Managing Stress on the Farm

Farmers and ranchers face unique difficulties that other industries don’t and that makes it one of the most stressful occupations in which to work.

“There can be elevated levels of stress due to particular conditions which are often beyond the immediate control of the local farmer or rancher,” said North Dakota State University Extension Family Life Specialist Sean Brotherson. “Those tend to be things such as weather, like drought conditions or flooding, and commodity prices. Both of which are hard to control. We call those the ‘twin towers of stress’ in farming and ranching.”

Brotherson said there are other stress factors as well, such as the ongoing current trade dispute with China.

He said it’s important to know the symptoms of stress. He compared these symptoms to the warning light in a car or farming equipment.

“Wisdom and experience suggest that just like it’s important to maintain your farm equipment so that it doesn’t break down at a critical time in your operation, the same is true of your health,” he said. “You want to pay attention to any early warning signs.”

Warning Signs of Stress

  • Headaches
  • Tension in the neck or back
  • Digestive difficulties
  • Shortness of breath
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Difficulty sleeping/insomnia
  • Overeating or loss of appetite
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Irritability
  • Increased use of alcohol/drugs
  • Anger/impatience
  • Feeling “victimized” by situation
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Difficulty communicating in relationships

Brotherson said the best course of action is to see a health care provider, although not everyone will do that.

“Often in rural areas, we sometimes equate a willingness to reach out for help if we’re having mental or emotional health concerns with weakness or inadequacy in a person when actually it’s the opposite. It’s a sign of strength and wisdom,” he explained.

According to Brotherson, there are several ways to manage stress.

“What I like to say is that good stress management is good farm management. It’s really important to think about the tools in your stress management toolbox,” he said. “The most important thing you can do is go in and get checked by a local health care provider.”

Other stress management tools Brotherson recommends are:

  • 15-20 minutes of exercise daily
  • Plan ahead for the day
  • Take 5-10 minutes breaks during the day to recharge
  • Talk with someone you trust

Brotherson pointed out it’s also important to watch for signs of stress in your loved ones and the people around you. They may need someone to reach out to them and make a referral to a health care provider.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal feelings or thoughts, get help immediately. You can contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


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