Anticipating the Worst
Anticipatory Anxiety (aka expecting the worst, worst case scenario thinking, negative outlook, catastrophizing) is a burden most farmers struggle with.
Let’s break down what Anticipatory Anxiety is and how it looks.
When we find ourselves being fearful or anxious about an imagined future scenario, that is Anticipatory Anxiety. To compound the worry, the future scenario is perceived as being outside of our control. For example, the planter/drill is ready to go, seed and fertilizer are purchased and delivered…and now you wait while the forecast shows chances of rain every day for the next 5 days. Your thoughts automatically drift to that place of:
· “I’m not going to get the crop in on time”,
· “they are already predicting drought conditions this summer so there’s no way I’ll have enough hay to feed through the winter”
· “if the markets don’t improve, I’m not going to be able to make my payments”
· “this is going to be a bad season; I just know it”
· “I’ll never find enough help”
…and the list of worst-case scenario thinking could go on and on.
What happens when these types of thoughts overwhelm us by becoming repetitive and intrusive? Common symptoms of Anticipatory Anxiety are feelings of excessive worry and apprehension, panic attacks, chest pain, lack of sleep, inability to concentrate, trouble making decisions, stomach issues, and headaches to name a few.
And you know what? There may be drought, you may be short of help, the crop may get put in late. That is the difficult reality of farming. The endless uncertainty is what often drives worst case scenario thinking. When worries take over, our brains are not able to effectively plan, prioritize, or concentrate which then takes a toll even if the current circumstances are ok.
This leads us to the big question about how to manage these intrusive thoughts and worries. There are no quick fixes, but there are things you can do!
1. Work on getting sleep, eating healthy, drinking fluids, and taking medication as prescribed.
2. Develop a relaxation response you kick into gear upon the first indication your thoughts are turning to an unhelpful place. A relaxation response can be deep breathing, meditating, praying, going for a walk, taking a shower, and/or progressive muscle relaxation.
3. Be aware of your self-talk. What are you saying to yourself? Is it encouraging or is it putting yourself down? Are you reminding yourself of past failures, shortcomings, and poor decisions? Your self-talk should be like what you would tell your best friend if they were struggling. Phrases like “I can do this”, “I’ve done hard things before and done well”, “I am a good farmer”, “It’s ok to ask for help”, “Things will work out”, etc.
4. Distract yourself with a project, podcast, music, reading or a conversation with friends and family.
5. Face your fear! Dissect it. Think through it. Make a plan to address it. This helps bring your worry or anxiety from the emotional part of your brain into the thinking part.
6. Reframe your thinking. To reframe is to frame or express differently. This means taking the unhelpful or negative thought and switching it up. Maybe it is telling yourself – “I can’t control the weather, so I’ll plan and do the best I can”, “I have a list of rainy day items to complete, so I’ll focus on those”, “I’ve put out a lot of contacts that will result in finding an employee”.
This all sounds great but yes, the tough part is implementing. First step - notice when you are having unhelpful thoughts or experiencing anticipatory stress. Second step - start with a small goal of implementing one of the above six ideas. Experiment and see how it goes. Find what works for you.
Anticipatory anxiety can feel overwhelming and out of control. As always, if you find yourself struggling to make steps forward, reach out to a support person in your life. A support person might be a spouse, an adult child or friend, a farming partner, clergy, doctor, or a counselor. You don’t have to struggle alone!