by: Sarah Noggle, Extension Educator, ANR, Paulding County & Chris Zoller, Extension Educator, ANR, Tuscarawas County
Daily, farmers are taxed with challenges. We think of farmers as superheroes. Superheroes have some sort of extraordinary power, but at times their shield is not enough to deal with what is coming their way. The weakness Superman had was kryptonite, and like Superman, farmers usually can only fight off so many scenarios being thrown at them. The day-to-day tasks of managing a farm can cause stress and frustrations. Add to this the impact of COVID-19 on farm commodities, and it’s obvious the strain takes its toll on everyone.
Sean Brotherson, North Dakota State University Extension, shares stress and mental health, management tips.
Why is it that some farmers can handle lots of stress and others very little? Researchers who have examined differences between successful and unsuccessful stress managers have identified three key factors. First, individuals vary in their capacity to tolerate stress. For example, prolonged exertion and fatigue that would be only mildly stressful to a young farmer but may prove very difficult for an older farmer or someone with a heart defect. Emergencies on the farm, delays, and other problems that a confident farmer takes in stride may be a stumbling block for one who feels inadequate. While part of an individual’s stress tolerance is inborn, a crucial part depends on the quality of coping skills practiced. Learning to cope successfully with a stressor once makes it easier the next time.
A second factor is feeling in control. Successful stress managers know how to accept those stressors out of their control – the weather, their height, stock market fluctuations – and how to effectively manage those stresses within their control – such as neck tension, temper flare-ups, or record keeping.
Finally, the attitudes, perceptions, and meanings that people assign to events determine a large part of their stress levels. A person has to perceive a situation as stressful or threatening to experience stress. If you think your dog is barking in the middle of the night because of a vandal, you will experience more stress than if you suspect a skunk has wandered into your yard.
Stress can be defined as energy in a blocked or chaotic state. Individuals should seek to develop calm, free-flowing energy that promotes harmony and balance in a person’s body, psyche, and soul. To relax and manage stresses well during peak farm/ranch stress seasons – planting and harvesting – takes discipline and daily practice at controlling events, attitudes, and responses.
Following are some techniques individuals may adopt to gain control.
Plan ahead. Don’t procrastinate.
- Before planting and harvest, discuss who can be available to run for parts, care for livestock, etc.
- Set priorities about what has to be done today and what can wait until tomorrow. Plan your time.
- Say no to extra commitments that you do not have time to do.
- See the big picture: “I’m glad that tire blew out here rather than on that next hill.”
- List all the stresses you now 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.
- Focus on relaxing your body and mind. Keep only that muscle tension necessary to accomplish the task.
- Tune in to your body. Notice any early signs of stress and let them go.
- Take care of your body. Exercise regularly and eat well-balanced meals.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes, using alcohol or other drugs, or using tranquilizers or sleeping pills.
- If your health allows, tense and then relax each part of your body from toes to head, one section 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 enjoy. See the sights; hear the sounds; smell the smells. Enjoy. Then go back to work feeling refreshed.
- Think positive thoughts: “I can and will succeed.”
- Look for the humor in things that you do.
- Find someone with whom you can talk about your worries and frustrations.
- Seek help when you need it. There are times when all of us can benefit from professional advice or support.
Depending upon your situation, having a friend or relative to share your concerns may suffice. Other times, you may benefit most from a trained professional. The following are resources we hope you find useful.
- Ohio State University Extension Ag Crisis Website: osu.edu/AgCrisis
- North Dakota State University Extension: https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/farmranchstress
- Michigan State University Extension: https://www.canr.msu.edu/managing_farm_stress/
- Reach out to someone for help by contacting your local county health department or Alcohol Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services (ADMHS) board to learn what agencies are available to help you. Resources by county are available here: https://u.osu.edu/cphp/ohio-mental-health-resource-guides/
- Iowa Concern Hotline (staffed 24/7 & provides Ohio specific information) 1-800-447-1985
- National Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255
So remember, like Superman, farmers can’t always hold up their shield to fight off all the scenarios being thrown at them. It’s okay to don your cape and reach out. Mental health challenges affect one in four adults according to a survey conducted by the World Health Organization in 2017. Even in our rural communities, there are sources of help. Additionally, reach out to OSU Extension in any of the 88 counties and we can point you in the right direction.