Anticipatory anxiety in personal relationships: what it is and how to calm it

This is how anticipatory anxiety works in situations like making friends or flirting.

Anticipatory anxiety is one of the most famous 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: in a date with someone we like, in a situation in which we try to make friends, etc.

Anticipatory anxiety in personal relationships: what it is and how to calm it

Anticipatory anxiety: a psychological phenomenon based on ambivalence

Let’s start by knowing what anticipatory anxiety consists of. This psychological phenomenon is a type of anxiety characterized by discomfort at the idea of ​​suffering a “peak” of anxiety and/or losing control in the face of a specific situation that we know or believe will occur in the near future. Although practically all forms of anxiety have a component of “fear of fear”, in this case this emotional element takes center stage in relation to a specific event for which we feel that we are not prepared.

One of the key ideas to remember is that there is strong emotional ambivalence in anticipatory anxiety. On the one hand, the mind of the person who suffers it is fixed or “anchored” in a catastrophic prediction about what will happen, assuming that we are exposing ourselves to one of the worst possible futures given the circumstances. But on the other hand, this feeling of pessimistic certainty about what is going to happen is combined with a discomfort in the face of uncertainty: the person also feels bad because they notice that depending on what they say or do in the present, this can have consequences very relevant and unpredictable in what is going to take place at that moment to which he is afraid to arrive.

Thus, for example, if a person feels very anxious because the next day they have a date with someone they like and have met on the Internet, it is likely that their mind combines two lines of thoughts that generate discomfort but that, at the same time, they are apparently contradictory.

On the one hand, it assumes that it will not make a good impression because it assumes that the other person has fallen to the deceptions of an idealized “avatar” that exists only on social networks; You may turn over and over again what kinds of photos of your face show you at an angle that is not representative of what it is like, or the kinds of preconceptions that the other person may make confused with reality based on what have read in their chat sessions.

And, on the other hand, that person is also likely obsessed with trying to take control of the present to prepare as well as possible for that date, so that their own anxiety (among other things) does not ruin it. Thus, there is a fear of losing control and at the same time there is a fear that the result of an action is beyond one’s control; This combination of ideas and sources of concern turns anticipatory anxiety into a vicious cycle.

What role does self-fulfilling prophecy play in all of this?

A 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 put ourselves “on guard” and that leads us to adopt behavior patterns that feed anxiety.

In the case of anticipatory anxiety applied to personal relationships, self-fulfilling prophecy plays a lot with expectations. On the one hand, it leads us to assume that we will look ridiculous or that we will not be up to the task of giving an image of who we really are to someone we care about, and that predisposes us to behave in an unnatural way to try to correct that desperate possibility.

On the other hand, the fact that the other person is seeing that we perceive the situation as uncomfortable or even grotesque (not in a good way) makes them assume that the situation is that way.

How to manage anticipatory anxiety when interacting with others?

Keep these tips in mind to avoid letting anticipatory anxiety play you when it comes to making new friends, speaking in public, flirting, etc.

1. Don’t try to block the discomfort

Trying to keep anxiety and associated thoughts out of your mind is a rookie mistake when it comes to managing emotions. Not only do you not have to try to block anxiety, but you must also accept it and not give it more importance than it has. Once it has arisen in you, instead of fighting it, dedicate yourself to directing your attention towards other stimuli and experiences. In this way, it will gradually weaken without you noticing.

2. Assume that the humor of a situation can serve to demonstrate the security you have in yourself

If you notice, people with better social skills are so sure of themselves that they can allow themselves to take actions that could technically be ridiculous, but because of their attitude, they are not perceived that way.

In fact, there are those who deliberately used this type of action to show that they are not afraid to “break the ice” in a social situation in the craziest ways possible: by dancing in the middle of the street for no reason, telling jokes very bad, etc. The fact of showing that you are aware of the extravagance of these actions generates a feeling of complicity, and on the one hand, it shows confidence in yourself.

If these people can behave in this way, you certainly do not have to fear the possibility of “going off the script” from what is considered normal or conventional; It all depends on the attitude with which you do it and with which you acknowledge your mistakes or even laugh at them. Remember that if you create the expectation that the other person should be laughing with you and not at you, that is probably what they will do.

3. When you notice that you have a very hard day, resort to relaxation techniques

Relaxation techniques can help you as a resource for a specific use that allows you to take your nervous system to a state of less activation. A few minutes of an exercise like Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation will allow you to do a mental reset.

4. Don’t memorize, focus your attention on the moment

When preparing to speak to someone who intimidates you in one way or another, don’t try to recite memorized lines; that will cause you to suffer even more anticipatory anxiety. Instead, accept that it will be 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.

Anticipatory anxiety in personal relationships: what it is and how to calm it