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Learning to manage farm-related stress

This year the Southeast Area Extension Agents are developing a series of articles covering different strategies to help farmers and ranchers better manage their agricultural entities during tough times. Various topics will be presented and discussed throughout the series including: mental health, finances, livestock care and drought strategies to name a few.

This week will focus on learning to manage farm related stress. As we all know, farming and ranching poses its own set of unique challenges. Machinery breakdowns, high-debt load, disease outbreak, government regulations, commodity uncertainty, weather and a heavy work load are just a few of the stressors that farmers and ranchers deal with on a daily basis. In fact, farming and ranching rank in the top 10 most stressful occupations nationally. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, "farm laborers and owners had the highest rate of deaths due to stress-related conditions like heart disease, hypertension, ulcers and nervous disorders." For these and many other reasons, learning to manage stress is extremely important, and Extension wants to help.

One of the first steps in learning to manage farm-elated stress is to recognize the symptoms. These symptoms are physical, emotional and behavioral:

• Headaches

• Impatience

• Increase in smoking/drinking

• Stomach Problems

• Frustration

• Trouble adapting to change

• Rising blood pressure

• Yelling or outbursts

• Communication problems

• Rapid heart rate

• Depression

• Hard to relax or sleep

• Clenched teeth

• Low self-esteem

• Verbal and physical abuse

Recognizing these symptoms in an already stressed state of mind can be very difficult. Sometimes it takes family or friends to recognize these symptoms in a person. Being self-aware and open to your family and friends' concerns is vital to overcoming and managing stress.

MANAGEMENT TECHNIQUES

There are a plethora of stress management tools available today. Books, dvd's, apps on your smartphone, and websites are just a few of the resources out there to help cope with stress. Activities such as taking a walk, yoga, finding a quiet place, deep breathing or participating in a favorite hobby can alleviate stress. These may sound trite when considering the burdens and amount of stress you may feel, but these are proven activities that will aid in reducing worry and stress. Let's take a look at some techniques that are more relatable to the farm/ranch aspect of managing stress.

• Plan ahead. Replace worn out machinery or fix them during the winter months. Often times, parts are two or three days away, especially on older equipment. Give yourself plenty of time before going into the field.

• Learn to say "no" to the extra things that can wait during the busy times.

• Spend time planning and organizing. "PPPP" Poor Planning Prevents Progress.

• Eliminate the urgent. Finding ways to scale back on the daily chores can provide you with more time to finish projects that are weighing on your mind.

• Have crisis plans in place. Knowing what your next move will be when major stressors pop up can help mitigate a major bout of anger and frustration. Disease outbreak in cattle, potential equipment failures or drought management plans are examples of things for which you can be ready.

• Prior to stressful seasons, like planting and harvesting, delegate jobs. Who is going to go rotate cattle, do the daily chores or service equipment can ease your responsibilities and your mind.

• Take care of yourself. Good nutrition, taking time for leisure activities, following an exercise program, and spending time with family can "reframe" your mind and get you back on the right path before starting the next project.

Now obviously there are many more techniques to use when managing stress. Hopefully this article will help you recognize the stressors in your life and help you get started in becoming more proficient at managing and decompressing those stressors. Please watch for the next Managing in Tough Times articles in the upcoming weeks. And as always, contact your local CSU Extension office for more information. ❖

Resources: http://www.joe.org joe/1980may/80-3-a6.pdf , http://www.aces.edu/pubs/docs/U/UNP-0043/index2.tmpl, http://www.sfp.ucdavis.edu/files/143919.pdf, http://msu.anr.msu.edu/news/learn_to_manage_farming-related_stress_1