Farmers Should Prioritize Health, Seek Help if Needed
December 2, 2020
Written By Linda Geist
Farmers know that well-maintained equipment is key to success.
Yet they often do not listen to the “check engine” warning signs of stress, says Sean Brotherson, family science specialist for North Dakota State University. Brotherson was the keynote speaker at the recent University of Missouri Crop Management Conference.
“Ag has its own rhythms. It has its own culture,” Brotherson said. When those rhythms go awry, stress can result.
“Health is the most important asset to any operation. If it is the most important asset, it also needs to be the most important priority,” he said.
Many sources of stress, such as weather and prices, are beyond the control of farmers. “You are at the mercy of things,” Brotherson said.
Research from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration ranks farming as one of the top 10 most stressful occupations. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the suicide rate for farmers is 1.5 times higher than the national average.
MU Extension farm health and safety specialist Karen Funkenbusch said that in 2019, farmers faced flood, rains, late planting and uncertainty about commodity prices. Issues beyond a farmer’s control can weigh heavily and lead to depression, anxiety and suicide even in a typical farm season, Funkenbusch said. Debt, illness and injury also add to pressures.
“Farmers, because of their strong and independent nature, often are reluctant to talk about these issues,” she said. “Fortunately, resources are available. If you need help or know of someone who needs help, reach out.”
Funkenbusch says farmers, ranchers and their families should know both the physical and emotional warning signs of stress.
Physical stress signals: headaches, aches of the back and neck muscles, fatigue, labored breathing, weight gain, rising blood pressure, stomach issues, and sweating.
Emotional stress signals: anger, restlessness, irritability, inability to sleep and relax, increased alcohol or drug use, and withdrawal from other people.
Brotherson recommends finding ways to manage a variety of stresses by learning to control events, attitudes and personal responses.
You can control some situations and reduce the pileup of too many stressful events at one time.
- Plan ahead. Don’t procrastinate. Replace worn machinery parts during the off season.
- Before key seasons (harvest, etc.), discuss who can be available to run for parts, care for livestock, etc.
- Set priorities and plan your time. Decide what has to be done today and what can wait until tomorrow.
- Say no to extra commitments that you do not have time to do.
- Simplify your life. If possible, reduce your financial dependence on others.
- Schedule stressful events within your control, such as elective surgery.
How you view situations is a key factor in creating or eliminating stress.
- See the big picture: “I’m glad that tire blew out here rather than on that next hill.”
- List all the stresses you have. Identify those you can change; accept the ones you cannot change.
- Shift your focus from worrying to problem solving.
- Think about how to turn your challenges into opportunities.
- Notice what you have accomplished rather than what you failed to do.
- Set realistic goals and expectations daily. Give up trying to be perfect.
You can mitigate some stress by practicing these recommendations.
- Focus on relaxing your body and mind. Whether you are walking, driving or phoning, do it slowly and relax.
- Tune in to your body. Notice any early signs of stress and let those stressors go.
- Take care of your body. Exercise regularly and eat well-balanced meals.
- Limit your intake of stimulants such as coffee, sodas and tea.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes, using alcohol or other drugs, or using tranquilizers or sleeping pills.
- Tense and then relax each part of your body from toes to head, one part at a time.
- Take a break. Climb down from your tractor and do a favorite exercise.
- Take three deep breaths slowly, easily. Let go of unnecessary stress.
- Stop to reflect or daydream for 10 minutes. Close your eyes and take a short mental vacation to a place you really enjoy.
- Think positive thoughts: “I can and will succeed.”
- Look for the humor in things that you do.
- Balance your work and play. Give time and energy to both of them.
- Find someone with whom you can talk about your worries and frustrations.
- Seek help when you need it. All of us have times when we can benefit from professional help or support.
- Unwind before bedtime. Do stretching exercises, listen to soothing music, clear your mind and be thankful for any blessings you received today.
- Get sufficient and restful sleep.