Not to sound like your mom, but you work too hard, don’t eat right, aren’t exercising, and probably aren’t getting enough sleep. These words likely ring true for many Americans but absolutely ring true for farmers working hard to get a handle on another growing season. These behaviors are the perfect recipe for stress and nothing good comes from too much stress, according to John Shutske, Ph.D. Professor & Extension Specialist, UW Center for Agricultural Safety & Health. Too much stress can make you accident-prone and over time can have life-threatening health consequences.
We all feel stress at various times from multiple sources whether it is jobs, relationships, financial issues, or even emotional stress. But Shutske, who has 35 years of work in agricultural safety, health, wellness, and stress management, notes farmers have additional stress that can range from long hours to get a crop in, bad weather, equipment break downs, and low prices.
Farming ranks in the top 10 of the most stressful occupations in the U.S. Farmers also have the distinction of having the highest rate of death due to stress-related health conditions like heart disease, hypertension, ulcers, or nervous difficulties, Shutske notes. So, recognizing symptoms of stress can be critical for farmers.
As a farmer, you and your health are your most important asset. As such, they should be managed like any other business asset. In the case of mental health that means making conscious choices, pursuing healthy living practices, and seeking social support.
It is important to prepare physically and emotionally to deal with stress. Here are some steps you can take to help manage stress:
- Eat Right: It sounds simple, but we don’t always do it! No farm operator would ever dream of feeding their animals lousy feed or heading out to the field in a combine or chopper with a half-filled tank of low-grade diesel fuel to complete harvest. Yet when the rush season rolls around, we fill our bodies with cheap fast food and other low-nutrition junk. Or worse, we don’t eat at all!
- Get Moving: Exercise is a natural and healthy stress reliever. Physical activity provides an outlet for the extra energy fueled by the chemicals released in the body during stressful situations. Exercise stimulates and can increase the size of the parts of the brain that keep our stress response in check, as well as those needed for good decision-making and problem-solving. So, go take that walk around the proverbial “barn” after you finish up dinner.
- Keep Your Sense of Humor: Laughter changes our perception of an adverse situation and relieves us from the cycle of stress. It’s easier to laugh and regain perspective when we’re around other people, which is a reason why gathering places like coffee shops, restaurants, sporting events, and churches are such popular places during difficult times.
- Avoid Unhealthy De-Stress Methods: One of the unfortunate consequences of too much stress is an increased risk of drug, alcohol, or tobacco use and abuse. These substances may alter or numb our perceptions in the short-term, but usually make challenging problems worse in the longer-term.
- Talk, Talk, Talk: Have you ever been asked “What’s bugging you?” only to find yourself clamming up and not wanting to talk? This common reaction isn’t always harmful. However, openly discussing, and airing problems, concerns, fears, and frustrations is constructive and healthy. This is especially true if we can move from being “cranky” to actively addressing the problem. So, communicate and do so freely.
- Identify Your Network: Friends, extended family, church members, and others in the community can often provide needed support. No matter who we talk to, vocalizing our concerns can help alleviate confusion and tensions that compound the feelings of stress.
- Stay Current on Agriculture Industry Trends: We’re never too old to learn. Thankfully, there are many informal educational opportunities through local Extension offices, universities, technical colleges, university research stations, and private sources such as crop consultants, veterinarians, and sales reps. Self-education can lower stress by providing us with a mental roadmap that directs planning and decision-making.
- Plan to Clarify Long-term Goals: Although we might dislike paperwork, well-maintained records and evidence of a long-term plan are almost always required by lenders and others who allocate resources. Thorough planning requires an objective examination of current resources and future goals. These positive actions enhance the functioning of our brains and serve to create positive cycles of change and growth.
- Plan and Check-ins for Family and Friends: Have you ever missed a special event with a loved one because you were overwhelmed with work around the farm? Many of us have. While it might be unrealistic to shut down a complex operation for a couple hours, we often miss family events because we do not go through the effort of planning and scheduling. Missing these events can result in feelings of guilt, anger, regret, and loss. By setting aside a few minutes each month to record important dates, events, and meetings, we can better prioritize our schedules to prevent ourselves from missing important moments.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, help is available. Speak with a counselor today at (800) 273-8255 or (800) 273-TALK. You can also find more information here.