Do you struggle with anticipatory anxiety: that feeling of being unable to enjoy the present because you’re worried that bad things are ahead? Are you constantly “waiting for the other shoe to drop” in your life? Anticipatory anxiety is extremely common and definitely something that can derail our emotions and turn our thoughts away from the truth of God.
Today on the podcast we’re playing an excerpt from a coaching call inside the Christian Mindset Makeover where we discussed this topic and explored how we can stop worrying and better manage anticipatory anxiety.
WHAT YOU'LL LEARN:
- [02:05] What is anticipatory anxiety?
- [07:23] “How can I stop waiting for the other shoe to drop?”: A coaching conversation around anticipatory anxiety in the Christian Mindset Makeover
- [14:46] How can we calm anxiety and trust God when we feel fearful?
- [16:54] Managing anxiety by surrendering and taking responsibility for what we can control
- [18:27] Finding comfort in God’s character when anxious thoughts strike
- [20:37] Action steps: Making a plan to better manage anxiety
[02:05] What is anticipatory anxiety?
The American Psychological Association defines anticipatory anxiety as “worry or apprehension about an upcoming event or situation because of the possibility of a negative outcome such as danger, misfortune, or adverse judgment by others.” The APA shares that the worry or apprehension is often accompanied by somatic symptoms of tension.
Anticipatory anxiety is the idea that something bad is going to happen, which causes us to try to prepare ourselves mentally by predicting the outcome. It's something that we may have learned to do as a way to cope with pressure. The problem with this way of thinking is that it keeps us in a sense of hopelessness and makes it extremely difficult to believe that good things are possible.
In her powerful book Dare to Lead, author Brene Brown shares great insights that fit well into this discussion on anticipatory anxiety.
Brene shares that if we cut ourselves off from potential hurt, then what we’re really doing is cutting ourselves off from living, because often we try to prevent ourselves from getting hurt.
However, when we close ourselves off in that way, we can't feel the joy either, she explains. The collateral damage from this isn't just the lack of emotion that we can feel in the moment, and the robbing of joy that happens when anticipatory anxiety comes in. Brene shares that we’re so focused on what could go wrong that we end up being unable to prepare ourselves for what the future actually does hold.
[07:23] “How can I stop waiting for the other shoe to drop?”: A coaching conversation around anticipatory anxiety in the Christian Mindset Makeover
Alicia shares a conversation with one of her clients from inside the Christian Mindset Makeover as they discuss the topic of anticipatory anxiety, or “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Her client shares that when something good is happening in her life, she will sometimes begin to worry what would happen if she lost it, finding herself forwarding ahead past the joy and to that possible reality.
She believes that her anxiety or worry around these situations is her brain’s attempt to try to control the situation, specifically by trying to secure safety by thinking of every possible scenario so she can be prepared if the difficulty comes.
Reflecting on this pattern, she notes that these thinking patterns have never actually been helpful to her and that they only prevent her from feeling joy in the moment and they steal her peace.
Alicia notes that in these moments, God is asking that we trust Him enough to recognize that there are some things we have zero control over. With this thought process, we can let go of the worry. This is one of the mindsets that Alicia and her clients work on creating in the Christian Mindset Makeover through journaling, brain priming practices, and more.
Questions to reflect on:
- How has worry been effective for you in the past?
- Have there been times when God has allowed “that thing” to be taken away or the shoe to fall even after worrying about it?
- Why does that make sense that your brain is trying to control suffering?
- When you're thinking about all of this, how might it relate to the idea of needing to be able to let God be in control and to trust Him?
[14:46] How can we calm anxiety and trust God when we feel fearful?
It's important to know that it’s normal for our brains to worry as a way of trying to protect us. There are many things we work through in the Christian Mindset Makeover that help us calm our anxieties and instead trust God. One of these is the brain priming part of the program. Part of that is acknowledging that it’s okay to feel this way in the first place, that it’s simply a pattern our brain has created to protect ourselves.
