Dealing with Chronic Fear and Anticipatory Anxiety

Are you a person whose life is often dictated by fear and anticipatory anxiety?

Anticipatory anxiety is simply the anxiety we feel when we worry about something that has yet to occur. When chronic, it can be a crippling affliction and many more of us suffer from at least some degree of this than we may care to believe.

Do you avoid going to the doctor for fear of “what might turn up”? Or do you put off certain things as long as possible, hoping that they’ll just “go away”?

Do some of life’s major decisions, such as those involving healthcare, money, and family issues seem to never get addressed because of fear or anticipatory anxiety about what CAN or MIGHT happen?

I hear you my friend.

The problem with allowing fear and anticipatory anxiety to rule our lives all the time is that it can get us into trouble.

Sure it’s true that most of us feel some fear and anticipatory anxiety sometimes (or maybe more than sometimes); AND it’s also true that many of us allow it to win the day sometimes. BUT it is very important to know when it’s absolutely necessary NOT allow it to influence our decisions.

This is very basic, fundamental knowledge that children need to be taught by example from the adults around them.

Unfortunately for many of us, those adults too suffered from paralyzing fear and anticipatory anxiety OR, at the very least, they showed themselves to be  unable to tolerate our innocent, normal, childhood fears and anxieties which only made things worse for us.

Children need adults to help them learn to find their courage.

They already have courage; they just need us to help them find it and support it so that it can grow healthily.

Once children grow up, it becomes quite difficult to reverse the damage that has been done in terms of the various fears, hypervigilance, and anxieties we have about the world around us.

What we, as adults, need to do now is to slowly, gradually, and Deliberately (see my post entitled “REALADULTS” where the “D” stands for Living Deliberately) learn to support the courage that we had inside of us as children before it was influenced by the environment (i.e. the adults) around us.

In order to do this, we must practice what I call Suspending Fear.

The spirit of Suspending Fear involves trying to get back to a state when our minds were not yet mapped out with all the fears and anticipatory anxieties that were imprinted on them in childhood and young adulthood.

It is a technique which allows us to Deliberately and, in a very mechanical, calculated way, turn off our hypervigilance for just a moment or two; just enough time to book that doctor’s appointment, health maintenance test (colonoscopy anyone?), difficult meeting with a financial counselor, etc.

By practicing Suspending Fear for just a few moments, we allow ourselves to “act” like we would have acted as who we were BEFORE all the influences and experiences of childhood and early adulthood took over our minds, hearts, and souls.

It is not about talking ourselves OUT OF the fear, or convincing ourselves NOT to be fearful. It’s about temporarily having what the old Zen masters would call “no mind” or perhaps “right mind.” In other words, Suspending Fear is not about putting anything at all INTO the mind to get rid of the fear; it’s about EMPTYING the mind entirely for a few moments.

The problem with fear-based emotions and reactions is that they cannot easily be reasoned away.

Oh, you can try.

And you can convince yourself that you are brave and that you are okay, and this may actually work sometimes for some people.

But, for the majority of us, our fears and anticipatory anxieties go back even further than our verbal skills and cognitive processing skills.

Many of these “pre-verbal” traumas have left us in states of chronic, perpetual hypervigilance which not only is unhealthy in and of itself, but which also distorts and disables our abilities to make appropriate, healthy choices with the situations and facts that life presents to us.

We therefore sometimes literally need a “clean slate” or “no mind” for a few moments, so that we can think and behave as we would have BEFORE the fear and anxiety made its deep grooves in our minds.

Over the years, I have been blessed in my work to get to know literally thousands of people pretty intimately. They have taught me many lessons both in my general medical and my psychiatric careers, including the dangers of leading a fear-and-anticipatory-anxiety-driven life.

Some of these lessons include:

People die sometimes because they put things off out of fear and anticipatory anxiety.

What was once benign becomes malignant.

What was once elective and routine becomes emergent and risky.

Options can sometimes narrow and become less desirable with neglect and the passage of time.

What could have been done on our terms, now gets done on someone or something else’s terms.

In the end, pain comes to us, even, and sometimes more so, when we always try to run from it.

So practice the Suspending Fear technique and any other technique you come across or can learn from others. Take your time and do what you can, but at the same time try to push yourself too.

Don’t hesitate to do some reading on fear or to get some preliminary exploratory counseling to learn more about your specific fears and how they affect your choices, decisions, and your life in general. (You might be surprised what you learn!)

All the best, and… you’re gonna be alright!

Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.


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