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Wise Approaches to Working with Anticipatory Stress and Fear 

Recently my husband and I visited the desert southwest to visit Ancient Puebloan sites. Despite choosing early June to beat the summer heat, a massive heat wave had already blanketed the region as climate change is intensifying at an alarming rate. One morning as we drove to an ancient site, we watched the thermometer rise 20 degrees in 30 minutes! I had recently read about a couple, their child and dog, who all tragically died of hyperthermia during a hike because they were unprepared for the sweltering temperatures. Anticipatory fear arose as I worried about our hike. Will it be too hot? Do we have enough water? These are appropriate concerns that can avert disaster when responded to with wise planning and action.

The problem arises when we get lost in anxiety and lose our ability to have a mindful relationship with it. Anticipatory stress can spiral into doomsday scenarios, self-doubt and paralysis. It can even become addictive and suck the joy and pleasure out of our precious and finite lives. The good news is that bringing compassionate, mindful awareness to our anticipatory stress creates space to see situations with more clarity and supports us in discerning a wise course of action. This practice does not deny that the stress is valid, but it creates a healthier relationship and more agency over our choices.

When I saw that my anticipatory anxiety was becoming reactive and snuffing out my joy of visiting these extraordinary ancient sites, I relaxed and met it with kind, mindful awareness. I discussed my concerns with my husband, we evaluated the length of the hike, the expected temperatures, and how much water we needed. After that, I felt confident we were prepared; I relaxed and enjoyed our beautiful hike. It was hot, but not too hot.