Cracking the code to coping with anxiety in real time

What planning my garden teaches me about coping with anxiety

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I know it’s only February and it seems like it’s really early to start thinking about planning a garden, but the truth is in my corner of Canada our growing season is typically really short – like June through the end of August into the beginning of September kind of short. This means that for a more prolific vegetable garden, we have to start planting and growing things inside in the next couple weeks. My mom actually has already started.

As I’m sitting here contemplating the piles of seeds, pots and potting mix I have waiting for me, I’m feeling a TON of anxiety and I’m totally caught up in so many of the what-ifs.

What if I plant too much and there’s not enough room in our garden for everything? But then also what if I don’t plant enough and our garden doesn’t produce enough food? And by enough, what do I really mean?

I’m trying to do companion planting this year, so how am I supposed to organize everything so that it gets enough sunlight, but not too much sunlight and heat, but also so that it has room to grow, but that there’s no wasted space?

I’m clearly not coping with my anxiety and I might be overthinking it. Just maybe.

So, since this is something that I’m going to be working through anyway, I thought I would share the process of coping with anxiety with you so you see – in real time – how I process my own anxiety and overwhelm that is not OCD related, because that’s a completely different picture which we’ll talk more about next time.

Cracking the code to coping with anxiety in real time

Coping with Anxiety – Step 1 – Name the Core Fear

The first step I take when coping with anxiety, besides identifying that I’m overthinking, is to name the fear that I’m most worried about.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are three core fears:

    1. The fear of loss – which in this case would mean that I’ll not plant things at the right time and I’ll lose out on the best parts of the growing season for each plant I plan to grow. So I’ll lose out on potential healthy, organic fruit and veggies I’ll have grown at home.
    2. The fear of the process – which could be about the fear of how much work the garden is going to be this year, if it will be as easy as it was last year (or hopefully easier now that I understand more about our sun zones in the yard). Or maybe I’m being held back by
    3. The fear of the outcome – worrying that I am going to put all of this effort into it and it won’t be as successful as it was last year when I barely did anything, wished the plants well and said ‘may the odds be ever in your favour.’ What if I put in all this time, mental and physical energy – and it doesn’t work out?

Having written out the three options now, I know for me in this scenario, it’s the fear of the outcome that’s holding me back and causing all these buckets of anxiety.

Cracking the code to coping with anxiety in real time

Step 2 – Identify the Self- Sabotage Pattern Driving the Anxiety

My next step is to figure out what sabotage style this anxiety related fear is driving. And for me, at this moment, I think it’s perfectionism.

I want everything to be perfect, to have all companion planting sorted out, to know where everything is going to go, and to know that things like my lettuce and strawberries are not going to get crispy with all the beautiful sun our yard gets.

The garden was so easy last year: a gentle way to get my day started, sitting surrounded by plants and flowers with a cup of tea watching the bees being happy and then getting up to weed and clean things up before starting my ideal. I have this ideal vision of every morning in the spring, summer and early fall – and I really want it to be perfect just as I remember it from last year.

Cracking the code to coping with anxiety in real time

Step 3 – Become Clear on What I Really Want

This might seem confusing because what I said I really wanted was this idyllic morning and a bountiful garden. But I think what I actually really want is to have a bountiful tomato crop, and everything else is going to be just a bonus.

By identifying the tomato plants as my focus (which I literally just did in the moment of writing this out) everything seems so much less overwhelming. Now, instead of trying to make sure that everything in the garden is thriving and set up for its ultimate success, I can just focus on tomatoes.

Immediately after discovering that primary focus I feel so much lighter.

In my Recover Program and my Optimize Program we talk about the three tier planning system, and it is essentially what I just described. You focus and choose one primary task for the day and then everything else becomes less important. It’s a very helpful strategy to help me cope with anxiety on a regular basis.

Not “not” important. But less important.

This more singular pointed focus almost immediately decreases overwhelm because instead of trying to control the outcome of everything and only see success when everything is completed to a successful point – I’m able to step back and look at things from a more objective, calm and non-activated space within my nervous system.

Now I can look at the garden plans with full access to my higher level thinking brain because my stress response is not activated and focused more on survival.

Cracking the code to coping with anxiety in real time

Step 4 – Create an Action Plan

Okay, so now that I have clarity on what I’m really going to be focusing on this year, I know that I can plan everything else around the tomato crop. This simplifies my whole planning process because the tomatoes are the focus and will get the most prime spot in the garden – while everything else will be planted in such a way as to either support the tomatoes, benefit from the tomatoes, or not get in their way.

I’m going to:

  1. Set realistic expectations. My yard is a finite size after all, and there are some other plants I can grow that help support the tomatoes, like beans that apparently deposit nitrogen back into the soil which is something that tomatoes need – who knew.
  2. Expect the unexpected (which is the hardest strategy for coping with anxiety to master). Uncertainty is not my favourite, I’m not going to lie. That being said, when it comes to gardens, I excel at going with the flow. I am going to be sure, though, to put the more delicate tomatoes against our pergola area in the backyard because the damaging hail storms often come from the north and this structure helps prevent damage to the plants especially if I’m not home to run out and put a blanket over them. I anticipate that some of the seeds won’t sprout, the birds might eat some plants, and we’ll face even more unforeseen challenges – and I can’t control any of it. So I have to…
  3. Trust in my creativity and problem solving. I’m sure there will be at least one time this year where I have to adapt the garden plan to meet the changing weather, the location, how are other plants are doing, the dog potentially stealing peas and beans or carrots because they’re his favourite. I believe in my ability to figure it out – and that’s going to be enough.

Well there you have it. Working through anxiety and overwhelm-paralysis in real time. There are just four steps: 1 – Name the core fear, 2 – Identify the self-sabotage style at play, 3 – Become clear on what I really want, and 4 –  Create an action plan.

Not as easy as it sounds if you’re new to the strategy of course, but that’s where having someone who’s been there before to help guide you through this process is invaluable. Time and energy are precious – just sayin’

Cracking the code to coping with anxiety in real time

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The Sound of Sunshine – Michael Franti & Spearhead

Since we were talking about summer in this episode, it made me think of this song that is a regular on my daily pick-me-up playlist. I hope you like it!