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Stress on the farm can be managed

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Published on Feb. 22, 2020

More than two-thirds of participants in a recent webinar on Keeping Stress Levels in Check on the Farm reported weather and debt loads as major stressors in 2019. Livestock production was a close third.

             Record precipitation and flooding, combined with low crop and livestock prices made it a difficult year for many producers in the Cornhusker State and those surrounding it. 

            “Agriculture is a stressful occupation. Everyone has different stress levels, but it is how they cope with it that is important,” according to Nebraska Extension Educator Glennis McClure. “If we get in too big of a hurry, we may become more accident-prone and create health issues for ourselves.”

Producers admit to high stress levels

            Stress on the farm is nothing new. In a 2016 Farm Financial Health survey, more than 77 percent of respondents indicated they were concerned about obtaining operating capital and more than 60 percent were concerned interest rates would increase.  

            Over 45 percent felt their overall financial situation would decline in 2017, while another 46 percent predicted it would remain the same. 

            “Crop and livestock production risks, machinery breakdowns, debt loads, volatile markets, government regulations and multi-generational conflicts all feed into stress,” McClure says. “The key is how to keep it in check.” 

            “Stress is an experience we all have when we are challenged or overwhelmed. Our lives will always have stressful situations, but we need to find ways to control it rather than focus on the challenges we can’t control,” she says.

Watch out for health

            Stress over continued periods of time can cause health issues that impact the body, mind and actions. Stress can cause an upset stomach, fatigue, nausea and grinding of the teeth. Some people overeat, while others may not eat at all. 

            It can cause other symptoms like exhaustion, lack of concentration, foggy mind, crying, restlessness, boredom and lack of sleep. Some people may get mad and show anger, act out on others, drink and smoke. 

            “It is important to learn how to manage stress and decrease unwanted stress the best we can,” explains Brandy VanDeWalle, who is also a Nebraska Extension educator.

            “When stress lingers, it causes high levels of cortisol, which can increase cholesterol in the blood, triglycerides and blood pressure, which can lead up to heart disease,” VanDeWalle says. “Long-term stress can affect how the blood clots, building up plaque in the arteries making the blood stickier, and increasing the risk of stroke.”

Building time for ourselves

            When asked how they alleviate stress, 67 percent of webinar respondents said an activity or taking a walk is helpful. McClure says a brisk 10-minute walk has been shown to reduce cortisol levels 50 to 75 percent in the brain. 

            “Find an activity that builds up the good feel endorphins,” she says. 

            “If we start to feel stressed, take a break and visit with someone or keep a journal. Write down your feelings. It may help alleviate some of those stressful feelings. Don’t let it build up and turn into the angry green monster that smashes things,” VanDeWalle says.

            Producers should try to build gaps into their day for a mental break. 

            “Learn to be more assertive and say yes or no, when things start to seem overwhelming,” says VanDeWalle. “Take time off to spend time with friends and family, even if it’s just spending an afternoon playing with the kids on the swing set.” 

            “Sometimes, it is just a matter of getting away by going to something like a movie or playing cards with friends,” McClure adds. “Do something totally different to get your mind off the stressor.”

            Both women suggest volunteer work. 

            “It not only makes us feel good, but it can make us realize how much we have to be grateful for,” McClure says.

Changing our mind

            VanDeWalle says producers may find it helpful to try and cultivate a productive mindset. 

            “Farmers are hard workers, who are productive risk-takers. Working to have the right mindset may improve personal productivity and resiliency,” she explains. 

            Research from Michigan State University suggests using a self talk, by choosing three words to help maintain a positive mindset. As an example, VanDeWalle suggests calm, capable and controlled. 

            Research also suggests using deep breathing to take time to pause, accept and begin problem solving. 

            “Use acceptance to focus on solutions. We can’t always be in control, so we have to learn to accept. Rather than dwelling on the problem, focus on the solution,” she explains.

Seek out help

            Many agricultural producers fear going to a mental health professional, because they fear they won’t be understood. McClure says producers should view a mental health doctor like their family physician. 

            “If we are sick, we go to a doctor so they can make us better,” she explains. “I would recommend trying one mental health professional, and if they don’t click, go to another one until a good one is found. 

            VanDeWalle also recommends managing time effectively and efficiently, setting realistic goals and getting enough sleep, as ways to reduce stress. Other suggestions are eating a well-balanced diet, exercising half an hour every day or at least every other day, accepting stress as a part of life and not dwelling on it, defining work and home responsibilities and separating family time from work time.

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

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