Weathering the Storm: Tools to Help Farmers Manage Stress [guest post]

The COVID-19 pandemic is causing pain for every part of society. Beyond just a health crisis, the virus has upended almost every aspect of our lives. For most Americans, daily life today is much different than it was even a few short months ago. Some may have faced health challenges, some may have faced economic challenges, and all of us are feeling more isolated as social distancing measures are implemented to stop the disease. But even before COVID-19 spread across the country, many farmers faced challenging times due to the already depressed farm economy, low commodity prices and unpredictable weather.

Recently, POET partnered with Farmers Business Network℠ to host experts from South Dakota State University (SDSU) for a webinar to provide strategies and coping mechanisms for individuals in agriculture facing stressful situations or circumstances. The workshop was presented by Dr. Krista Ehlert and Adele Harty with the SDSU Extension Rural Behavioral Health Team.

Here are three steps toward reducing the impacts of stress that Ehlert and Harty shared during the live webinar:

Step 1: Identifying Stress

Stress can manifest itself with physical symptoms including headaches, nausea, high blood pressure, backaches or upset stomach. Mental symptoms can include anxiety, hopelessness, anger or depression. Changes in behavior or actions can cause individuals to sleep too little or too much, under eat or over eat, abuse substances like drugs or alcohol, lash out or become withdrawn.

Weathering-the-Storm-signs-of-stress

Cortisol, a hormone released by the body when an individual is under stress, can have several negative health consequences when present in the body for an extended period. Cortisol also makes it difficult for individuals under stress to see situations clearly and process their emotions. 

Step 2: Managing Stress

Because of this, Ehlert and Harty outlined three tools to utilize when a stressful situation arises even if they’re in the fog of stress.

Self-Talk

The first is to use self-talk. According to Ehlert “the body hears what the mind thinks. So choose your thoughts on purpose. It's being able to tell yourself that you can overcome any challenge.” Ehlert encouraged participants to choose words to repeat when in a stressful situation in order to control thoughts and manage the mental and physical symptoms of stress. One word Ehlert mentioned was “calm”. Repeating the word calm to yourself when you’re experiencing stress may help to keep your mind focused on the objective of managing emotions.

Breath

The second strategy is to use your breath. “When faced with a challenge, first use your breath. Deep breathing calms the mind and can help you focus. It can also help reduce chronic pain and improve sleep,” said Ehlert. Deep breathing helps to alleviate the physical symptoms of stress which in turn allows you to focus on managing the mental symptoms.

Acceptance

The third strategy is acceptance. Ehlert explains “if you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it.” Managing the way you react to a situation can help you manage it better. A common stressor for many farmers is unpredictable weather. Unfortunately, none of us have control over whether or not this growing season will be too wet or too dry. However, you can control how you react to the situation. “We can't change the weather. But what you do have control over is accepting the fact that you have no control,” says Ehlert. She says that this acceptance can help you choose your attitude and reaction which can then lead to lower stress levels because these are things you can manage, unlike the weather or commodity prices, for example.

Step 3: Offer Help

If you’re worried about someone in your life who may be struggling with stress, Harty explains that it is critical you intervene in order to prevent the worst possible outcome. If you see signs of distress such as changes in relationships or behavior, outbursts of crying or anger or substance abuse it’s important to confront the person directly. Harty explains, “In most situations, they are going to be very appreciative that you have taken the time and have recognized that something isn't right, and that you want to do what you can to help.”

Being able to effectively manage stress during these uncertain times will help each of us prepare for challenges and struggles. We are confident life will return to normal once again but it’s important that we weather this storm together.

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The views expressed in this article are the author's alone and not those of Farmer's Business Network, Inc., its affiliates or members.