If you’re feeling fear about the future, you’re not alone. Many people struggle with anxiety about what’s going to happen next in life. The COVID-19 pandemic and the fact that it’s an election year heighten those anxieties.
But fear doesn’t help you move forward. In fact, the more you can reduce your anxiety, the brighter your future will seem.
When Does Worrying Turn Into Anxiety?
Anxiety is characterized, in large part, by excessive worry. But what exactly does that mean? When is worry “normal” and when does it cross that line?
To be honest, the line between worry and anxiety is blurry. But generally speaking, worry is about a specific thing whereas anxiety is much more general. For example, if you have a meeting with your boss, you may worry that you’re going to receive bad news about your job. When the meeting is over, the worry is gone. In contrast, you may feel persistent anxiety about your job but it’s not attached to any specific event or situation. Since it’s not about anything, you can’t resolve it, and therefore it lingers.
Another good clue is that worry usually happens in the head whereas anxiety is in the body.
Worry is the thought, “My boss might tell me that I’m getting demoted.” Anxiety is the feeling of a racing heart, headaches, stomach distress, and difficulty breathing.
What is Anticipatory Anxiety?
Fear of the future is anticipatory anxiety. It’s excessive worry about potential future events. People with anticipatory anxiety often experience panic attacks.
The best way to define anticipatory anxiety is that it is the anxiety of “what if?”
For example, you’re in a relationship and you get anxiety that it’s going to end. You’re asking “what if it ends?” Your anxious brain might also ask a bunch of other “what if” questions such as:
- What if they are cheating on me?
- What if I never find someone else ever again?
- What if I break up with them and it turns out to be a mistake?
- What if my partner dies and I’m all alone?
- What if we never get past this uncomfortable time?
All of this is anxiety about the future. It’s fear about something that has not happened yet. You’re anticipating it. Your brain is trying to plan ahead. It can feel deceptively helpful, as if by imagining all possible scenarios, you can prevent the pain of a breakup. However, it doesn’t work that way. By staying focused on worst case scenarios, you fail to thrive in the now.
5 Tips to Cope with Fear about the Future
Anxiety about the future limits you. You aren’t able to enjoy what’s happening in the present moment. You worry so much about what could happen (oftentimes about things that are extremely unlikely) that your quality of life diminishes.
You can’t sleep, you feel tense all of the time, physically you feel ill … all because your mind and body are stuck in the fear about the future.
Here are five things that you can do to cope with future anxiety:
Learning and utilizing breathing techniques is one of the most critical things that you can do for any form of anxiety.
Anxiety takes over the body. Your heart races, your breathing gets fast and shallow, your palms sweat. This creates a negative feedback loop in which your body’s reaction creates increased anxiety. The good news is that you can interrupt that feedback loop at any point by simply controlling your breathing.
There are many specific exercises and relaxation techniques that you can learn. However, you can start right now with slow, deep breaths. Breathe in, hold, breathe out, hold. The slower and deeper, the better.
If your mind wanders, return your thoughts to your breath. After all, you can’t worry about the future if you’re grounded right here in this moment’s breath. This is one of the best things that you can do for your mental health. Make deep breathing a part of your daily life.
2. Keep a Diary
Hindsight bias causes us to believe that we had better control of things in the past. Now that Y2K is long behind us, most of us don’t remember the anxiety we felt leading up to it. We look back and think it wasn’t that bad. And yet, we look forward to COVID-19 or the next election or the next big thing in our lives with fear of the future.
Things are never as bleak as they seem in the midst of anxiety.
Keeping a diary that you can look back upon helps give you a realistic perspective of what you’ve been through in the past. Moreover, it can show you your strengths. When you start to develop the fear that you’re not going to survive the future, you can look back at old entries and realize just how much you’ve already survived.
3. Get into Your Body
Progressive muscle relaxation is a terrific technique to learn to get out of your head and into your body in a healthy way. You tense then relax each muscle group from head to toe. Stay grounded in the moment and in your body.
If that doesn’t work for you, find what does get you into your body. Put on an energetic song and dance around your living room. Go for a walk, a jog, or a swim. Trade massages with a partner.
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4. Take an action towards change.
Drill down to figure out what types of things are causing your anxiety. Do you have eco-anxiety because you’re aware that climate change could impact your child’s future? Are you especially worried about how COVID-19 might impact your eldest family members? Once you’ve identified a cause, you can take action.
For example, you might donate money to an organization that works to reverse climate change. Or you might make it a point to call your older family members once each week to catch up. Stewing in fear of the future makes anxiety worse. Taking a small, but concrete, action in the here and now can help alleviate the anxiety.
5. Ask for Help
Anxious thoughts can swirl around in your mind forever if you let them. They get worse and worse. But if you let them out, their power goes away. Reach out to a trusted friend, confidante, or professional who can help you work through the worries. Sometimes just getting them out into the open can release the fear of the future. Your mind will calm and your body will relax as you lean on the support that someone else can offer.
Our trained therapists can help you learn how to implement these techniques and more. You don’t have to stay stuck in fear of the future. Reach out to us today to learn about our anxiety counseling services. Ask about behavioral therapy, support groups, and anxiety disorder treatment.