Impact of COVID-19 on Agriculture

Farmers Focus on Breaking the Chronic Stress Cycle

Newsroom / January 14, 2019

John Shutske, professor and Extension agricultural safety and health specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, outlined the cause of stress and the best practices for coping with high levels of it during a workshop at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s 100th Annual Convention.

Working with farmers on stress management for more than 30 years, Shutske encouraged farmers to implement strategies to handle pressure to minimize the impact of stress.

“Stress impacts farmers mentally and physically and it comes in many formats,” said Shutske. “A lot of time when we talk about stress we focus on short-term impact, but we need to also look at long-term stress.”

Shutske explained the cycle of stress and the impact it has on the human brain. He further explained that normal stress isn’t concerning, it’s the long-term chronic stress that is most worrisome. With depressed commodity prices this is especially relevant for today’s farmers.

“If you have constant levels of high stress your brain receptors physically begin to wear out,” said Shutske. “If your brain is constantly fueling stress hormones, it can lead to serious problems.”

Not only can stress impact blood pressure and anxiety, it can also severely impact relationships.

“Long-term stress can also impact opioid and alcohol misuse and we know from research that farmers have a higher rate of suicide,” said Shutske.

Shutske encouraged farmers to focus on the things they can control in their businesses and relationships, rather than things they can’t. He suggested proactively managing stress with these tips:

Plan – Look ahead to the coming weeks and plan out what you can. This includes setting time aside for family and hobbies.

Set Goals – Goal setting can help you stay focused on what needs to get done. Set goals that are specific, measurable, action-orientated, realistic and time-specific.

Write things down – Writing things down helps you mentally prepare for the tasks on your to-do list. Typing on a device doesn’t always have the same impact.

Health – Maintaining overall health is important to moderate stress levels. Don’t under-estimate the importance of visiting your family practitioner and openly discussing mental health.

Fuel – With the brain using 25 percent of the body’s energy, eating a balanced diet must be a priority to manage stress. Watching caffeine and sugar intake is equally important.

Exercise – Exercise shouldn’t be overlooked as a stress management tool. Staying active regularly can help balance stress levels.

Relaxation – It’s important to take time to reflect or meditate. Taking time to relax and reflect is important to moderating stress levels.

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