By Emily Wilmes
There is no question that farming can be a stressful business. There is an ever-changing schedule to manage, plants and animals to care for, and a million things to keep track of. A big problem in this equation is while farmers are so busy caring for everything else, they sometimes forget to care for themselves.
I know that stress, like many things, is just a part of the job. However, our ability to manage stress can make a difference in how we react to the various aspects of farming. Stress management may not seem like the most important topic to farmers, but it is critical to your health and your success.
While stress management is a part of your mental health, it actually starts with attending to your physical health. If we don’t feel good physically — when we are sore or tired — it only compounds our stress and makes our physical ailments worse.
I know “get enough sleep and eat balanced meals” can sometimes feel like a laughable piece of advice during planting season, but it’s so important. Sleep is our body’s chance to recharge and recover from a day’s worth of demanding physical work. It also gives our brains a much-needed rest. Adults should be getting seven to nine hours of sleep every night.
When it comes to diet, avoid excessive coffee, pop, and candy bars. Yes, they are a quick fix and easy to grab and go, but they have few benefits. Extra sugary foods especially can lead to a sugar crash and leave you feeling more exhausted than you did before. Caffeine is a stimulant and can be responsible for headaches, decreased sleep, and lack of calmness. Swap the bad drinks and snacks for water and well-balanced meals. This may seem impossible, but your body and brain need a break anyway, so taking 10 minutes to stop and eat a sandwich will help your physical and mental health.
One final step in your physical health is exercise. This may seem a little counterintuitive, as farmers are on their feet and being active all day. However, that’s part of the job, not necessarily something you are choosing to do for your health.
Exercise does not need to be anything long or strenuous. Try to squeeze in a 10 minute walk around the yard or down the driveway. Take the time to make this about your health and well-being, however difficult that may seem.
I remember growing up on my family’s farm and taking a break for myself by taking the half-mile walk to get the mail. Those minutes away from the craziness were great for my body, and my stress. Another way you could exercise and help your body feel better is by doing some stretching. Just learning a few simple stretches and doing them throughout the day can reduce soreness and give you two minutes of mindfulness.
Our physical health is important to stress management. Just as important is our mental health and awareness. It’s natural for us to react to stressors, but how we react makes a big difference.
It can be hard to remember sometimes, but try to keep in mind that there are certain things that are simply out of our control. We cannot control the weather. We cannot control the markets. We cannot control what other people do. What can we control? We can control our actions. We can control our attitudes. By focusing on what we have control over, we feel more “in control” and less stressed.
Part of being in control includes planning. For each day or week, make a quick written plan. Be sure to do this in advance so you have time to determine if you need anything for the tasks. You want to start planting next week — did you get that part fixed yet? Having time to prepare will reduce stress in the moment. A note about planning is to keep in mind even the best laid plans may not come to fruition. Remember that it’s likely due to those circumstances outside of your control, and adjust your plan accordingly.
Speaking of control, I already mentioned how you can’t control other people. However, you can control how you interact with them. In any situation, open communication is vital to a good farm culture, and to stress management. Communication applies to many different areas. Talk with your family and employees you work with on the farm. Let them know what is happening and what needs to be done. If issues arise, let them be a part of the solution.
You should also have open communication with your vendors and lenders. Make sure they know and understand what is going on with the farm.
The best relationships I see are those where communication is open and happens often. Lastly, communicate with friends or family outside of the farm. We all need to let off some steam every now and then, and having someone we can turn to just to talk is a great way to relieve stress.
You can also manage your stress by controlling how you react to it. Relaxation techniques may seem like something for a yoga studio, but they should be used everywhere for everyone. Remember that walk I mentioned earlier? Use that as a way to disconnect when you feel like you may have a negative reaction to something. Also, just sitting quietly and focusing on breathing can help slow down a racing mind. Do whatever works for you. The important thing is to do something.
Managing stress may seem like just another thing you don’t have time for. However, you should make the time for it. Knowing how to take care of your physical and mental well-being will help you feel less stressed and likely more productive.
If you still feel like something isn’t right or you can’t get a handle on your stress, ask for help from the Minnesota Farmer Assistance Network at 1 (877) 898-6326.
Emily Wilmes is an educator with the University of Minnesota Extension.