What is it?

Anticipation is the emotion we experience when we are expecting something to happen (good or bad), where we are left in a state of anxious suspense. Some people may feel excited, and others may just feel nervous. Anticipatory concerns are the thoughts we have while feeling anticipation. What will happen next? What can I do right now about something that could happen in the future? People with GI symptoms often have thoughts like these.

When people worry, they will engage in different kinds of behaviors to cope with their worry. People who are most successful at dealing with worry can address their problems directly. They will make plans to address problems, and then they do not dwell on those problems anymore. Others will address problems indirectly, often by avoiding things that cause their problems in the first place. These acts of avoidance can make problems appear worse than they really are. Reality is overtaken by anticipatory concerns that may not reflect reality.

Anticipation and GI Symptoms

People with GI symptoms often worry about how their symptoms will affect their lives, and may avoid situations because of them. In other words, they anticipate that their GI symptoms will cause problems, and plan around these problems.

Planning is not, in itself, a bad thing. However, some people make all of their plans around their GI symptoms – the symptoms are shaping their lives. These people often believe the symptoms will not improve, are uncontrollable, and steps must be taken to avoid situations (work, friends, family, new places, or other stressful situations) that are embarrassing or uncomfortable because of these symptoms. Further, these people may feel like they have no other options, and this will worsen the cycle of worry, anticipation, and avoidance.

What can I do about it?

Avoiding a problem often makes it worse. Many patients find that "talk" therapy is often useful for finding new ways to deal with their problems. Instead of avoiding situations and worrying that symptoms cannot be controlled, patients learn to experiment with their lives. They will go into a situation that might be uncomfortable, and take note of what is actually happening in the moment, rather than worrying about the future and planning around that uncertain future. Your anticipatory concerns could be symptomatic of depression or anxiety, which can be helped by speaking to a healthcare professional.

My Quality of Life (MyQOL) Toolbox contains useful tips for helping people examine their thoughts and feelings honestly, and allowing them to focus on life in the here-and-now using mindfulness. If symptoms are so uncontrollable that MyQOL Toolbox does not help, then it might be useful to talk to your doctor about your GI symptoms.

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