For many PDAers anxiety is present even before a demand is, many start the day waking up anxious knowing a string of demands await them. It’s impossible to remove all demands so even reducing them to the bare minimum might mean some PDAers still wake anxious (though considerably less so).
Feeling anxious in the lead up to a demand might be unpleasant, it might make the individual less willing to face the demand, might make them display negative moods and/or behaviours, might make it harder to deal with any demands in the meantime. It’s like waiting for an important test or a trip to the dentist, except the demand is often something most people find easy to do rather than difficult.
Things which cause anxiety before demands are present:
Not knowing how we will react.
Many PDAers have little to no idea how they will respond to something until they are actually responding. This is one of the unpredictable things about PDA, our actions are determined by so many things (what the demand is, any expectations placed on us by others, environment, sensory issues, spoons, how anxious we are, what other demands we are/have been dealing with, ect) that it can be difficult to predict how we will react.
We don’t know whether we will be able to complete the demand, how much of it or how well we will be able to do it, whether it will take up all our energy or not, whether we will have a meltdown or shutdown trying to do the demand.
Not knowing can make us feel powerless and trapped.
Knowing how we’ve reacted in the past.
Knowing how we’ve reacted to demands in the past can make us feel anxious about it repeating, especially if we reacted negatively or our reactions caused us or others harm. We can’t always control our reactions, more so when we are in fight/flight/freeze mode, knowing we might repeat past behaviours even when we don’t want to can cause anxiety.
Not knowing when a demand may occur.
Many demands are unpredictable, we can’t always tell when a demand will crop up and we don’t always know what will be percieved as a demand and what won’t. Knowing a demand could occur but not knowing what or when can cause anxiety, it can make us want to hide or need to control our environment and the people in it to try to reduce the chances of unpredictable demands.
Knowing when a demand may occur.
Every day is filled with predictable demands (getting up, wearing clothes, brushing teeth, eating, using the toilet, going to school, washing dishes, talking to family, going to bed), some demands are nearly impossible to avoid. Knowing we have to do some demands everyday means we often wake with anxiety about having to do these demands. Knowing there are extra demands on top of these or some specific demands (such as someone’s birthday, going on holiday, having an activity planned, doctors appointments, having a friend round, ect) can mean we have even more anxiety than normal. Not to mention all the smaller demands surrounding each demand (such as having to brush teeth before going to the dentist, waking at set times so as not to be late, dressing a set way, speaking to people, ect).
The wait up till a demand can often be worse than the actual demand, because waiting brings a sense of dread and anticipation.
Not knowing how others will react to our reactions.
It can be hard to guess how others will react to our reactions to demands. Will they be angry? will they accept our avoidance or force us to act? will the help us or guilt trip us in the hopes of forcing compliance? will they be understanding?
Not knowing can make us anxious, it makes us unsure how to act and unsure how to manage our demand avoidance, it makes us wary and unwilling to risk trying for fear of a negative and hostile reaction from others.
Knowing how others have reacted to our reactions in the past.
Knowing that someone has reacted badly to our reactions in the past will make us wary to be in the same situation again for fear of a similar reaction again. Just knowing a demand might occur which will create the same or a similar reaction will make us anxious. Even a positive response from someone might make us anxious if it creates an expectation to repeat a demand. Hence why praise can sometimes cause PDAers to avoid certain activities.
It can be difficult to know how to manage demands when just the thought of a possible demand can create anxiety. For some not knowing any possible demands causes more anxiety than knowing, so for these individuals having structure can help, for others knowing causes more anxiety than not knowing so structure makes this worse, for many a mix of structure and unpredictability works best. Some PDAers feel such intense anxiety that they need to control every aspect of their environment and those within it, this makes it even harder to manage unpredictable demands though and can sometimes make things harder overall, for some, having control is the only way to cope. Some find they experience little anxiety ahead of demands while others experience intense anxiety. Every PDAer is different so finding what works for each individual is best, and remembering that it’s likely to change is important too.