320px-Crepuscular rays colorA reader asked me to write about dread because she suffers from anxiety and dreads the coming of every day.  Here goes.  Let's see if we can help bring light out from behind the dark clouds of dread.

Dread is different from and perhaps more comprehensive than fear. To dread means to anticipate with great apprehension or fear. It's the anticipation that can be extended and debilitating. You don't fear the unknown.  You fear what you believe is the known, what you are certain will happen.

Dread can be based on a realistic appraisal of your future, and in varying degrees.  


  1. You could dread taking an exam in the morning because you know you are not prepared.
  2. You could dread going to a dinner where you are expected because you are afraid the buffet will trigger your eating disorder. 
  3. You could dread seeing a particular person because you know from experience that person will find a way to hurt you.

These dreads have practical solutions.

  1. Postpone the test and study.
  2. Work with your therapist or support team and develop a sturdy and practical structure for getting through the dinner or rearranging the meeting to a setting where you are not so vulnerable. 
  3. Don't put yourself in the presence of the hurtful person
  4. Make sure you have a protector with you or notify authorities if that is what is called for.

But what about the nameless dread that keeps you under the covers shaking with anxiety in the morning? This is the dread that has you waking up at night sweating or tossing and turning in bed. This is the dread that paralyzes you and makes the simplest moves in being in the world almost impossible, like being with people, attending events, speaking in a group or expressing yourself in any way. You need to call upon great courage and determination to begin your day because you are so filled with dread.

This kind of dread is based more on your inner life. You anticipate the worst without knowing what it might be. Your dread is based on the anticipation of scenes and scenarios created by your fears. Your fears are so deep they feel more like the truth of your existence. You expect that the worst will happen.

Perhaps you imagine that worst specifically, i.e. how someone will treat you or how you will fail or humiliate yourself in some way. Or perhaps your dread is so great you only know something terrible awaits you in a kind of nameless, space less, shapeless void of a new day.

Don't fool yourself. You are human, alive and aware of your dread. You know people have choices and so do you.

"There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.”

---Soren Kierkegaard

If you dread facing a situation that is beyond your ability you are being realistic, then you have choices:
  1. Put yourself in jeopardy and deal with it as best you can.(not advisable unless you have evidence that you can face the situation.)
  2. Find a way to make the situation less dangerous to you and face that.
  3. Find a way to avoid the situation on a one time basis.
  4. Find a way to prevent such a thing from ever happening again.
  5. Strengthen and empower yourself to be able to cope with the situation if or when it ever occurs again. (Ongoing choice regardless of choices 1 - 4)

If you dread the nameless, the fantasy, the unknown of the coming day, your choices involve your discovering what the reality actually is.

Soren Kierkegaard described this kind of dread as a constant fear of failing your responsibilities to God. He was speaking and writing as a philosopher about the human condition. Here we speak of the human condition as it particularly relates to a human with an eating disorder.

When you have an eating disorder you have blanks in your psyche that feel like black holes you can fall through endlessly. Your eating disorder is designed to keep your awareness away from those blanks as well as to help you avoid the fear associated with the endless and powerless fall. The eating disorder can work fairly well, but imperfectly. You still get glimpses of your terrific vulnerability and inability to care for yourself. Those glimpses are frightening.

If your eating disorder is not strong and solid enough to block out your sense of being powerless and lost you will dread venturing into social and work related interactions. Play with friends may be inconceivable. This happens often. Regardless of how much you need your eating disorder to ward off anxiety, it will occasionally fail you.  And thank goodness! Those failures awaken you to your need for recovery.

Your nameless or unrealistic dread means that you are afraid and certain that you cannot behave in a way that fulfills your responsibilities.  These responsibilities include:
  1. Your own well being and development.
  2. Your principles.
  3. The requirements in life that mean survival

Survival requirements can include:
  • education
  • work
  • money and time management 
  • professional relationships,
  • health care
  • safe and adequate food and housing
  • and perhaps, with Kierkegaard, your responsibilities to your spiritual or religious beliefs.

If realistic dangers are not facing you and you feel helpless and incapable of moving into a new day, if your dread is powerful and slows you down or paralyzes you, then you know it. What are your choices? How can you help yourself?

These are your questions that need addressing with commitment and determination. Many people, books, programs, support groups, health organizations, mindfulness classes,  creativity nurturing environments exist that can help you. But you have to decide to move toward them. You start and continue to develop from within.  Then, instead of being helpless and incapable you truly become more helpful and capable.

The reality of your solid presence dispels disaster fears based on fantasy or even actual memory.

Helpful Dread Dispelling Activities:
  1. Journal
  2. Work with a therapist
  3. Take classes in subjects that touch your heart
  4. Take classes in subjects that teach you the competencies you need in life
  5. Explore your spirituality
  6. Nurture your creativity
  7. Allow yourself to grow and blossom.

Readers, please share your thoughts and responses.
  • Where and when do you experience dread?
  • What do you do about it?  
  • What could you do about it?
  • How can you begin to equip yourself so you can move beyond dread and into courage and competence?
  • If you've weathered this phase of your recovery, what suggestions do you have for others?
Dread, like a massive dark cloud formation, disperses by the beams of your own inner light.  Find that light. Nurture it. And let yourself discover  the power of health that resides in you.


