Did I Make Up Anticipatory Anxiety?
Maybe you’re like me and you worry and stress about an upcoming event or scenario and then once you get there or it has started you relax and realize it’s no big deal? As I’ve worked to better understand my anxiety, I’ve found this is definitely the case. The problem is I sometimes allow it to keep me from doing things that I would do otherwise. On my own I labeled it anticipatory anxiety. I was thrilled when I googled ‘anticipatory anxiety’ for the first time and found out that it’s actually a thing. Not just me going crazy…at least on this topic. 🙂
The Paralyzing Power of a Vivid Imagination
I have had a very active and vivid imagination for as long as I can remember. I could spend hours dreaming up scenarios and stories that broke the rules of reality. My imagination became my superpower as I earned my bachelor’s degree in visual arts. I’ve worked in graphic design and photography for the last 25 years.
My vivid imagination has become my weakness as my anxiety symptoms have increased over the years since I turned 40. It can vividly play out the good and bad outcomes of upcoming events or scenarios. Unfortunately, imagined bad outcomes increase my anticipatory anxiety over scenarios that haven’t happened yet. My fear of the ‘what if’s’ has been paralyzing at times. And it’s kept me from going beyond my comfort zone emotionally, physically, and geographically.
A Deeply Rooted Phobia
My dad grew up performing at big fairs and rodeos throughout the United States. They traveled with several trucks, trailers, and horses in tow. Their equipment wasn’t always in the best condition. I grew up hearing stories of them being stranded on the side of the highway or having a myriad of other mishaps along the way.
I feared those same scenarios would happen to us as we traveled around Southern California performing in our wild west show. Occasionally we did experience a trailer getting a flat tire or some other complication. But it was always resolved, and I don’t remember ever being stranded for any length of time. Unfortunately, I still developed a phobia of being stuck on the side of a highway without help.
Planning Our Family Vacation
As my husband and I planned an upcoming family vacation, this phobia became a real pain. We planned on driving six hours to my mom’s house in Las Vegas. We would stay overnight with her and then drive six hours to Utah Valley. Our SUV is only a few years old and mechanically sound. So I had no reason to be concerned about its reliability.
I had to exercise constant mental energy leading up to our vacation to overcome my anticipatory anxiety. Whenever I became aware of my imagination running off with ‘what if’ scenarios, I would immediately reel it back in. I continually reminded myself of the reasons why family vacations are important. I also reassured myself that my dire ‘what-if’ scenarios had never happened in the past. This helped 🙂
Our neighbors were kind enough to let us borrow their cargo box we attached to our roof racks to carry extra luggage. After a lot of deep breaths and reassuring self-talk, we all left on our family vacation. We were excited to meet up with our two oldest kids at BYU in Provo.
One Mile Left
Our trip was wonderfully uneventful until about 2 miles before our exit in Las Vegas. Suddenly, the low-pressure warning light came on the dashboard, and we could tell our back tire was losing air. Thankfully, we were already in the right lane in preparation to exit the freeway and safely make it to a gas station. The tire was completely flat, and my husband put on the spare. The tire had been sliced on the inside rim, which was not patchable and was not the result of a faulty tire. My mom lived close by and was able to come to pick the rest of us up with all of our stuff.
The Poor Cargo Box
In the process of replacing the tire, it was discovered that the spare tire hoist under the car was broken and would need to be repaired. We got a call the following day from the dealership explaining their tech had driven our car into the garage but had forgotten the cargo box was on top of the vehicle. The garage door was not all the way open, and the cargo box crashed into it and was knocked off the top of our car and destroyed. Seriously?!! Thankfully, they were gracious about buying a new cargo box, but the new hoist for the spare tire would take several days to come in. We planned to be on the road that day, continuing to Provo, and did not want to wait several days in Vegas.
Do We Drive Without a Spare?
We had an important choice to make. Do we continue on our trip without a spare tire because of the broken hoist, or do we put the spare tire in the trunk, which would occupy valuable cargo space? The odds of getting another flat tire on the remainder of our trip were extremely low. But my anxiety and fear of the ‘what if’s’ were enough for me to campaign that we carry the spare tire in the trunk, even if it meant some inconvenience. We brought the spare, and thankfully, the odds were in our favor. We did not have any more trouble with the tires for the remainder of the trip. On our way back through Vegas, we could take the car into the dealership and get the new hoist installed free of charge.
It was a hilarious conversation explaining what happened to their cargo box to our neighbor. They weren’t too sad because the replacement cargo box was brand new and of much higher quality than their previous box. All was well in the end.
What Are the Odds?
It was a tender mercy discovering the spare tire hoist was broken at the dealership vs. broken down on the side of the road. If we had gotten a flat tire on the highway and had to put on the spare on the side of the road, we would have discovered the broken hoist. Then we would’ve had a worse situation not being able to raise the hoist back underneath the car to drive to the next exit. I am grateful we did not have to encounter that ‘what if’ and could work through our ‘even if’ successfully.
One Step at a Time
This experience reminded me that with a positive attitude and willingness to problem solve, the ‘even if‘s’ that happen in our lives can be overcome, one at a time. I am so grateful we did not put off or avoid going on that family vacation for fear of the ‘what if’s’. We had a fantastic time with all six of our kiddos together again, and it has built my confidence in future travel. Despite the tire fiasco, I had no panic attacks or anxiety during the trip. And I could easily manage my diet and digestive system, so that did not pose any complications either.
Faith is a Choice
Reminding myself of all the worst-case scenarios that have never happened in my life shifts my focus. Then my vivid imagination can create the best-case scenarios and how I can make them a reality. I don’t want to let anxiety rob me of the incredible experiences this life has to offer. I want the same joy-filled possibilities for you too!! I believe we can choose to live with faith and calm our anxious thoughts to not dwell on the ‘what ifs’ and grow confidence in the ‘even ifs’.