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CONTROL FEAR: A barrage of news coverage on COVID-19 (the current coronavirus) cases and casualties has produced a certain level of fear. Farmers have had some of the same reactions as they process fears in farming.

Don’t let fear become extreme fright

There are four reactions to fear.

On a recent trip to the Dollar Store, I heard the cashier coughing and wheezing as I walked in. I contemplated walking right back out. But I really needed some greeting cards, and let’s face it, that’s the cheapest place to buy them. Being that she was the only cashier, I began devising a plan for moving through the checkout transaction with as little contact as possible.

Just a few weeks ago, I would have thought, “Poor thing, she’s miserable, hope she feels better.” Instead, now I’m also thinking, “Don’t touch her, keep your distance and remember to use the hand sanitizer when you get in the car.”

The constant barrage of news coverage on the latest number of confirmed cases of and deaths from COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 2019, the current coronavirus) has brought about a certain level of fear.

Fear is an innately unpleasant experience that can range from mild to crippling — but to some degree, is needed in our lives.

Fear brings about a heightened awareness to risk and precautions for protection. Finding the right balance between what is necessary and warranted, and what is excessive and unfounded, is the challenge.

During the Y2K bug, also called the millennium bug, there was fear of a problem in the coding of computerized systems projected to create havoc around the world at the beginning of the year 2000.

Fearing an economic implosion, people pulled their savings from the bank, printed copies of important documents and hoarded food, among other things. However, at the stroke of midnight Dec. 31, 1999, with little fanfare, the new decade was ushered in — and we all carried on as we did the day before.

COVID-19 is about human health and a threat to life, but it also brings with it a change in lifestyle and spending. That trickles down to an economic tumble as people cancel travel, avoid mass gatherings and hunker down. How far the economy plummets has yet to be seen. It really depends on the level of fear, which has been reflected quite sharply on Wall Street.

The ways fear drives actions

According to an article written by Theo Tsaousides, Ph.D., and published online in Psychology Today, “Actions motivated by fear fall into four types — freeze, fight, flight, or fright. Freeze means you stop what you are doing and focus on the fearful stimulus to decide what to do next (e.g., you read a memo that your company will be laying off people). Next, you choose either fight or flight. You decide whether to deal with the threat directly (tell your boss why you shouldn’t be laid off) or work around it (start looking for another job). When the fear is overwhelming, you experience fright: You neither fight nor flee; in fact, you do nothing — well, you obsess about the layoffs, ruminate and complain, but you take no action. Being continuously in fright mode can lead to hopelessness and depression.”

The four reactions to fear Tsaousides cites are very applicable to how farmers are processing challenges created by weather (such as a spring 2019 repeat), market access, low commodity prices, high input costs and lack of processing. All of this constantly threatens economic stability, which undoubtably impacts family and quality of life.

I’ve seen all four fear reactions in farming. At first, most were in the frozen mode. Now, a greater portion are fighting to mitigate each of these challenges by consolidating, diversifying, changing farming practices and trimming inputs. Some have exited farming. But, if you’ve reached the fright level, please seek help.

Fear can become paralyzing and embed a feeling of hopelessness. Take precautions, but don’t let it win.

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