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Stress management: What’s more stressful than planting?

Holly Spangler Silhouette of farm equipment in field
POSITIVE: It’s easy to lose objectivity when you’re stressed. One negative thought can lead to another, and soon you’ve created a mental avalanche.
It’s a tough season, but here are five strategies and 15 tactics to help you deal with planting stress.

Planting is stressful, no doubt about it. The weather, the markets, the uncertainties, the weather, the relationships, the weather … you get the idea. But there are plenty of ways to manage stress around planting season, says Josie Rudolphi, assistant professor of ag safety and health at University of Illinois and a former farm kid.

She offers up her father, a farmer, as an example. He and her mother committed to getting more exercise last year and decided to walk a few miles every day — rain or shine, because they knew if they let weather stop them in the Midwest, they’d never do it. They walked every day last winter, no matter what.

“It’s easy to think you have to stop that during planting, and some days are hard — but you can do it in other ways,” she says. Now, if her dad needs a ride between fields, he’ll call somebody to come get him, but he’ll start walking in the meantime. That gets him a little more exercise, headed in the right direction, and a chance to clear his head.

Rudolphi offers up five more ways to successfully deal with both adversity and stress:

1. Avoid. Avoiding stress is the best coping method, if it’s possible. Plan ahead to detour around it, or change your expectations. Learn to say no, knowing you have a lot of demands on your time. “At a certain point, you cross the line between being charitable and foolish,” Rudolphi says, adding it’s OK to say no to coaching T-ball or serving on another committee. “Those around you will appreciate more time with a relaxed you. And you’ll have time to enjoy them, too.”

Another strategy: Label your to-do list with A’s, B’s and C’s, according to importance. On hectic days, scratch the C’s from your list.

2. Accept. Accepting that situations are out of your control frees up energy, so you can focus on what you can control. Accept the emotions and feelings you experience. Try the following:

• Talk with someone. You may not be able to change a frustrating situation, but that doesn’t mean your feelings aren’t legitimate. Call an understanding friend from the tractor. You may feel better after talking it out.

• Forgive. It takes energy to be angry. Forgiving may take practice, but by doing so you will free yourself from burning more negative energy. “Why stew in your anger when you could shrug and move on?” Rudolphi asks.

• Practice positive self-talk. It’s easy to lose objectivity when you’re stressed. One negative thought can lead to another, and soon you’ve created a mental avalanche. Rudolphi says, “Instead of thinking, ‘I am horrible with money, and I will never be able to control my finances,’ try this: ‘I made a mistake with my money, but I’m resilient. I'll get through it.’”

• Learn from your mistakes. You can’t change the fact that procrastination hurt your performance, but you can make sure you set aside more time in the future.

3. Adapt. Adapting may include changing expectations. In extreme stress, don’t let perfect get in the way of good. Rudolphi says there are situations on the farm where striving for perfection makes the situation harder. Instead, reframe your thoughts and don’t get into a negative thought spiral about what you could’ve or should’ve done better. Reframe and look for the silver lining.

“Reframing is a strategy used to change the way we see a situation,” she explains. “One gentleman told me how he learned to use FaceTime to see his grandchildren. COVID-19 is not ideal, but he learned to use FaceTime; and even after this, he says he can use it to see them every day if he wants to.”

More tactics:

• Create an assets column. Imagine all the things that bring you joy in life, such as vacation, children and pets. Then call on that list when you’re stressed. “It will put things into perspective and serve as a reminder of life’s joys,” Rudolphi adds.

• Look at the big picture. Ask yourself, “Will this matter in a year or in five years?” The answer is often no. Realizing this makes a stressful situation seem less overwhelming.

4. Alter. One of the most helpful things you can do when you’re under stress is to take inventory, then attempt to make a change for the better: Change the way you work, or respectfully ask others to change their behavior. Two more strategies:

• Lump together similar tasks. Group your phone calls, car errands and computer-related tasks. The reward of increased efficiency will be extra time.

• State limits ahead of time. Rudolphi says, “Instead of stewing over a colleague’s nonstop chatter, politely start the conversation with, ‘I’ve got only five minutes to cover this.’”

5. Alleviate. Some strategies are healthier than others. Substance abuse, binge drinking and binge eating are not healthy strategies. Hobbies, exercise, relaxation and diversion (TV, for example) are healthy ones. “If you’re having an extremely difficult time, consider what would improve your mood — and whatever that is, assuming it’s healthy and legal, is something you should try to do,” Rudolphi says.

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