NDSU Extension helps producers cope with stress
Poor growing and harvesting conditions, low commodity prices, trade wars and a shortage of livestock feed for winter all have been stressful for North Dakota farmers and ranchers.
North Dakota State University Extension has developed a number of resources to help farmers and ranchers cope with the stress resulting from the uncertainties in their profession.
The first step is to recognize the early symptoms of stress, according to Sean Brotherson, Extension family science specialist.
“Before farm/ranch families can do much about managing stress, they have to know when they are experiencing it,” he says. “Much of the time, people do not know or give attention to what is going on in their bodies and in their relationships with others.”
Those early signs include rising blood pressure, a rapidly beating heart, clenched teeth, aching neck and shoulders, sweating hands and feet, and churning stomach.
“Early warning signs are like a flashing red light on the dashboard of your car when the engine is overheating,” Brotherson says. “If you ignore it long enough, the engine will get damaged.”
To help farmers and ranchers recognize the warning signs and do something about them, Brotherson has developed fact sheets with tips on how to control events that cause stress, control their attitudes about those events and control their responses.
To control events, he suggests farmers and ranchers plan ahead and replace worn machinery parts during the off-season, for example, rather than waiting until they break down at a crucial time. Controlling events also includes setting priorities about what has to be done today and what can wait until tomorrow; discussing before the harvest who can be available to run for parts, care for livestock, etc.; and saying no to extra commitments that you do not have time to do.
One way to control attitudes is listing all of your stresses, then identifying those you can change and accepting the ones you cannot change. Other ways to control attitudes are to set realistic goals and expectations daily, notice what you have accomplished rather than what you failed to do, and shift your focus from worrying to problem solving.
Controlling your responses includes focusing on relaxing your body and mind, taking care of your body by exercising regularly and eating well-balanced meals, not smoking cigarettes or using alcohol or other drugs, taking regular breaks to get rid of tension as you work, finding someone with whom you can talk about your worries and frustrations, and seeking help when you need it. For a complete list, visit https://tinyurl.com/FarmStressFactSheet.
Brotherson also has developed several podcasts and videos and a PowerPoint presentation on the warning signs of stress and how to deal with them. They are available on NDSU Extension’s Farm and Ranch Stress website at www.ag.ndsu.edu/farmranchstress.
In addition, the website has a recording of a videoconference training hosted by NDSU Extension and Prairie St. John’s, a facility in Fargo, N.D., that cares for children, adolescents and adults with mental illness and/or substance use issues. During the videoconference, Monica McConkey, director of business development at Prairie St. John’s, talked about stressors related to the farm crisis, warning signs related to a behavioral health crisis, skills to communicate support and resources to access help.
Other resources on the Farm and Ranch Stress website include Brotherson’s publication, “12 Tools for Your Wellness Toolbox in Times of Farm Stress.” It provides advice for dealing with stress physically, mentally, emotionally/spiritually, personally, professionally and financially.
His other publications include “My Coping Strategies Plan — At Home and on the Farm,” “My Farming Resource Network,” “Farming and Ranching in Tough Times” and “Farming/Ranching: Stressful Occupations.”
Throughout the state, Extension agents are available to listen to stressed farmers and ranchers and direct them to get the help they need.
“People must understand it is OK not to be OK, and help is available,” says Craig Askim, the Extension agriculture and natural resources agent in Mercer County.
“The worst option on this subject is silence,” he adds. “Things may look grim, but you are not alone and help is available, so please ask.”
Farming and ranching are unlike other occupations, notes Cindy Klapperich, Extension’s family and community wellness agent in Sargent County.
“Because they are self-employed, farmers and ranchers often have no separation between home and work,” she says. “Failure to be successful affects not only their business, but their whole lifestyle. As stress builds, it can take a heavy toll on the farmer, and on the farm family.”
Another way Extension has helped farmers and ranchers is through a one-day workshop that covered financial, marketing and management topics, especially the impacts of risk in production and marketing. About two dozen farmers, ranchers and agricultural professionals attended.
“The program was delivered by economics specialists from four states in a more in-depth, yet more personal manner than traditional Extension economics programs,” says Extension bioproducts and bioenergy economics specialist David Ripplinger, who helped organize the event.
Extension also partnered with Eyes on the Horizon Consulting in Fargo and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to hold a workshop focusing on helping youth from farm and ranch families cope with stress. The workshop was held at 17 Interactive Video Network sites across North Dakota. People also could access the workshop through their computer.
“The stressed farm economy is impacting entire families,” says Kim Bushaw, NDSU Extension family science specialist. “Farm and ranch youth already can feel isolated from their peers and social connections. They are often expected to help with farm chores in addition to school and perhaps other jobs for pay. The workshop was designed to help parents, family members, teachers and other school staff, faith community leaders, social workers, public health professionals, 4-H leaders and any community member watch for signs and provide help for adolescents who are struggling.”