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Don’t let the tough times control you

Jami Dellifield for Progressive Cattleman Published on 24 May 2019
decision making

In 2018, the USDA reported that since 2013, there has been more than a 50 percent reduction in net farm income.

Net income is dropping due to circumstances outside of farmers’ and ranchers’ control – dropping commodity prices, machinery purchase costs and repairs, and inclement weather. As the needs in the market fluctuate, it is not always easy for some smaller producers to be competitive within the market.

Another stressor for many working in agriculture is: Farming and ranching are not just professions. No one clocks in or out and leaves the job “at the office.” This is an identity, not a job. And most likely it was (and is) also how your dad, mom, grandfather, grandmother, great- relatives and your children identify.

Because of this, the legacy aspect adds to our stress. When times are tough, farmers and ranchers worry about letting down those they love because the decisions they make are about the family and the family’s identity for this generation, past generations and future generations.

Every day, we hear more about stress and how it is affecting families in agriculture. Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” Basically, stress is your physical reaction to external events.

Stress can have positive or negative effects for each of us. Positive effects would be better concentration or working harder to complete a task. Negative effects would be any type of physical, mental and emotional strain. Stress affects our ability to live, to laugh and to love. Some stressors include weather, finances, personal health, relationships, families, work, too little or too much sleep and nutrition.

It is important to realize you are not alone. All people of all ages experience stress. Stress is very common. The following are some symptoms you may experience if you have high levels of stress: sleeping too much or too little, forgetfulness, muscle aches and pains, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, weight loss or gain, uncontrollable emotions, inability to complete tasks or increased use of alcohol or drugs.

If I asked you to tell me about a time in your life that has molded you into the person you are today, I would guess you would share with me a time when you overcame something difficult or a time of great stress. Adversity (or difficulty) builds resilience. Resilience is our ability to bounce back from difficulties. Resilience is a trait we can learn and we can practice. Yet when times get tough, we don’t always recognize that we are acting in a resilient manner and, in turn, teaching resilience to our loved ones.

The Department of State shares the following ways to increase your resilience:

  • Maintain a sense of perspective.

  • Recognize you have a choice in how you handle challenges.

  • Accept change.

  • Anticipate challenges.

  • Learn how to calm yourself.

  • Overcome your fear.

  • Let go of your anger.

  • Take action.

  • Laugh.

These self-help strategies for building resilience can assist us when our stress is affecting our ability to live, to laugh and to love. They are also great tools for days when our stress is not overwhelming. I especially like the reminder to laugh. Very rarely do we laugh alone. Laughter helps to remind us we are in relationships with others.

Sometimes when we are stressed, we isolate ourselves from those we love. This occurs even more when we are in professions, like farming, where isolation can naturally occur. So what should you do if you notice a loved one (or you have noticed yourself) isolating themselves more frequently?

  • Reach out and ask how they are, i.e., “I’ve noticed you haven’t been coming to the producers’ meetings lately. Is everything all right?”

  • Encourage communication and support by sharing your story or a self-help book about ways to handle stress.

  • Ask if they are considering suicide. Asking directly is the best approach, i.e., “I am really worried about you. I’ve noticed you have seemed very withdrawn. Are you thinking about killing yourself?”

o If someone answers “yes” to this question, do not leave them alone. Give them a choice for treatment: “Would you like to call 911 or have me drive you to the hospital?”

o The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, (800) 273-8255, Suicide prevention life line.

o If you are a veteran, call the Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255 or send a text to 838255

o Crisis Text Hotline, Text HOME to 741-741, Crisis Text Line.

If you find you are not handling stress well, and it has been affecting your ability to live, to laugh and to love for more than three weeks, please seek help from your medical care provider (doctor, nurse practitioner, licensed counselor). Your brain drives every part of your well-being.

Please take the time to take care of the most important organ in your body. If your leg was broken, you would seek treatment. If your brain is not working at optimal levels, we also encourage you to seek treatment.

One in five American adults has been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. Anxiety and depression are the most common diagnosis. The symptoms are very similar to those of someone experiencing chronic stress. This is why it is very important to seek medical treatment. If you are concerned, ask your doctor for a mental health screening. During this screening, you will be asked a variety of questions about your emotional health. A blood draw may also be part of the procedure because a physical disorder could be causing the same symptoms.

Remember, you are not alone. Stress affects how you live, laugh and love. Stress is common and so is being overwhelmed from time to time. Reach out to another. Abby Wambach, a two-time Olympic gold medalist shared, “It’s a heavy burden to look up at the mountain and want to start the climb.” Stress can feel insurmountable. Take small steps each day and you will begin to experience hope.  end mark

IMAGE: Getty Images.

References omitted but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Jami Dellifield
  • Jami Dellifield

  • Family and Consumer Sciences Educator
  • Ohio State University Extension
  • Email Jami Dellifield


The following resources are helpful if you or a loved one are experiencing stress (in alphabetical order):

AgrAbility – Mental behavioral health issues

Communicating with Farmers Under Stress Webinar – Extension learn

Michigan State University Extension, Managing Farm Stress – Managing farm stress

North Dakota State University, Farm and Ranch Stress – Farm and ranch stress 

University of Minnesota, Dealing with stress: A web-based educational series – Dealing with stress

Upper Midwest Agricultural Safety and Health Center (UMASH), Farm & Safety Stress Check – Farm safety check: Stress and wellness