Anticipatory Anxiety Linked to Missed Sleep


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Sleep can reduce your anticipatory anxiety.

Sleep can reduce your anticipatory anxiety. Image by Ed Yourden.

According to the NIH, about 18.1 percent of Americans who are over age 18 in any given year have an anxiety disorder. Common disorders are Panic Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Phobias.

Anticipatory anxiety, which is a component of panic disorders and phobias, describes the feelings people often have before they face something that has caused them fear in the past.

New research shows that a lack of sleep causes anticipatory anxiety to increase.

Anxiety and Fight or Flight Response

Human beings are primed to handle frightening situations. When faced with danger, their adrenaline pumps and blood flows to their muscles. This physiologically prepares people to either fight the source of danger or to run away.

For example, if a wild animal were about to attack a person, the person’s heart would start to race and his or her stomach might feel queasy as the rate of blood flow would increase. The person’s body would effectively be preparing to battle the wild animal, or to run away.

Anticipatory anxiety can be useful when it helps people to prepare for a challenging situation, such as a job interview. Anxiety can propel people to face a situation energetically and appropriately. Problems set in when anxiety causes people to drastically change their behavior, or the anxiety becomes chronic. For example, anticipatory anxiety about encountering a stray dog while taking a walk can cause someone to avoid leaving his or her house.

Chronic anticipatory anxiety, such as an ongoing fear that one’s romantic partner will have an affair, can cause an array of undesirable symptoms. Worry about fear inducing situations can cause memory problems, anger, confusion, headaches, muscle tension, hopelessness and social withdrawal. People can become so preoccupied by the threat of something bad happening that they can no longer concentrate or form reasonable decisions.

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