Generally, anxiety is related to worry about the future and not knowing what the outcome will be or fearing a worst-case scenario. Often, anxiety comes with feeling like you will fail or are not capable of getting the result you want. For example, you might feel anxious about an upcoming test or presentation. The anxiety in that case stems from worrying about things like not passing or bombing the presentation. This type of negative mindset is what creates the anxiety. Anxiety management is about flipping the negativity into a more positive outcome. One way you can do this is through using the technique of cope ahead.
Cope ahead helps with anxiety management by training your mind to feel more positive and optimistic about whatever it is that is causing the anxiety. When faced with a situation that is bringing on anxiety, using cope ahead, you imagine having the outcome you desire as well as plan how to cope effectively with expected difficulties. Research shows that imagery can have a huge impact on our mindset and behaviors. Practicing how you will handle something by imagining it increases the likelihood of automatically responding in the ways that we imagined. With cope ahead, not only can you lessen anxiety while anticipating the situation, but you also increase the odds that you will manage well in the situation. Overall, anxiety management is about feeling more capable, confident, and optimistic. Using cope ahead allows you to do so.
ANXIETY MANAGEMENT THROUGH COPE AHEAD
- Describe the situation causing anxiety. Detail what exactly it is that you are anxious about. Describe what outcome you are fearing and what worst case scenario you are anticipating.
- Decide what you need to do to be effective. What do you need to say or do? how do you need to act? Are there coping skills and stress management techniques that would be helpful here? Problem solve when necessary.
- Imagine the situation. Get in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Picture being in the situation that you are anxious about. Put yourself into the situation as completely as possible. Imagine as many details as you can, what will your surroundings be, who else will be there, etc. Really imagine that you are presently in the situation, and make sure not to still be thinking in future terms.
- Rehearse coping effectively. Imagine the situation going exactly how you would want it to go. Then imagine encountering problems that you are fearing and imagine coping well. Watch yourself handle things effectively using the skills you detailed in step 2. Watch yourself not fall apart, but be ok when you run into problems.
- Practice relaxation after rehearsing. Do a deep breathing exercise or meditation. You will likely find, especially in the beginning, that rehearsing can heighten anxiety at first. By utilizing a relaxation technique after, it will help calm you down. You can then rehearse again, already improving your anxiety management. Additionally, you are training your mind to relate to the situation with calmness rather than anxiety. The more you pair relaxation with the anxiety driving the situation, the more you lessen the anxiety itself.
COPE AHEAD EXAMPLE:
I have my first solo in the choir coming up and am afraid that my voice will give out or crack. Using cope ahead, I imagine myself at the performance. I put myself on the stage, noticing the people I will see in the audience and my choir mates around me. I get up to my solo and visualize it going well, singing every word correctly, keeping the right tone, volume, and beat. Then I imagine my worst fear: my voice cracking in the middle of the solo. Instead of freaking out, I picture myself taking a deep breath and continuing with the rest of my part.
In short, use cope ahead as an anxiety management technique when a situation is coming up that you feel worried or afraid about. It is helpful to use cope ahead when you know that your emotions will get the better of you and potentially keep you from being skillful and managing well. It is helpful when dealing with a new situation where there are a lot of unknowns. You can feel more prepared for those unknowns by using cope ahead. It is also an effective anxiety management technique for situations where you worry about acting on unhealthy behavior urges such as hitting someone, runing away, using a substance, or harming yourself. Using cope ahead allows you to remember there are better options than such behaviors.
Cope ahead prepares you to act and cope in effective ways and helps you not assume the worst-case scenario is a definite. By imaging things going well, you are training your mind to feel more positive. This will increase the likelihood that things will actually work out in the end. Additionally, imagining dealing with the worst-case scenario helps you stop catastrophizing. It helps show that even if the worst happens, it is not such a disaster. It also helps prepare you to better manage if that does happen.