people would describe it, having a panic attack feels like one might die. The fear of this experience lingers far longer than its symptoms.

After the first unanticipated panic attack, a person develops an acute fear of and dread for the next one. Is a visit to the doctor likely to spark panic? You might find yourself drowning in anticipatory anxiety about the imminent panic attack that this experience might trigger.

Coping With Anticipatory Anxiety

Coping with anticipatory anxiety is an important step towards learning how to handle a panic attack. It is understandable how this buildup of anxiety can ultimately lead to a panic episode. Therefore, your goal must be to keep yourself as grounded and centered as possible.

Here are some tips to learn how to handle a panic attack and its associated anticipatory anxiety.


Practicing mindfulness in one’s daily life is an important skill. It will carry you through many upheavals and help you go on despite the continuous array of background stresses in life.

In this case, mindfulness and meditation can serve as a long-term coping mechanism for anxiety and panic. Do you often find yourself caught up in a whirl of what-ifs? Is your downtime completely taken up by disturbing thoughts about everything that might go wrong with whatever you are dealing with in your life?

Cultivating mindfulness can help ease the traffic of thoughts and worries in your head. The most effective way to do it is to meditate regularly. With time, your mind will be a calmer, more soothing place.


More often than not, your fears look much larger in your head than they are in reality. Therefore, it becomes important to lend a certain tangibility to them. This stops them from looking so other-worldly.

Writing down your worries in a journal breaks them down to life-sized problems, which either do or do not have solutions. This can help you map out what action you might take next and saves the anxiety of floundering for an anchor. 

Moreover, journaling can provide an outlet for your panic, reducing the buildup that might be giving you additional anxiety.

Relaxation Exercises

Many people turn to certain exercises that help their body process excessive stress and worry. Here are two widely used exercises.

Deep Breathing

Various exercises help you get out of your head and more in touch with your body. They are useful in helping you cease the cycle of panicked thoughts. When practiced regularly, they can help you reach a calmer mindset.

Progresssive Muscle Relaxation

PMR is highly effective in learning how to trick your mind out of its fight or flight response. It involves tightly contracting your body muscles for a few seconds and then relaxing them. A few cycles of this exercise can trick your brain into thinking that you have overcome the threat and are now safe.

Seeking Counsel

The world is much easier to deal with with a loved one by your side.

Whether you go to a friend, parent, or even a mentor, you will notice how talking to someone about your overwhelming fears helps you cope with them. The people around you provide you with a much-needed perspective on the severity of your fears. 

Treating the Underlying Cause

No matter what the issue, seeking therapy is never a bad idea. Although these tips and trips are very helpful in learning how to handle panic attacks, it is still wise to seek professional help in overcoming the underlying issues.

Man standing in the street.

Techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and panic-focused psychodynamic psychotherapy can help you live a more joyful and fulfilling life. With your therapist’s help, you can overcome these issues more permanently.

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The Bottomline

Anticipatory anxiety has a way of making you feel crippled in your daily life. It can be an additional burden on top of an already harrowing panic disorder or phobia. However, no one deserves to spend a lifetime battling with fears inside their head, and we hope these coping mechanisms offer some help.

Remember that seeking professional help is always a great idea, and everyone is entitled to therapy and good mental health. We wish you health and peace.

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