Weather, large debt loads, government regulations, machinery breakdowns, high interest rates, crop yields, livestock illness, commodity prices and disagreements with family members are all stressors that are weighing on farmers and ranchers nowadays.

And that stress is having a detrimental effect on their well-being. 

South Dakota State University Extension offices had a stress workshop Monday night to teach those in agriculture how to handle their stress and why controlling it is so important. Attendees in Aberdeen, Sioux Falls and Rapid City agreed that dealing with family and unfavorable markets are some of the top stressors.

Prolonged stress can cause high blood pressure and disrupt a person's gut and intestinal health, according to information presented at the meeting. Psychologically, stress can make simple decisions convoluted. 

SDSU Extension State Climatologist Laura Edwards said last year's drought conditions put a lot of stress on farmers, many of whom she said were unable to make decisions that weren't affected by emotions.

Edwards said having a drought plan, or any type of weather plan, can help take the emotion out of those decisions. She said plans equipped with "trigger dates" can also be helpful to a farmer whose decision-making ability might be compromised by stressful events. 

Suzanna Stluka, SDSU Extension food and families program director, said it's essential to practice coping strategies so that stress doesn't take an unhealthy toll on one's overall life. 

Stluka said those coping mechanisms are all based on how somebody responds to stressful thinking or stressful events. She said deep breathing helps to calm the mind and allows for better focus. Negative thinking can set a person up to experience even more stress than warranted, so being able to control negative thoughts and react calmly and positively is crucial to controlling the body's reaction. 

By controlling the reaction to stress, a person can control how his or her body responds to stress and minimize the amount of cortisol — also known as the stress hormone — that is released into the body, Stluka said.

She also talked about how to check on loved ones who may be experiencing stress, especially when dealing with suicidal thoughts. 

"Asking directly does not increase risk of suicide and may provide the person with relief that someone sees their struggle," Stluka said, adding that if people say they are having suicidal thoughts they should not be left alone and medical attention should to be sought immediately.

She said there is no bad time to ask if a person is struggling with suicidal thoughts, and it's an important question to ask no matter how uncomfortable it seems. 

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