When Stress is More than a Season

By: Adrienne DeSutter

Raise your hand if this spring was one of your most stressful planting seasons. Did you notice that it rained a little?

Even before the imperfect conditions, farming has been listed as one of the most stressful occupations. Regardless of the torrential rain, the trade war, and the low commodity prices, several factors make farming more stressful than most other careers: constant uncertainty, major financial investments, generational accountability, risk-taking personalities, an isolated environment, and working with family, to name a few. 

As a farmer, you know how to recognize stress in your livestock, your crops, and your equipment, and you know there are serious consequences if you don’t intervene when something seems wrong. But do you know how to recognize when your own stress is too much? And do you know what consequences you could face if you don’t intervene?

Stress isn’t always bad. In fact, it’s a completely normal and healthy part of life. It can increase our alertness, give us adrenaline, boost our immune system, and improve our learning and memory. Researchers even suggest that managing stress is as straightforward as simply being aware of it and practicing techniques that help you navigate it rather than eliminating it. It’s what motivates us to accomplish tasks and prepares us to respond to potentially serious situations. Farming may be a stressful job, but it’s full of the most ambitious, conscientious, and driven people as a result.

On the other hand, stress can be extremely serious, and even fatal. It’s normal to feel stressed as a result of a serious event (like #noplant19), and you might experience symptoms like muscle tension, irritability, low energy, headaches, sadness, sleeplessness, or even digestive issues. But if your symptoms don’t lessen once you’re out of danger, or you have constant symptoms, your stress is no longer healthy.

The way you manage your symptoms can be equally as helpful or damaging as the symptoms themselves. It’s easy to rely on trivial projects, food or alcohol to distract you from what’s stressing you out. Having a drink to socialize and take the edge off is a common habit among adults, but be careful; farmers are at high-risk of developing alcoholism and drug abuse. And while distraction can be a positive tool for short-term stress, it can easily turn into avoiding the problem altogether.   

Without proper intervention, chronic stress can lead to mental health conditions (like depression or anxiety), breathing problems, high blood pressure, strokes or heart attacks, diabetes, body aches, low testosterone, and a higher likelihood of injury and illness. Just like your old run-down tractor, if you fail to keep yourself maintained, you’ll eventually fall apart and quit working.

In the world of agriculture, some seasons are much more stressful than others. But when the stress doesn’t go away, or you’re not able to cope with it in a healthy manner, it’s time to reach out for help. Talk with your doctor about what options are available to manage your stress (and stay tuned for more stress-management tips), because if you end up out of commission, so does your farm. 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention hotline at 1-800-273-TALK. Call 1-800-FARM-AID for crisis assistance specific to agriculture. In an emergency, call 911 or go directly to the nearest ER. For more resources, visit www.afsp.org