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Anticipatory Anxiety

Anticipatory Anxiety – What Is It & Why Do We Develop It?

Anticipatory anxiety contrasts to the other form of Anxiety known as ‘real-time anxiety’.

Anticipatory anxiety is the anxious response we experience when we worry about something that ‘might’ happen in the future, whether the future is in the next few minutes or weeks away.

Real-time Anxiety refers to the response that we have when faced with something ‘dangerous’ right now.

anticipatory anxiety - meteor disaster image

In general, real-time anxiety is a hard-wired automatic response the purpose of which is to prepare us to deal with an immediate threat, for example, a tiger about to pounce on us from behind a tree in the jungle. When we experience this automatic reaction our ‘limbic system’ sends adrenaline into our bloodstream to prepare our bodies to either:

  • Stand very still and hope the Tiger doesn’t see us – Freeze
  • Run Away as fast as possible – Flight
  • Fight the tiger as the other two options were not available – Fight

Once the danger is over (assuming we have survived) our blood adrenaline is ‘used-up’ (catalysed) and our blood chemistry returns to normal and the feelings of anxiety dissipate. The important point to note here is that we experience the anxiety reaction in exactly the same way regardless of whether the anxiety is real-time or anticipatory in nature.

When we experience real-time anxiety its generally easy for us to link the ‘feelings’ of anxiety with the event that has just happened, in other words we understand WHY we felt anxious.

However, when we experience anticipatory anxiety its not always clear what it was that led to the anxiety reaction and we will often try to work out what exactly happened ‘around us’ to explain the feelings. People generally fail to realise that in both forms of anxiety, the cognitive processes are very similar:

  1. Firstly we ‘see’ or ‘perceive’ (imagine) an event (for example a tiger about to pounce or perhaps a business presentation that we have to make next week)
  2. Next, we think about what this event means for us personally (we will get eaten or perhaps we will make a fool of ourselves)
  3. If getting eaten by a tiger or making a fool of ourselves has been associated with ‘negative outcomes’ in our minds, then we classify the event as ‘dangerous to us’.
  4. Once we perceive the event as dangerous our body is prepared for the freeze, flight of fight response that we then experience as anxiety

anticipatory anxiety on the face of a businessman at a computer

There are several important points worthy of note within this list of biological steps:

  • The Tiger represents a real threat in the present time whereas the business presentation isn’t due to take place for another week yet. However, when we think about the business presentation we are thinking about, and visualising it, right NOW, so in both cases the event is in our minds NOW.
  • What the event means to us is the second crucial phase of the process, and in the case above, both the Tiger and the business presentation are attributed with the meaning of ‘dangerous to me’. Whilst its almost certainly the case that most people will interpret the tiger as being dangerous, not everybody who makes a business presentation considers them as anything ‘threatening’ and are therefore unlikely to have any feeling of anxiety about the ‘thought’ of making it ‘next week’.

Anxiety is Not the Problem

Its important to recognise that the anxiety reaction that we have to danger is not only normal but is particularly useful in the pursuit of self-preservation. If we did not have this reaction, we’d soon be in all sorts of trouble!

So anxiety, in itself, is not the problem.

What presents more of a problem is what you ‘interpret’ as ‘dangerous’. If you can change what you determine as being dangerous then you can stop triggering the anxiety reaction.

Managing Anticipatory Anxiety

In our scenario above we considered making a business presentation as being ‘dangerous’ which then triggers the body to experience anxiety.

There are three levels of cognition here:

  1. Vividly imagining something going wrong in that future presentation (the actual thoughts in the mind which create the Anticipatory Anxiety)
  2. Business presentations are being ‘classified’ as dangerous as we might make a fool of ourselves and so they must be avoided (a ‘rule for living’)
  3. If people think I’m a fool they will not like me and I will feel undervalued (core belief – people MUST like me)

As you can see the top level thought is based on the ‘rule for living’ which is itself based on the core belief ‘to feel good people must like me’. If we want to disrupt the ‘cascade’ of thinking and eradicate both the thoughts and rules for living, we HAVE TO deal with the core beliefs that underpin these cognitive processes.

Transform Your Thinking & Overcome Anticipatory Anxiety

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If you’re committed to overcoming your Anticipatory Anxiety problems then we highly recommend following our Advanced Tranceformental CBT programme with Paul. Tranceformental CBT is available as Online Therapy if required.

The Tranceformental programme is a highly successful & pragmatic mental health counselling course, run over 10 sessions, that will teach you everything you need to know to understand your problem, identify how unhelpful thinking and limiting beliefs might be reinforcing the issue, and then show you how to make any changes to your unhelpful thinking styles or maladaptive safety behaviours that you may have developed as part of your coping strategies.

Our Tranceformental CBT programme is an evidence-based, research supported approach used by mental health practitioners around the World.

Alternative Therapy Options for Anticipatory Anxiety

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Although our preferred form of mental health counselling for Anticipatory Anxiety is Tranceformental CBT we also offer alternative psychotherapies for those who might prefer a different approach.

These include:

  • Psychodynamic therapy which focuses more on emotional problems and relies on the Therapeutic Relationship to bring about change. Available with Paul.
  • General Counselling which is less structured but still provides a safe and non-judgmental environment to discuss issues which is therapeutic in its own right.
  • Hypnotherapy is an alternative form of therapy that can be applied to a very wide range of problems and is available with Joan.

Free Initial Consultations for Anticipatory Anxiety

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We offer all prospective clients an initial consultation to discuss your Anticipatory Anxiety prior to commencing any treatment plans.

The consultation is free and lasts around 50 minutes.

During this consultation we will discuss the various options that are available to you and make a considered recommendation based on your individual personal circumstances.

Initial consultations are also available as part of our online therapy service.

At TranceForm Psychology we recognise the importance of the therapeutic relationship in helping people to bring about effective change, so its important to be able to ‘meet’ to discuss our change programmes BEFORE proceeding.

Our policy is to help people make a fully balanced & considered decision about undertaking work with us, including both the financial and personal implications.

Buy Our Self-Help Book

The Restrictive Realities of Belief is Paul's recently authored self-help book containing everything you need to know about how mental health problems are 'realised' through the socio-cultural beliefs that we acquire over our lifetimes and what you can do to bring about effective change.


You can read a synopsis of what this book is all about on this page:

The Restrictive Realities of Belief - Book

It is currently available as a 307 page A4 PDF file for just £19.99 which you can purchase here using PayPal. Your copy of the book will be sent by e-mail.

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For most mental health problems we recommend following our 10 session Tranceformental CBT Programme to overcome a wide range of mental health and behavioural problems.

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is a proven, evidence-based form of mental health counselling for developing a fundamental understanding of the dynamics of your problem, but also for learning new coping skills and strategies for sustainable change over your life.

The full course costs £795 which you can pay for on our fees page.

Tranceformental CBT is available On-line as well as a one-to-one format in the clinic.

Visit Online Counselling for more details.

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Contact Paul Lee BSc. MSc. MIAEBP

Read about Paul

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Hi, I have both Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Psychology & specialise in the following therapeutic modalities:

Tranceformental CBT

Happiness Coaching

Psychodynamic Therapy

Call me on 07434 776125

or e-mail me on:


Contact Joan Lee D. Hyp. MIAEBP

Read about Joan

Hypnotherapist Joan Lee in her clinic

I specialise in the following therapies:


Brain Working Recursive Therapy

Analytical Therapy

I also offer a complete programme which combines mindfulness, meditation and hypnotherapy

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Complete Wellness Programme

Call Joan on: 07434 776504



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