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Stress builds up with farming and ranching lifestyles

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Growing up with a rural lifestyle has many rewards, but it is not without its stressors. The National Center for Farmer Health identified three key points about stress that were shared during a Wellness in Tough Times webinar for farm and ranch families.

            Stress is the human response to any change perceived as a challenge or threat. Changes are something that cause worry, frustration or the feeling that things are out of an individual’s control. The attitudes, perceptions and meanings people assign to events determine their stress levels.

            The weather has taken a toll on some farmers and ranchers this year, according to University of Nebraska Extension Educator Brandy VanDeWalle.

            VanDeWalle worries farmers will suffer too long from stress and it will eventually become distress, which can cause severe physical and emotional problems.

            “In rural areas, a high percentage of visits to the physician are due to stress-related illnesses,” VanDeWalle explains.

            “Most of us in agriculture are used to hard work, but things like weather, production risks, machinery breakdowns, finance issues, markets and government regulations can all contribute to stress,” she says.

Identifying symptoms is not easy

            “Stress can impact the mind, body and actions of the farmer,” according to University of Nebraska Extension Educator Glennis McClure. “It can cause physical symptoms like sweaty palms, nausea, shaky legs or even a headache.”

            “The mind can be impacted in a variety of ways including the inability to concentrate or sleep, and even irritability and aggressiveness.” McClure points out. “Actions such as under or overeating, withdrawing from other people, not doing things they enjoy, taking drugs or sleeping excessively are also key symptoms of stress.”

            “Farmers and ranchers need to find ways to reduce stress levels and manage unwanted stress,” McClure says. “If they don’t, their health is at risk.”

            “During periods of stress, cortisol levels in the body increase, which increases the chance of having a stroke or heart attack,” McClure notes. “High levels of cortisol from prolonged stress increases blood cholesterol, triglycerides and blood pressure, all of which are commonly associated with heart disease.”

            McClure also points out increased cortisol levels can cause plaque deposits in the arteries, alter the immune system and affect a person’s mood, fears and motivation.

Modifying lifestyle

            “The key is a simple change in lifestyle. This change can be as easy as taking a 10-minute walk, which has ben shown to reduce cortisol levels 50 to 70 percent,” McClure says. “What is good for the body is good for the mind. Activity builds those feel-good endorphins.”

            Consciously building gaps into the day for a mental health break can also help when unexpected interruptions occur.

            VanDeWalle tells producers to be more assertive by setting priorities, which may mean they can’t help with a fundraiser or participate in an event.

            “It is important to take time off, even if that means grilling at the lake or inviting some friends over just to visit,” she says. “Talking to someone or writing in a journal can also help with stress.”

            “Practice being in the moment. Be present rather than perfect. Spend some time every day with family and friends. Don’t ignore stressors. Address and reflect on feelings,” VanDeWalle adds.

            Other stress reducing activities can be as simple as eating a well-balanced diet, exercising half an hour a day and getting adequate sleep.

            “Accept stress as a part of life, but don’t dwell on it,” VanDeWalle says. “Clearly define home and work responsibilities and manage your time efficiently.”

            VanDeWalle notes that farmers are risk-takers and optimists by nature, and it helps to develop a positive mindset.

            “Choose anything that comes to mind for positive mind control. Just take a deep breath, pause and accept the situation. It is important to focus on solutions rather than dwell on the problems,” she says.

When the stress becomes distress

            “We may encounter friends and family in distress,” McClure says. “If someone shows more than two major stressors, it is serious. Let them know people are concerned about them, ask about their situation and really listen to what they are saying.”

            “Don’t ignore the signs of distress or suicide,” McClure says. “It is important to understand the warning signs, and ask them about their plans if there are signs. We need to reach out to our farmers and ranchers that need help.”

            Gayle Smith is a corresponding writer for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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