This spring has been more stressful than most. With what seemed like endless rain and critical planting decisions to be made with imperfect information, I don’t think there is a farmer in Ohio who didn’t experience more stress this spring than during an ordinary planting season.
I don’t believe this stress is going away any time soon as we continue into the growing season dealing with the effects of an extremely wet spring.
Farming is a stressful career choice, but my guess is most farmers wouldn’t trade it for any other job. As a result, farmers must find a way to recognize and manage the stress that comes with operating a farm business.
Too much stress can make a person irritable and more accident-prone and negatively affect their physical health. Prolonged stress has been associated with heart attacks, high blood pressure, cancer, allergies, ulcers, migraine headaches and kidney disease.
This is why it is important to identify stressors in your life, recognize the symptoms of stress and then manage the stress. By doing these things, you can improve your mood, improve your health and make the work place safer.
Common stressors in the life of most farm families include: uncontrollable variables related to weather, government programs and regulations and commodity prices. Population increase in rural areas and on rural roadways, large debt loads, high input costs, production uncertainty, machinery breakdowns, family and business communication difficulties, farm transition uncertainty and long hours are some other causes of stress.
I’m sure most of these sound very familiar and most have learned to accept and deal with stressors of farm life in their own way. However, problems arise when there are too many stressors at one time and it suddenly becomes overwhelming. As the stress levels increase, farm accidents occur more often and decision making tends to become irrational.
It is for these reasons that recognizing the warning signs of stress overload is so important. Stress can surface in the form of physical, emotional/mental or behavior/relationship changes, depending on the person and the situation. People react to stress in different ways and have different thresholds of stress.
To determine if your level of stress has reached an unhealthy level, review this list of symptoms:
• Stomach problems
• High blood pressure
• Impatience and frustration
• Difficulty controlling emotions
• An increase in smoking and/or drinking
• Trouble relaxing and/or sleeping
• Communication issues
• Sarcastic arguments
After determining what symptoms exist, you must find a way to manage the stress in a better way. If symptoms of stress are left unchecked and continue to build, your body’s internal reaction to stress can have serious implications to your health.
Successful stress management includes taking care of both mental and physical health, knowing the warning signs of stress and controlling your reaction to everyday stressors. Easier said than done, right?
The best approach to stress management is to take small steps each day and set realistic goals for yourself as well as the farm business. A few examples of ways to manage stress include:
Take time to eat breakfast in the morning and pack a cooler to take with you if you are working away from the farm. Carrots, Celery, apples, cheese sticks, etc. all are easy to pack in a cooler and are more nutritious than chips, candy bars and other fast food.
When it’s the busy season, maybe it’s only 15 minutes, but taking those few minutes will give you a chance to recharge and step away from the job. It is also a good time to eat one of your nutritious snacks. During less busy times, make a point to spend some time each week that is just for you.
Find time to talk with family or friends. Talking about the situation is a great release and also helps to build supportive relationships.
Physical activity is a good way to help keep you healthy and can be a substitute for negative behaviors. Thirty minutes of exercise releases endorphins, which are natural antidotes to anxiety, stress and depression.
Instead of reliving negative past experiences, decide to spend your time enjoying present positive experiences.
(Julia Nolan Woodruff is an OSU extension educator in Erie County.)