By EMILEE DRERUP
Have you heard of farm stress? It’s a hot topic in the agriculture community right now. That’s because with the rainy planting season our farmers have experienced this year, it’s prevalent.
Stress is described as “a physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension” or “a feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands outweigh their resources” by the American Institute of Stress. It’s probably safe to say that we all have experienced stress in our lives at some point, but farm stress is unique because farming itself is a unique job.
Just think about the business itself. Farming is influenced mostly by factors outside of the farmers’ control, like weather, disease, pests and machinery breakdowns.
Farmaid.org, an organization that wants to bring awareness to family farm stress, also points out that farmers usually work alone, which means de-prioritizing their health and well-being to get the job done.
So, what can farmers do? First, they can learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of stress.
When feeling stressed, they should ask:
• Do I have physical symptoms, like sweaty palms or headaches?
• Do my thoughts and feelings change?
• Do I become easily angered or nervous?
• Do I overeat, argue more or withdraw?
These symptoms are part of Michigan State University Extension’s “How Stress Affects You” activity sheet. This activity lists items like above that detail impacts of stress. By identifying which symptoms apply, farmers can better understand how they are affected by stress.
After identifying symptoms of stress, farmers can learn to manage stressors. According to North Dakota State University Extension Service, farmers can manage stress by controlling events, attitudes and responses. Although it’s impossible to control all events, setting priorities about what must be done today and what can wait until tomorrow can help.
When it comes to controlling attitudes, farmers should try to shift thinking from worrying to problem-solving and list the stresses they feel. Then they should identify those that can be changed and work to accept the ones that cannot.
Lastly, control responses. Focus on relaxing the mind. Notice those signs of stress and deal with it before it piles up.
But what about the rest of us? We can help by being prepared. MSU Extension’s “How to Talk with Farmers Under Stress” fact sheet lists the following tips for helping farmers through tough times:
1. Keep an open eye for changes in their demeanor, words, and behaviors: Commonly, farmers under stress may become agitated easily, show little enthusiasm or lose their humor. They may also change their behavior, such as sleeping less, not joining friends for coffee or missing meetings.
2. Practice active listening: Use your ears and eyes to encourage the person you are interacting with to reveal more about their thoughts and feelings. You can also use statements like, “This sounds like a lot to manage. How can I support you?” and “What are you doing to take care of yourself?”
3. Be prepared to deal with conflict: Stress can often prompt angry, agitated behavior. Think about this beforehand and try to resolve the conflict calmly and efficiently. Remember active listening and reframe the situation, explaining the outcome needed.
4. If you think a near-term crisis is likely, act: Ask directly if they have thoughts of suicide. Call 911 if needed. Get help from family and friends, and do not leave the person alone.
There are resources available to help. If you are a farmer who needs to talk or someone who is worried about a farmer, call 1-800-FARM-AID. If you are considering suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK or text 4-Hope to 741-741.
Drerup is the family and consumer sciences educator at the Ohio State University Extension of Hancock County.