6 Ways To Cope With Uncertainty

If there’s one thing certain about life, it’s that it brings us seasons of uncertainty. Farmers and ranchers know this for a fact. Prices, weather, and a host of other changeable variables can fill our days with uncertainty.

Our emotional responses can run the gamut from “anxiety, fear, anger, and hurt, to blame and shame,” says Robert Fetsch, a Colorado State University Extension specialist emeritus working in the department of human development and family studies. “Fear and anxiety cause us to wonder how we’re going to survive the present difficulty; how we’re going to survive shortages of money and resources.”

When uncertain circumstances trigger negative emotions, it’s important to remember that we’re normal. We’re very likely not sick, and our relationships probably haven’t gone to the dogs as much as we think. We’re just pretty good people dealing with tough times.

“When we feel threatened or when we’re hurting, it’s normal to feel fear and anxiety,” says Fetsch. “Those feelings originate in the old flight-or-fight responses our ancestors experienced when threatened.”

Choosing to fight the threats with constructive responses can restore a sense of control over circumstances that have seemingly spun out of control. Fetsch offers six suggestions.

Rally the forces. Whether you’re an army of one or a family of eight, tackle the uncertainty head on with all the creativity you’ve got. “Identify the threat you’re most worried about and figure out how much control you have over it,” says Fetsch. “Focus on what you can control.”

Expose the uncertainty. Be honest and open with yourself and others about the depth of difficulty and uncertainty surrounding financial or production challenges. In family farming operations, Fetsch suggests discussing the uncertainties at a family meeting involving the major stakeholders. These include all the individuals who have some vested interest in the farm and its family members – anyone who would feel a sense of being left out if not included in the discussion.

Openly sharing present challenges and vulnerabilities with all members of the family could be an important first step in building the cohesion needed to solve tough problems and overcome stubborn roadblocks.

“The root of many financial problems is a serious communication or relationship problem,” says Fetsch. “If you are unsuccessful solving relationship problems on your own, it may be time to seek the assistance of a professional counselor, a licensed marriage and family therapist, or a psychologist.”

Build a vision. At another family meeting, where all distractions have been removed, write a shared vision to reclaim control over the future.

“A shared vision is a target that beckons,” says Fetsch. “A family who agrees on a shared vision works together to achieve that vision. Having a shared vision propels each of us to get out of bed most mornings with a smile, an energy, and an enthusiasm that spurs us to take another step to make our family’s shared vision real today, tomorrow, and the day after.”

The vision statement might address short-term goals as well as those to be attained in three to five years or longer. “Close your eyes and dream about the future of your family and farm,” says Fetsch. “What will it look like? What might it smell like and sound like? Write down the words and phrases that come to you – words perhaps like peaceful, energizing, hopeful, promising. You might write down phrases such as, ‘I see us tightening our belts and meeting every month to make sure we stick to the goals that will let us be solvent in three to five years.’ ”

Gather everyone’s statements, draw out the salient points, and condense these into a sentence or two.

“Writing your vision in one sentence makes it easy to remember every day,” says Fetsch. “One Colorado ranch family’s shared vision was, ‘We want our family ranching to be harmonious, consensual, enjoyable, and profitable.’ They put the words on plaques so each family could display it in their homes. It took them a year to create their shared vision and several years to achieve it.”

After writing a shared vision, decide on the objectives – or action steps – needed to accomplish the vision.

Choose a decision-making style. “Autocratic decision making means one person in the family makes the decision and the others live with it,” says Fetsch. “That can work well in some families, but in an extended family of eight adults, for instance, there are seven potential saboteurs.”

Potential saboteurs include anyone who disagrees with the decision or who feels disregarded by being left out of the decision-making process. Human nature being what it is, the saboteurs drag their feet, refusing to invest themselves fully in the processes needed to make the decision a success. In this way, they sabotage the outcome of the decision.

Democratic decision making – where the majority rules – is an improvement over autocratic decision making because each person has a voice and a vote. But those who disagree with a decision approved by the majority remain as potential saboteurs.

Though time-consuming, decision making by consensus is an ideal alternative, says Fetsch.

“Consensus is the process of communicating, problem solving, and negotiating major issues until no family member has any major objections to the decision,” he says. “All the major stakeholders agree they will live with the decision and not sabotage it.

“Case studies have shown that intergenerational ranch families who use a consensus decision-making strategy show improved family functioning, family satisfaction, self-esteem, family coping levels, and reduced family strains, stress, and depression,” he says.

Focus on others’ emotional well-being. Do your part to contribute to the emotional well-being of others in the family and those involved in the farm. This empowers others to fulfill their unique role in the family and in the farming operation.

“Listen well to everyone’s ideas about how to cope with the problems associated with the family and the farm,” says Fetsch. “Spend one-on-one time regularly with each family member. Show them that they can count on you and your strength and resilience.

“Husbands, notice the vital role your wife is playing and tell her how much you appreciate what she is doing in ways that she will hear you,” he says. “Show affection to your partner. Remember that your partner can be your best ally. Make your relationship a positive strength that you can count on. The two of you plus your kids can all work together to solve problems.”

Find a place of peace. “Draw strength from places of peace – a garden, your favorite place on the farm, relationships within and outside your family, your faith, or spirituality,” says Fetsch.

These places of peace may offer the quietude needed for reflection on perplexing uncertainties. In the silence, suggests Fetsch, your intuition may indeed hear insightful answers to troubling questions.

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Robert Fetsch



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