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Anticipatory Anxiety and COVER STORY by Susan Rigetti

Cover of the book Cover Story by Susan Rigetti, used as a teaching example for Anticipatory Anxiety.

Lora is a bright young woman walking a tightrope between success and failure. She’s always wanted to be a writer and is currently a summer intern at Elle Magazine. It’s a dream opportunity that could open doors…which are rapidly slamming shut around her. Unless something drastic changes, when the internship ends Lora will return home to Pennsylvania as a failure, having lost her college scholarship due to bad grades.

Lora is so worried (buzzword: anticipatory anxiety) about her parent’s potential anger and disappointment about the school situation that it causes her to be susceptible to any quick fix, even one with significant downsides. Enter Cat, seemingly the answer to all Lora’s problems. Cat is rich, has unending social and professional connections, and takes a personal interest in Lora. Soon they’re roommates and co-writers. Well, ghostwriter and writer. They even score a lucrative book deal.

But the question lingers – is it all too good to be true?

Our skills today speak to the middle of the story, the anticipatory anxiety that Lora experienced about her parent’s response to her college predicament. Anticipatory anxiety is a fancy way of saying fears about a potentially negative thing that may happen in the future. And it’s common.

Here are some skills to combat anticipatory anxiety:

  • Notice when your thoughts are catastrophic and/or black and white (i.e., If X happens, then I’ll never succeed) and reframe to more accurate shades of gray (i.e., if X happens, then it will be a setback of a few hours).

  • Connect with others and talk through your thoughts and feelings out loud. Sometimes a friend is the most helpful fact-checker.

  • If you start to go down the “what if” path, mindfully pause and turn around to more concrete and present focused thoughts.

If only Lora, or someone like her, used these skills to talk to her parents, she’d likely have had a hard conversation followed by a problem-solving session. And I’ll just bet that none of the potential solutions would have put her on the FBI’s radar.


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