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Negative Anticipation Set Up For Worry

Last night I was worried about a work thing that I felt less than ideally prepared for. Some parts were fine, but others worked against my weaknesses. In short, I was pretty worried. When I went in to work, it all went better than I expected. Some bumps in the road, but it was a great learning experience with good support. I knew this in my head going in, but I was still worried. And I was still somewhat worried about doing it the next time. So if my logic tells me it’s likely to be OK, why did I still get so worried?

Worrying is feeling anxious about something that could or will happen in the future. The emotion usually includes fear of either something specific or of the unknown. Your heart beats faster, you might feel sweaty, and you often feel a sense of physical tension in your muscles. All of this goes on plus a whole lot of “what if” kinds of questions.

And here’s the kicker. All of this is based on your negative anticipation about the upcoming possible situation. Your beliefs about your abilities to handle things often create negative anticipation. If it is something you have strong confidence about, you don’t get worried because you have a positive expectation of your performance.

This could come from some past difficult experiences or it could be because you have no experience and you think you will flop. For example, if you have tried to get your driver’s license three times and keep flunking the driving test, you might start to really get worried about that. If you get caught up in that past difficulty and project it into negative anticipation, you are likely to dread every moment until you get the results of the test. And you might even worry about your eventual disappointment at failing yet again.

If you were going to try out for a play but had never done it before, your worry might stem from not having any idea what could happen up there. Will you freeze? Could you start sweating profusely? Will you embarrass yourself so much you’ll want to hide? If you have had other experiments like this that have ended in disappointment, you might begin to worry here, too.

A person who enjoys the challenge of trying new things would probably know they could mess up, but would feel more excitement than anything else. And really, fear and excitement are different sides of the same coin. Much of your interpretation depends on your personality, collection of experiences, and attitude.

So there I was, feeling worry that I’d have the opportunity to mess up, and in the end I think I really did pretty well. Although it might not have felt like it then, I know this will add to my collection of positive experiences about this work situation. I have a few strategies to help me with the parts I’m not comfortable with, which should take some of the negative anticipation out of the way.

I could just hate it every time and see if I could get away with quitting this job. But you know, I’m starting to see the adventure in this scenario. Maybe instead of worrying, I’ll be saying to myself, “Wow, I can’t wait until the next time I get to go.” Hmmm, I don’t know, but it’s gotta be better than worrying all night.

Negative Anticipation Set Up For Worry

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP

Erika Krull, MS, LMHP is a practicing licensed mental health counselor in Nebraska. She blogs regularly on the Psych Central blog, Family Mental Health.

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APA Reference
Krull, E. (2018). Negative Anticipation Set Up For Worry. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 25, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 6 Apr 2009)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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