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When anxiety strikes on the farm

The struggles of a year like 2019 tend to multiply any anxiety.

There’s a conversation happening more often lately about something that’s come up closer to the surface but has always been circulating underneath. It’s the public discussion about farmer anxiety and mental health.

I think it’s a good thing that people are talking about this more. The mentality in the past was generally to bottle it up, don’t talk about it, deal with it yourself, pretend everything is ok. But ultimately, closing off to others can increase issues and is unhealthy – potentially even life-threatening.

Farmers have long dealt with anxiety tied to the uncertainty we face in this profession of farming. Some have learned effective ways to cope along the path of their farming career. Others are struggling. Still others may be early on in their career and hadn’t yet encountered an extremely challenging year.

Resist isolation

As farm leaders, it can be easy to feel that we’re alone – typically living in a rural area, maybe leading our businesses solo or with a few family members. That isolation can multiply any anxiety that crops up, especially when dealing with such a challenging year as 2019.

It’s critical that those leading and working on farms be aware of what they can do when anxiety hits close to home – whether yourself or if you recognize signs in a family member or business partner. And then it’s important to take steps to help improve the situation, like seeking the help of a mental health professional or counselor.

Four thoughts

Here are four ideas about what you might do if you find anxiety continues to run high.

  1. Talk about it. Perhaps the number one thing that will help ease our anxiety is to say our worries and concerns out loud to another person. If you feel there’s no one in your operation that you can or want to talk to, consider speaking with a close friend, pastor or mental health professional, such as a counselor. Sometimes simply talking about what you’re going through can be helpful. Another person might be able to help you think through how you can better cope when anxiety rears its head.
    State-level directories of farm counselors include the Iowa Concern Hotline (1-800-447-1985), the Nebraska Rural Response Helpline (1-800-464-0258), and the Wisconsin Farm Center (1-800-942-2474). For urgent help, call 1-800-273-TALK.
  2. Prioritize your health and well-being. Often our own health can go by the wayside when we’re so involved with taking care of the farm and the business. But without you, the farm leader, there is no business, so you must take care of yourself. Remember the saying: “Put on your own oxygen mask first before trying to help others.”
  3. Become a support system for someone else. Once you’ve put on your own “oxygen mask” and are breathing relatively well again, you have the opportunity to help another person who is struggling. Sometimes working to help others who are dealing with something like what you’ve gone through or are going through results in helping yourself, as well. The support becomes reciprocal.
  4. Get a team of business advisors around you. Having trusted advisors can lead to greater peace of mind as you run your farm business. Farmers often say they feel they have a sounding board for major decisions when they work with trusted advisors. This can help lessen anxiety when dealing with choices involving lots of uncertainty, such as marketing plans and decisions. You can get in touch with an advisor for the farm to discuss this more.
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