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Farm Stress

University of Wyoming Extension

Coping with Excessive Stress

Stress is our bodies' natural reaction to a demand or "stressor." Much short-term stress can be positive: it motivates us to succeed with a challenge. But long term stress can be harmful to your health.

A rural lifestyle may bring with it stressors of isolation, financial worries, and factors that are out of the control of the farmer/rancher such as weather, market prices, etc. Combined, these stressors place people at a greater risk for chronic stress, making it hard for them to move forward to positive solutions.

What are signs or chronic, prolonged stress?

When a person is stressed for long periods of time—chronic, prolonged stress—he or she may experience a number of signs and symptoms.

  • Physical
  • Headaches
  • Ulcers
  • Backaches
  • Eating Irregularities
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Frequent sickness
  • Exhaustion
  • Emotional
  • Sadness
  • Depression
  • Bitterness
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of spirit
  • Loss of humor
  • Behavioral
  • Irritability
  • Backbiting
  • Acting out"
  • Withdrawal
  • Passive-aggressiveness
  • Alcoholism
  • Violence
  • Cognitive
  • Memory loss
  • Lack of concentration
  • Inability to make decisions
  • Self-Esteem
  • "I’m a failure."
  • "I blew it."
  • "Why can’t I…?"

What are some more signs or symptoms of stress?

  • Change in routines. A person or family stops attending church, drops out of 4-H or other groups, or no longer stops in at the local coffee shop or gathering place.
  • Increase in illness. Farmers or farm family members may experience more colds or routine illnesses or have other chronic conditions such as aches, pains or a persistent cough.
  • Appearance of farmstead declines. The family no longer takes pride in the way farm buildings and farmstead look or keeps up with maintenance work.
  • Care of livestock declines. Animals may not be cared for in the usual way; they may lose condition, appear gaunt or show signs of neglect.
  • Increase in farm injuries. The risk of injury can increase due to fatigue or loss of ability to concentrate. Children may be at risk if there isn’t adequate childcare as a result of finances or other conditions.
  • Children show signs of stress. Farm children may act out, decline in academic performance or be increasingly absent from school. They may also show signs of physical or verbal abuse or neglect.

What can I do for myself?

If you notice that you are stressed, employ coping methods like

  • Cognitive-behavioral restructuring. Alter thoughts to something more realistic, such as keeping things in perspective, letting go of blame and guilt, and keeping a positive attitude.
  • Physical activity. Those who exercise often are less likely to experience stress and depression.
  • Relaxation. Take small breaks out of your day to collect yourself and recharge.
  • Get good quality sleep.
  • Social support. Social support is connected with reduction of stress, decreased risk of depression, better health, and faster recovery from illness.
  • Enhance money and time management skills.
  • Strengthen spiritual resources.
  • Strengthen personal and family relationships. Social support is connected with reduction of stress, decreased risk of depression, better health, and faster recovery from illness.
    • Increase the time spent with supportive family and friends, who are important buffers in times of stress.
    • Practice positive communication with loved ones by listening and expressing appreciation.
    • Be mindful of what is most important to oneself and one’s family.
    • Remain aware of ongoing changes that contribute to stress, and postponing new commitments if they will add stress.
    • Reach out to people in the community (being there for others strengthens one’s own circle of support).

What can I do for others?

Friends, neighbors, and business associates can help other copes more effectively. Here are nine points to assist in relating to those experiencing stress. 

  • Take time to listen. Stressed individuals should not be rushed. By taking the time to listen, you are showing that you care. Ask questions so you clearly understand the prob­lem. By asking questions, the individual must respond to you in a manner that helps them frame and understand their own problem.
  • Be non-critical and non-judgmental as the individual shares his/her troubles. While their problem may not seem huge to you, it is to them.
  • Counsel on a one-on-one basis. Be a good listener - don’t interrupt. Try to draw them out. Get them to talk. This can be a tremendous pressure reliever.
  • Be empathetic. We cannot know how the individual feels unless we have been there. Avoid one-upmanship.
  • Try to separate the problem’s causes from the symptoms. Assist the individual in recognizing the difference. As the saying goes, “sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees”, especially when we’re in the middle of the forest.
  • Try to help the individual think logically and rationally. Jotting things down on a yellow note pad and prioritizing them can do wonders. Keep it simple.
  • Encourage the individual to get back into a routine of doing things. Stress often brings on apathy and a loss of interest in things formerly enjoyed.
  • Learn to recognize the signs of stress. There are many excellent publications available.
  • Above all, make sure the individual retains ownership of his/her problems. If you pick up the other person’s problem, you both have a problem and you lose your objectivity. 

Dealing with stress often calls for professional help that may be beyond your capacity, regardless of how sincere you may be. When this happens, suggest that the individual seek professional help. People who are concerned about a stressed family can put the stressed person/family in touch with professionals who are trained to provide assistance. You can:

  • Listen for signs and symptoms that the person or family needs help—financial, legal or personal counseling.
  • Be aware of the agencies and resources available in the community.
  • Find out what services they offer and what their limitations are.
  • Determine which resource would be most appropriate to address the person’s or family’s problem.

Discuss the referral with the person or family (“It looks like you are feeling frustrated with your financial problems. I think this person or agency could help you deal with your situation.”) Explore the individual’s or family’s willingness to initiate contact with the community resource. Ask: “How do you feel about seeking help from this person or agency?”

If the person or family is unwilling to take the initiative or if there is some danger if action is not taken, you may have to take the initiative. Ask for permission to contact the agency; then call that agency, share your concern and discuss how the agency will respond to this referral.

In lessor situations, just being a caring, empathetic, supportive, and unhurried listener can go a long way in helping an individual through a difficult situation.

Resources Available

Marketing Tools Available

  • Signs and Symptoms of Stress - a flier developed to help readers recognize stress in themselves and others (either physical or behavioral signs) and provides tips on how to respond. Originally developed by the Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH) for use in Wyoming.
  • Do you know someone who is struggling – a flier that provides suggested phrases to start a difficult conversation about someone’s state of mind.
  • 1/4 letter page black and white "Struggling" graphic
  • Square black and white "Stress Signs and Symptoms" graphic

What should I do if the situation seems urgent?

If it’s an emergency situation, you may need to take other actions. You can call the Lifeline network at 1-800-273-8255 or 911 for local emergency services. In rare situations where a person is suicidal, it’s important to stay with that person until help arrives or until you can get the person to someone who can help—a family physician, clergy or hospital emergency room. Ask: “Are you considering doing harm to yourself?”

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support,
Contact the Lifeline network.
It is available 24/7 across the United States.

Lifeline logo
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