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Stress can provide a competitive edge, but when it turns into negative distress, it's no longer healthy.

August 26, 2019

3 Min Read
farmer looking sad in field with tractor in the background
DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD: Farming is among the most stressful jobs in America, based on factors that affect a farmer's financial, physical and mental health. getty images

By Susan Harris-Broomfield

Stress has become a fact of life for farm families. Several factors are behind this, including low commodity prices, the shifting international trade outlook, and damage and obstacles created by storms, floods and other natural disasters.

There's added stress this summer in Scotts Bluff County, Neb., and Goshen County, Wyo., from the loss of irrigation water to more than 100,000 acres of crops because of the collapse of the Goshen/Gering-Fort Laramie canal tunnel. But there are resources to help farm families address problems caused by stress.

Stress can be positive, giving us a competitive edge. However, when that stress turns into negative distress, it is no longer healthy for our well-being. In rural areas, many people are subject to stresses and distress resulting from agriculture.

Farming is among the most stressful jobs in America, based on factors that affect a farmer's financial, physical and mental health, says John Shutske, a professor and Extension specialist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison with more than 30 years of experience with the agricultural community.

A 2016 study showed that people involved in agriculture have the highest overall rate of suicide among all occupational groups, with their suicide rate being almost 60% higher than the next-closest industry.

Farmers may refer to themselves as "full-time gamblers," a fitting title. Complex factors such as markets and weather are impossible to directly control, and these influence the livelihood of a farmer.

Shutske says stress is a double-edged sword. A little stress can serve as a constructive motivator, pushing us to action. However, too much stress can damage our health, compromise safety and sabotage personal relationships. It reduces our capacity to consider and evaluate optional solutions to complex problems and can limit our power to make sound decisions.

Stress also can manifest itself as a vicious cycle with escalating consequences that can paralyze business owners or their families.

When somebody shows symptoms of stress, such as moodiness, anger, loneliness, anxiety, lack of energy, sleep deprivation, low self-esteem, constant worrying, forgetfulness, overeating or increased use of alcohol or drugs, it may be time to talk to someone about it.

If you or someone you know needs help with stress management or would like to talk to someone confidentially, Nebraska has some great resources:

Rural Response Hotline (from Nebraska Legal Aid). The hotline offers free no-cost vouchers for confidential mental health services for people affected by the rural crisis. It also offers information about farm mediation clinics. Call 800-464-0258.

Farm Mediation. This is a way to resolve disputes involving farm loans and other issues. Call 402-471-4876.

The Nebraska Resource and Referral System (NRRS). This site lists toll-free numbers, websites and email contacts to help you connect faster to the services you are seeking.

Here are some other resources taken from a web page created by Nebraska Extension and University of Wyoming Extension to share resources for those affected by the Gering-Fort Laramie Canal break:

Family Stress, on Nebraska Extension's Early Childhood Development website

Nebraska Community Action agencies

Family and child resources to aid recovery from the disaster, available on Nebraska Extension's Early Childhood Development page

• The Centers for Disease Control's emergency preparedness and response page

• Recovery after Disaster: The Family Financial Toolkit, available on Nebraska Extension's Flood Resources page

Peak Wellness Center in southeast Wyoming's 24-hour Goshen County Crisis Line: 307-532-4091

The Wyoming Behavioral Institute's 24-hour hotline: 1-800-457-9312

Harris-Broomfield is a Nebraska Extension educator for rural health, wellness and safety.

Source: UNL CropWatch, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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