The life of the farmer is one that has many blessings yet much stress. Life on the farm is always on their mind. While every job has its stressors, the farmer experiences stress a little differently, because as you probably already know, being a farmer is not a typical 9-5 job, rather, it is a way of life. As farmers, the stress is ALWAYS there, you live and work in the same environment, never able to get away. Vacations-forget it! It has been this way for generations-yikes, there is another stressor! I think that the general population doesn’t see or think that a farmer has stress or more stress than they do. However, I beg to differ.
Farming is the backbone of our country. Seriously, we depend on farmers to handle producing our daily basic need for food. Yet, many of us balk at the prices we see in the grocery store. We are all struggling to cope with financial stress in our lives and the farmer is no different. I think most people don’t even realize what it takes and the pressures a farmer is living with or even understand why they keep getting up before the sun rises and not heading back in until long after the sunsets. I think people take farmers for granted and it is high time that they start to realize that without the farmer, our lives would not be the same.
Do you have stress? Are you feeling burned out, overwhelmed, stressed out? I will venture to say that you have said yes to feeling stressed. This year has been overly stressful beyond what we have typically been through. Let’s talk a bit about what is stress, how our body responds to it, common stressors (ones everyone has plus those only farmers can understand), and what to do to help.
What is Stress?
Stress is tension, whether it be from environmental, physical, or emotional sources. It is your body’s reaction to the challenges it faces. Having and dealing with stress is a part of normal daily life. Sometimes stress can be good, like when trying to get ready to give a speech. However, if you are under a constant state of stress, then you are causing more harm than good.
There are different types of stress that people experience. Acute stress is the most common form of stress that a person experiences. It is short-lived and really has no ill-effects on a person. It is easy to manage and cope with. Episodic acute stress is found in those who are “worry-warts”, they tend to be more anxious, nervous people. Everything causes them stress and they blame everything for their stress. Finally, there is chronic stress. This is the most harmful and damaging form of stress. The stress is ALWAYS there, never ceasing, it wears you down.
How Does Your Body Respond to Stress?
Your body is like a well-oiled machine, but under the pressure of stress, it will start to show signs of wear and tear. You become irritable, moody, restless. You can’t sleep, you don’t find enjoyment from things you used to, you feel fatigued. You withdraw from others, get angry easily, maybe you even feel depressed. Physically, there are other changes. Your heart races, your blood pressure increases, you may sweat more, have chest pains, difficulty breathing, the appetite may increase or decrease, you may clench your jaw. Some of these bodily responses can end you up in the emergency room with having a heart attack and being on lifelong medication for the symptoms you are having like high blood pressure meds.
Stressors That Only Farmers are Blessed With:
Some common stressors that everyone experiences are financial, family, work, health, etc. We all know them and have varying degrees of them in our lives. However, the farmer is different. You are a different breed then the rest of us. You have added pressures that most will never know of and now they are even worse with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. It is like the farming community has been crippled beyond belief! This pandemic has taken an already hurting community of people and made it 100 times worse.
The unique stressors that farmers have been blessed or depending on your view, cursed with are:
- Market prices
- Trade policies
- Loan rates
- Farm debt to income ratio
- Insects-like beetles, grasshoppers, aphids
- Weeds and chemical resistant plants
- Diseases of livestock
- Impending weather conditions-drought, heavy rains, etc.
- Injury and illness
- Irregular income
- Lack of immigrant laborers
- The transition or succession of the family’s farm-a fear of failure due to the family history of farming that land, kids not wanting to take over the farm, or parents not ready to pass the farm to the next generation
- Family conflicts-say you own the farm and have a cousin, uncle, another family member that works there but is not pulling their weight and you need to let them go. Pretty hard to fire your family, yet still have to see them all the time.
- Isolation due to the dwindling numbers of fellow farmers. Used to be able to see many farms in your area and now there are fewer because other farmers have sold their land and now subdivisions are popping up everywhere. Also, isolation due to Covid restrictions.
- Covid-19 added stress- such as many fellow farmers/spouses have off-farm jobs to help provide health insurance and possibly with the pandemic, they have lost their jobs and health insurance. Many have the added stress of having their kids home and now homeschooling them, taking care of aging parents without the availability of eldercare. Unable to attend events like livestock auctions where you get to socialize with your fellow farmers.
All of these stressors can be overwhelming and leave a person hopeless. So, how can a farmer cope?
How to Deal with Stress?
You or someone close to you will need to recognize the signs of stress. Watch for changes in mood, changes in sleep patterns, lack of motivation, unpaid bills, increases in illnesses and injuries. Be alert for “red flags,” these include leaving things around the farm in disrepair, including the livestock, wanting to sell land, machinery, or livestock abruptly-wasn’t thought out and planned sale. Other “red flags” are substance abuse and suicidal thoughts.
Once you realize that you are under stress, then you can start taking small steps to deal with it. Most of the time when we feel stressed out, we are feeling like we no longer are in control. This tends to happen when the stress is constant or we are fatigued. Our attitudes and perceptions of a situation will determine how we react to stress. We need to identify what we can control and accept what is out of our realm of control. We can plan ahead and not procrastinate and wait until the last minute to do stuff. We can be proactive and do preventive maintenance on machinery so that it won’t break when we need it and cause unnecessary stress. We can set priorities, say no to extra commitments, all to simplify our lives. Change your mindset from worrying to problem-solving and use positive self-talk. Recognizing what you have accomplished versus what is still left to do.
That’s all fine and dandy, but what can I do during a stressful event. For starters, you can take deep, cleansing breaths to calm and refocus yourself. Eat right and exercise. Walk away and take a break for a few minutes. Look for the humor in the situation. Use stretching, yoga, muscle massage, warm baths, and meditation for finding balance in your life. Also, do something non-farm-related things that you enjoy, like reading a book, watching a movie. It is important to unwind every evening, this way you won’t feel like you are burning the candle at both ends.
Lastly, seek professional help. There is a stigma, around seeing a mental health professional, but they are there to listen and help you when you can no longer help yourself. Think of your mental health and well-being as a vital piece of farm machinery. You would take care and fix a machine that you rely on to get the job done on the farm, why then would you neglect yourself. You are the most important part of the farm. Without you, then there is no farm.
As you can see, stress is all around us. Sometimes it feels like it is fighting us every step we take, two steps forward and twelve back. It is time to stop and look at the big picture, to refocus our attention on keeping ourselves healthy not only physically but mentally as well. Farm life is your obsession, which is your greatest blessing, leaving you stressed beyond measure. The last place any of us want to end up at is the emergency room, hooked up to machines or on life-long medications. So, I urge you to remember that you are vital too.