Farmers: Don’t be victims of stress

It’s that busy time a year, when trying to get the crops planted and worrying about getting the first cutting of hay off is weighing heavily on every farmer’s mind.

This seasonal stress is added to the already existing stress of keeping up with all the day-to-day activities. Along with these “normal seasonal” and “day-to-day” stressors, the dramatic increases in agricultural input costs may be raising stress levels on our farms to very high levels this spring.

Death rates

Anyone involved in farming knows it can be a very stressful occupation, but did you know that studies by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health have shown that farmers have the highest rate of death as a result of stress-related conditions?

Heat stress, artery disease, hypertension, ulcers and nervous disorders top the list of killers.

Farmers cope with different stressors than the average worker, many of which they have no control over. Even though farming is a stressful career choice, most farmers would tell you they 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. 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 will improve your mood and make the work place safer.

Steps

The first step to managing stress is to understand what stress is and what causes us to feel stressed. Stress is energy in a blocked or chaotic state. Sometimes it occurs suddenly, like when the cows are out and heading toward a busy road, or stress can build up over a period of time.

Stress may be caused by several little things going wrong one after another during a single day, or maybe it’s an ongoing conflict with another family member involved in the farm that has been adding stress to your life over an extended period of time.

Common stressors

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 questions and uncertainty; long hours; and long to-do lists, to name a few.

I’m sure most of these sound very familiar to you, and most of us have just learned to accept and deal with stressors of farm life in our own way. The problem arises 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 becomes irrational. It is for this reason that recognizing the warning signs of stress overload is so important.

Forms

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.

After determining what symptoms exist in your life, 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 the 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.

Management

Some example of ways to manage stress:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Make 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 much more nutritious than chips, candy bars and other fast food.
  • Take a break. 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 your family or friends. Sharing your feelings is a great release and also helps to build supportive relationships.
  • Physical activity is a good way to help keep you healthy as well as let off some stream.
  • Humor is always a good way to ease the tension. Laughing actually releases hormones that reduce anxiety.
  • Learn to enjoy the moment, instead of reliving negative past experiences. Decide to spend your time enjoying present positive experiences and those to come in the future.
  • About the Author

    (Julia Nolan Woodruff is an OSU extension educator in Ashland County.) More Stories by Julia Nolan Woodruff

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