August 2, 2023
by Harlee Kilber
For farmers and ranchers, the daily grind can be monotonous, as if reliving the same day repeatedly. A typical day begins with an alarm set early for morning chores, and then heading out to the field or going on a part run.
There is always a task to be done or something to be fixed. Producers are often pulled in multiple directions, especially during the busy seasons. Overtime, the day-to-day farm tasks build up to the point of being overwhelming.
Farming is one of the most stressful and dangerous occupations in the United States, says Sean Brotherson, a family science specialist at North Dakota State University Extension.
Also, the National Safety Council found agriculture to be one of the two most hazardous occupations. Farmers, ranchers and their families endure a unique level of stress due to the extreme work environment in which they live. At times, stress is out of the producer’s control.
Producers may be impacted by severe weather, debt load, economic factors, work and health conditions. In a job that can be extremely demanding, it is important for producers to learn to put themselves first, and understand their health is the operation’s most important asset.
Survive tough times
“Farming and Ranching in Tough Times,” an Extension publication by Brotherson, reports that 16 accidental deaths occurred per 100,000 agricultural workers in 2021. Compared to the national average of 3.6 deaths per 100,000 workers for all industries, the data helps display the high probability of death when farming and ranching.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2019, suicide among farmers was 3.5 times higher than the national average and has been increasing over the past decade. Farm stress does not only impact the producer, but their families and partners as well.
In 2021, the firm Morning Consult conducted a National American Farm Bureau poll and found 52% of rural adults and 61% of farmers and farmworkers were experiencing more stress and mental health challenges compared to the previous year. Furthermore, farmers and farmworkers reported a 22% increase in social isolation, which impacts farmers’ mental health, an important finding given the long hours many farmers work alone.
In recent years, the stigma attached to seeking help for mental health has improved; however, it is still a factor in why individuals choose not to address mental health concerns. Farmers and farmworkers reported they are more comfortable talking to friends, family and their doctors about stress and mental health than they were in 2019. This tells us producers are reaching out to their support networks and are taking the first steps in seeking help.
The same goes for younger rural adults compared to a year ago. They are more likely to disclose experiences with stress and mental health challenges than older rural adults, as well as discuss seeking care from a mental health professional. This data, overall, finds the younger generation is more aware of self-care and the importance of addressing mental health. The next step is to educate producers of all ages on the importance of self-care and resources for doing so.
Plan ahead to tackle stress
While some stressors are outside of your control, preparation and planning can play key roles in managing predictable stressors:
Reduce the pile up of too many stressful events by planning and not procrastinating off-season repairs.
Discuss who will be available in the busy seasons for parts runs and other important tasks.
Plan out your priorities by determining what needs to be done today and what can wait until tomorrow.
Say no to extra commitments.
Identify stressors and determine which of those you can change and which you can be at peace with.
Switch your way of thinking from worrying to problem-solving.
Set realistic goals and expectations. Remember, it is not a sign of weakness to ask for help.
Check in on yourself
The first step in improving your operation is checking in on your own well-being through controlled responses. How is this done?
Take breaks when you start to feel worked up.
Calm down by taking three deep breaths.
Relax your body and mind by doing some stretches.
Listen to soothing music or read a book before bed to unwind from the day.
Get enough sleep every night.
Think positively and find humor in life.
Find someone to talk to. This can be a friend, co-worker, spouse, etc., to talk through your worries and frustrations. It is never good to bottle up emotions.
Know when to seek help for extra support. Learning to manage stress and how to balance your lifestyle is vital.
It is important to take care of your mental health because it can impact your physical health as well. Stress and depression increase the risk of injury and accidents, along with increased risks of heart disease, stroke and chronic pain. Your operation cannot function properly if you are not taking care of yourself. Always put yourself first.
Seek outside help
If you are feeling stressed, depressed or having thoughts of suicide:
Call 2-1-1, the statewide 24-hour crisis intervention hotline.
Call or text 9-8-8, National Suicide Prevention Hotline.
Text “Hopeline” to 741741, National Suicide Hopeline Network.
Find Mental Health America resources at mhanational.org/live-b4stage4.
Visit North Central Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Center at farmstress.org.
Contact your local health care or mental health care provider. For more information about farm stress and coping with stress, refer to NDSU’s website about farm stress.
While the Farm Management Education Program cannot lift the burden of the many stressful factors involved in farming and ranching, staff can assist in understanding your records better, finding more efficient ways of recording-keeping and ways to allow your dollar to go further.
Contact your local Farm Management Education instructor for more information. Visit ndfarmmanagement.com, or contact Craig Kleven, state supervisor for agricultural education, at [email protected] or 701-328-3162 for more information.
Kilber is a North Dakota Farm Management Education Program instructor at Bismarck State College.
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