The more time we have before the event the more scenarios we can imagine. These events can be anything from a job interview to a first date. Maybe it’s the travelling before the holiday or social arrangement you made weeks ago. It could be a concert you booked a while back or family wedding you have to attend or maybe it’s an impending exam. Maybe it’s as small as someone you know has asked to go out for drinks. Lots of events can trigger this anticipation anxiety.
When I was younger, in school, I used to commit to performing main roles in plays. I loved the adrenaline and I was good at it. Now I’m too scared to commit to anything like that in advance. I now know the suffering and pain of having anxious racing thoughts when saying yes to an event.
I personally have a hard time planning for future events. Because of having a chronic illness (endometriosis) and suffering from anxiety, it’s hard to know in advance if my body will be up to dealing with the committed event. Over the years I am getting better and I’ve been using CBT therapy tried to commit to more things to conquer this. But usually, I plan my social arrangements a few days before or on the day. This can lead me to feel like I’m missing out and it’s something I’m trying to work on.
What are some of my thoughts when someone asks me to commit?
I start thinking of the worst-case scenarios and catastrophise:
- What if it’s really awkward?
- What happens if I feel ill and want to leave? Do I have to stay? Will they think I’m rude for needing to leave?
- What if I want to cancel will they think I’m flaky and get annoyed?
- What happens if I think I’m ill but really it’s just nerves?
- What if I think it’s just nerves but I end up getting really ill so far away from my house? How will I get home? Will the journey back feel like hell?
- What happens if I get overwhelmed, where will I go?
- Remember that time that awful thing happened, what if it happens again
? Rememberthat time you were sitting around in a group of people but you didn’t feel like you were present or knew what to say?
- Remember that feeling like you were on the outside looking in?
What Usually Happens Next for Me
All these thoughts run through my head without even being aware that I go through the same process each time and 9 out 10 times the outing goes ok. This is when someone I confided in will usually tell me to “Stop worrying! You’ve done it before. You’re usually ok” which isn’t entirely true, nor do I find this kind of dismissive reaction helpful. The more helpful people around me remind me I have good coping methods and I’m stronger than I give myself credit for, they also remind me I’m only human and human’s get ill so of course I can cancel.
One of the only ways I cope with committing is it’s easier if the person is a close friend and knows about my anxiety and chronic illness, I feel better falling ill around them or I don’t feel they will end our friendship if I have to cancel.
Thoughts can go round and round your head and it uses up a lot of effort to silence them. You might feel tightness in your chest and shortness of breath when you think about it. You may even start to sweat with worry. You could be up at night stressing about it. Your heart might race. You could have trouble concentrating in school or at work. These are all symptoms of anxiety. And it’s ok, not everyone can recognise when this is happening or have in place a healthy coping method to fix it.
How Can You Reduce Your Anxiety?
- Talk to someone who you trust, talk over what you are worried is going to happen and how you feel. They should reassure you.
- If you don’t have anyone you feel you can trust to talk to: ring a helpline like The Samaritans, join a Facebook support group for anxiety or if you’re in therapy bring this up.
- Remember that you are stronger than you think and you will get through it
- Remember about all the times it went right or even something amazing happened.
- Distract yourself – spend time with someone you get on with like friends or family. Offer to help someone else because doing something for someone else will give you something good to focus on and you’ll feel needed.
- Take a deep breath – When we feel really anxious we tend to take shallow breaths, a good way to combat this is to practise breathing exercises like this example from the NHS.
- Self Care- run a relaxing bath, watch a feel-good film, go for a walk, practise yoga.
- Exercise- all that pent up stress can be released through a good workout, it will give you endorphins which will make you feel better and also the feel-good high you get from accomplishing something good for you doesn’t hurt either.
- Preparation – some preparation can make you feel better but you must be mindful to not get obsessive and overplan. But the right amount of planning can be helpful. So take your in-case-of-emergency-kit. If I was going on a long trip my kit would include: a charged tablet, good downloaded films, magazines, music playlist, podcasts. I would also take with me some chocolate as a treat to make myself feel good. As well as this I take my travel mug with my favourite herbal tea in it. All these positive associations can work wonders and you often look forward instead to having time to listen to a good podcast or watch a film. Another way to plan is to choose safe topics to talk about at social events, this helps with awkward silences or changing the subject when discussing a topic you don’t like.
- Write it down- Sometimes just putting pen to paper can help you work out how you really feel. I’ve often journaled when I’m anxious and managed to process the worry in a healthy way. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
I hope this post has helped reduce some of your worries. Let me know in the comments what events make you sick with worry.
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Planner photo by Eric Rothermel
Many clocks photo by Jon Tyson