This is a guest post from Gina Kempton-Doane. Gina is a Registered Psychologist in Saskatchewan with an academic and practical background in Agriculture.
Plant15 is about to get underway and with that the stress of the growing season starts. We asked Gina to share some strategies to cope with stress.
Q: Plant15 is about to get underway and with that the stress of the growing season starts. Why is it important to think about stress and what are some of the benefits to managing stress effectively?
A: Good stress management can make or break a farming operation. Farming in 2015 is extremely challenging. Farmers are required to have expertise in many different areas including marketing, agronomy, finance, technology, human resources, workplace health and safety and environmental sustainability. The intellectual demands of this occupation are impressive. Furthermore, farmers are often operating multi-million dollar businesses in extremely volatile markets where there is little control over the many factors that impact the outcome of a crop. Ignoring symptoms of unhealthy stress levels can quickly impact the health of the farmer, the farming business, and the farm family.
We cannot eliminate stress, but it can be balanced with healthy habits that keep our minds and bodies operating well. When a farmer manages stress well it will result in better decision making (crucial during planting and harvesting), less downtime due to illness, happier relationships and better crops.
Q: What are some realistic things farmers can do to cope with stress during planting?
A: Exercise not only helps us reduce stress levels, but also can improve brain functioning and energy levels. A small time investment here can greatly improve your productivity and efficiency throughout the day. If you can’t find a larger chunk of time to devote to exercise, small increments of 10 minutes spent being active can make a difference. For example, a quick walk across the yard instead of driving or manually moving bags of seed instead of using machinery can sometimes do the trick.
Getting enough sleep is essential! All too often I hear farmers talk about how little sleep they get, and sometimes they wear that as a badge of honor. But being sleep deprived is a recipe for disaster; physically, mentally and especially in terms of safety. The risk of preventable accidents on the farm goes up dramatically when you lose even a couple hours of sleep.
Last, but not least, remember to prioritize some time with family. It can feel next to impossible to shut down the drill or planter in order to share a meal with your family or tuck your kids into bed at night. However, the investment is more than worth it and will improve your quality of life and your farming operation.
Q: What are some early signs of excessive stress levels that we can be on the lookout for within ourselves and others?
A: It’s usually very difficult to recognize signs of stress in ourselves, and often family or friends are the ones who notice sooner. Increased irritability, conflict with partners, having less patience with children, spending more time alone, making “snap” decisions on marketing or agronomics, or feeling as though other farmers are somehow doing better or are more ready for planting can be red flags. Many farmers use social media, and report feelings of inadequacy after seeing the progress other farmers are making (keep in mind, most of us don’t post our mistakes and failures on social media, usually we are all in the same boat!).
Having persistent worries about things like weather cooperating or equipment breaking down that feel like a tape playing over and over in one’s mind can be a sign of excessive stress. Having low energy or finding it difficult to motivate yourself to work or be social can be worrisome. An increase in the frequency of smoking, chewing tobacco and drinking alcohol, coffee or energy drinks warrants concern. Also, physical symptoms like muscle tension, body aches and pains, frequent headaches, stomach problems, insomnia or low sex drive can often be stress related.
Q: What are some ways farmers can prepare and cope with the stress they are feeling throughout the year?
A: Time spent outside farm pursuits can really pay off when it comes to staying healthy. Having a strong and happy relationship with one’s partner or spouse is key to being healthy through stressful times. Having at least 2 or 3 close friends that you can count on is very important. A regular exercise routine in essential, as is healthy nutrition and good sleep. Also, avoid comparing yourself and your farm to others. We often see the positive in others farms, but fail to understand their challenges and struggles.
Q: Resources? Where can farmers and farm families go for help if stress is getting unmanageable?
A: There are two places to start when dealing with unhealthy stress levels. One is at home, and the other is your family doctor. Talking to a friend, family member or another farmer about your problems is one of the most important aspects of dealing with stress well. Always be sure to discuss your stress with your family doctor. Many signs of stress can be physical and your doctor will need to rule out any medical conditions that may be contributing. Also, your doctor will have information about the best local resources available and can help you connect with these. Speaking with a qualified counsellor or psychologist is proven to have positive impacts. Also, most areas have farm stress lines and online resources that you can utilize. I have listed some below, but this is not an exhaustive list.
Just remember, excessive stress is usually not difficult to deal with when caught early, but it does take some time and help from others. Unfortunately, the result of ignoring these symptoms can be costly to your health, your farm and your family.
Farm Stress Line:
Toll Free: 1-800-667-4442
24 hours per day. Seven days per week.
Toll-Free (MB) 1-866-367-3276
Hours: 10am – 9pm Monday – Friday
Alberta Mental Health Help Line:
National Institute of Rural Mental Health
Contains resources plus a list of State stress help lines in the U.S.
Gina Kempton-Doane is a Registered Psychologist in Saskatchewan with an academic and practical background in Agriculture. She provides counselling, consultation and coaching to rural clients and the agriculture industry in her
private practice. Gina and her husband Brian operate Headland Farm Solutions in Grenfell SK and together with Brian’s parents run an 8000 acre grain farm east of Kelso SK. In her spare time, Gina can be found chasing after their three young children.