Seven Steps to Reduce Stress on the Farm
As the backbone of our communities, agriculture focuses on the health of farms, environment, crops and animals – but now there is a focus also on the farmer, family and farm employees. The nature of farming has unique challenges and stressors that only those imbedded in them understand.
“The topic of farm stress management and farm resiliency has gained interest in the last 18 months,” stated Shannon Dill, Extension Educator with the University of Maryland. “Whether the pandemic, markets, health care or media have increased the conversation, it is an important one to have.”
Extension programs have been stepping to the plate to help farmers. Dill is a member of an expert team of extension educators who, with the support from a NorthEast SARE grant and a partnership with USDA NIFA and Maryland Department of Agriculture, have created and expanded resource tools for managing farm stress.
While ordinary stress occurs on a regular basis, sustained distress over longer periods of time can cause safety risks for you and those around you. On the farm sustained distress can affect a person’s ability to cope, make sound decisions, and adopt new practices associated with their health, finances, regulatory, and production practices.
As spring arrives there is much to do around the farm – cleaning up from winter, preparing for planting season and timing everything just right to avoid the late frost or spring thunderstorm. It is easy to put health care and personal wellness on hold, but they should also be part of the preparations for the growing season.
Here are seven ideas to manage stress on the farm Dill recommends:
- Have a plan and get organized
Gather your team of family members and employees to develop a plan for activities and responsibilities. Writing out the to-do list, timeline and who is responsible will help prioritize and delegate tasks.
- Try to get a good night’s sleep
It can be difficult to sleep well during stressful times, but sufficient rest is key to staying healthy. Have a night-time routine in place and reduce the use of electronics.
- Build your support team and communicate
We all need help sometimes. Develop a team of experts, advisors, friends and family that can support you and your farming operation. And know when to ask for help. Keep communication lines open and be honest about your struggles and be willing to listen to others’ concerns.
- Watch your diet and nutrition
Stress eating or not eating can be tempting in times like this. A balance of fruits, vegetables, and proteins will help your body and mind stay healthy. Increase your water intake and reduce processed and fast food.
- Limit alcohol and other drugs
Watch your intake of alcohol or other drugs, and discuss use with a doctor or mental health professional. There are a number of resources for farmers feeling overwhelmed or hopeless.
- Take a time out
It is hard to imagine taking time out of the day when there is so much to do but recharging is important. Perhaps it is engaging in prayer, meditation, or physical exercise for your mental, physical, and spiritual health. Just 10 or 15 minutes can help you feel refreshed and ready to focus again.
- Keep each other accountable
Talk with friends and family regularly to hold each other accountable to healthy habits. It is ok to ask, “Are you ok?”, “Are you sleeping alright?”, or “Have you eaten today?”
Multiple resources are available as the importance of stress management has grown. A national database of resources is available at https://soygrowers.com/soyhelp-national-resources-info/. Promoting safety efforts such as these have been made available to farmers by the soy checkoff.
More resources are available on Farm Stress Management at www.go.umd.edu/farmfamily. Choose from Financial Resources, Stress Management, or Legal Resources to find a variety of online information, guides, and tools developed to help in each of these areas.
Also, UM Extension and the University of Delaware Extension worked together to develop their publication Farm and Farm Family Risk and Resilience Guide to Extension Educational Programming. UDE offers further resources at https://www.udel.edu/academics/colleges/canr/cooperative-extension/nutrition-wellness/got-your-back/.
The goal of all these efforts is to raise awareness, provide training and build educational resources for communities struggling with mental and behavioral health challenges.