0 # Dreads past and presentshh 2013-03-25 02:27

10 years ago, I beat hundreds of applicants to start training in what I thought was going to be the career of my dreams, the training was split 50% university, 50% mentored clinical placement, and I adored my time with my cohort at university, but the placement I just couldn't hack. The dread and anxiety leading up to placement days was so bad that I ended up with permanent nausea and diarrhea, even on non-placement days, because I was dreading the next placement day so much.

I made myself so ill with it, that I eventually gave up my training - it was heartbreaking to give up my dreams, but I didn't really have a choice, I couldn't carry on as I was.
The university sent me for counselling to come to terms with dropping my training, and very soon I had sessions with a therapist that I loathed with a passion - I know now that my loathing wasn't really about her, it was about not wanting to face up to things, I dreaded seeing her too, and after the session where she referred to me as having been abused by my parents, and I argued that i hadn't, and she argued back with me "do you think this is how everyone treats their children?" and I said that yes I did, I thought it was normal, and she looked at me and told me that I was a typical abused child, abused children always think that what they suffered was just okay and normal.... and I fled from her office that day, shouting "I was not, not, NOT abused"....I was in such denial, I didn't want to face it, but she planted a seed that helped me over the years to accept that maybe I had, and maybe I did need help.

With my most recent therapist, we did talk about my failed career attempt quite often, as it had left me scared to try anything new that I thought I wanted to do, and realised that behind most of the dread, lay the fear of being "judged", my background was so critical and judgemental, I spent most of my life living in fear of being judged even just walking down the street or answering the telephone,, but being mentored and having reams of skills assessments to complete, was inviting judgement, was knowing that my every move was being judged, not "might be judged".

The good news is, that 10 years later, I'm in training for a slightly different career, but I sit in a room every week, where I know I'm being assessed all day long on everything I say and do, and there is a particular part of the day where I'm being scrutinised by 2 peer observers and a tutor/assessor, who all sit round me in a circle, waiting for me to slip up, so that they can scribble it on their forms and give me constructive feedback on it later on.

But I am fine, I can handle it, I was a bit anxious the first few times, but I'm quite relaxed about it thesedays, I certainly don't give it any forethought prior to the event... and so I guess I am roof that therapy works, that self-worth can be imbued, and that we can change, as not to live a life of dread.

There is just one thing that I still haven't cracked, that I still dread, and that is driving on highways or unfamilar places at rush hour, the driving on highways is verging on phobic, and I avoid it at all costs, but just the feeling of dread if I know I have to drive somewhere unfamiliar - is awful, and starts days in advance.

I did do a little bit of work on it in therapy, but it was like once I proved that I could go on the highway, I never did it again... whereas really it needs a sustained effort until it seems "normal", and I am choosing of my own free will to take the highway to places.

But I will crack it, it is the one thing that still holds me back in life, so I have to!






0 # my dreadmylifex2 2013-03-26 19:11
My dread is a daily thing. It is a relentless feeling with varying degrees of severity. Sometimes I can name my dread (like dreading my job), sometimes I can't put a finger on what is the exact thing that is causing the feeling of dread at that particular moment.  I think staying busy keeps those feelings at bay. Slowing down somehow allows my mind to ruminate on all of the things in my life that make me feel unhappy or insecure, or scared, etc. I am glad you wrote on this topic, Joanna, because I really need to learn how to be content in my skin. I think my major dread comes from feeling like i am a failure. A failure at motherhood, at friendships, with my body, with relationships in general. I told my therapist today that I am so angry, ANGRY with my grandfather for taking away my ability to feel loved. For taking away my ability to feel comfortable when a man touches me, or complements me, or looks at me.  So I dread a future of being alone. I dread the thought that others will find out that I am not the person they think I am. That my competence and "normalcy" are hard fought, and that I cry a lot, that I feel sad often, that I have an eating disorder...that I have thoughts of dying sometimes.  I guess I dread all the work it takes to look fairly together on the outside. I dread the days that are good, because they are inevitably followed by those that are not so good. I dread not being the daughter my mother wants me to be. I dread the fact that my kids are growing up in a country that is fast losing it's rights. I dread what they will face in their futures.  I dread that they may not have one. 
How do I work on this? With my therapist and by journaling and talking things out with close friends. By reading this blog and seeing how others cope with similar issues. Coming here helps me realize I am not alone (one of my key elements of dread). That is all I can think of to write for now, but I am hopeful that there is a solution.
0 # anxiety reinforcedmylifex2 2013-03-30 09:50
I was supposed to go out with some friends tonight. I even initiated the reunion. I have not seen these friends in about 10 years. This morning, at the 11th hour, I backed out by texting them that I have a sick child and could not make it.  the reality?? Dread.  Dread and anxiety of seeing people who I fear will look at me and see how bad I look. But I am relieved that I am able to just tuck my head back into my shell and not exert the energy to deal with the challenge. I know this is not right, but I live my life with the slogan over my head that reads "AS SOON AS I FIX THIS, THEN I WILL DO 'THAT' "
this is a very frequent type of thing i fact, my best friend, who was going to babysit for me, told me that she KNEW I was going to back out. I feel dissapointed in myself for letting my friends down, but I also feel relieved.

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