As Christians, we can then say, I get why my brain has done this, and I understand why the pattern is there, but I know that God is here, He is trustworthy, and He's got this. It's really about calming the brain down, calming it down with that knowledge that God is with us. Ultimately, that's the place we have to get to in order to move past those fears and anxieties so that we can focus on fixing the patterns.
[16:54] Managing anxiety by surrendering and taking responsibility for what we can control
In week four of the Christian Mindset Makeover, we learn how surrender, taking responsibility for what's ours, and letting go of what's not helps us navigate moments of anticipatory anxiety.
One of the ways we do this is through the use of worksheets, like the Surrender Responsibility worksheet. Alicia’s client shares that for her, it was coming to the deep understanding that she can’t control the future and that she needed to let go of trying to control the outcome.
She knew in her head that she needed to surrender to God, but working through the process of the Christian Mindset Makeover she was able to release that control to God, and surrender the responsibility of the future, knowing that God begins where she ends. She says her realization was that “He's in control of whatever suffering comes to me and my place is to trust.”
[18:27] Finding comfort in God’s character when anxious thoughts strike
While trusting in Christ is our strongest place of security when anticipatory anxiety strikes, we must always remember that we can’t necessarily predict God’s actions. However, although we may not know how He will manage a situation, we can know His character. That is what we can lean on and what we can trust. This is what brings calm to anxious moments.
As C.S. Lewis says, “He's a lion, but He's not a tame lion.” We know what God’s like, but we can't predict Him, and that’s what makes him God and not a genie.
[20:37] Action steps: Making a plan to better manage anxiety
One of the biggest things that we do as women that struggle with anticipatory anxiety is to think that we're alone in feeling these worries. Even though we know how to respond from a logical standpoint, we often find ourselves responding from our emotions, often in a way that isn’t in line with God's truth. Moments like these are when we need to become interested in the why. Why did I respond this way? Why is my brain doing this?
In order to better understand the “why,” we have to first acknowledge and recognize the behavior. We have to acknowledge that there are good reasons that we’re afraid of suffering, and that it makes sense that our brain would try to protect us in these ways.
Sometimes these responses stem from habits we've developed or something we've seen modeled as we were growing up. Sometimes anticipatory anxiety happens as a protective mechanism to past trauma. No matter the cause, we must recognize that the reaction makes sense, and that we’re not crazy for having these feelings. After acknowledging, we can find phrases that we can tell ourselves in moments of anxiety that help us switch the track that is playing in our mind.
Here are a couple action steps you can take to begin to switch out some of the thoughts that give you anticipatory anxiety:
Notice the anxious thoughts and see them as real. Offer compassion for those thoughts, allowing yourself to see why they make sense and from where they may have originated.
Separate the truth from lies. Spend time listening to the Holy Spirit as you write down what’s in your head. Begin discerning which thoughts are rooted in fear and which thoughts are not from God’s word.
Decide how you’d like to respond differently. What does God want you to do with the lies and fears you’ve been leaning into that are feeding the anticipatory anxiety? How might God be encouraging you to confess sin, release what’s out of your control, and stand strong on His promises?
If you’re ready to make a plan to better manage your anxiety, download the Calm Your Anxiety Tool Kit. This is a great resource to help you understand the roots behind your anticipatory anxiety while also helping you create a brain-science-and-biblically-based plan to know exactly what you can do when anticipatory anxiety strikes.
If you feel like you struggle with ongoing thought patterns like people pleasing that are behind your anticipatory anxiety, then join us in the Christian Mindset Makeover. The Christian Mindset Makeover leads you through 9 separate modules (full of video training and tons of interactive homework exercises) where you’ll learn how to identify the root behind these toxic thought patterns and you’ll use both the Bible and brain science to rewrite these thoughts in order to create calmer, healthier responses.
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Do you struggle with worry and anxiety? You’re not alone—Anxiety is arguably the #1 mental health issue today, even for Christians.
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