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Pull together in times of stress
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Pull together in times of stress

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Farming has always been stressful, but recently it’s been more so.

Tough times in farming can be tough on marriages. Couples need to pull together. Husbands and wives have different emotional needs at such times. While personality differences keep a marriage relationship interesting, differences in how spouses cope can be trouble.

“During recent decades, we have learned how successful farmers and families effectively manage their stress by sitting down and discussing their stress-management methods with them,” said John Shutske, University of Wisconsin-Madison safety engineering and agricultural-health specialist. “Some ... actions involve preparing ourselves physically or emotionally to deal with stress, while others require a purposeful set of strategic actions.”

Shutske said he has learned strategies from farmers that are effective in alleviating stress.

  • Eat right – No farm operator would ever dream of feeding their animals lousy feed or heading out to the field in a chopper with a half-filled tank of low-grade diesel fuel to complete harvest. Yet we fill our bodies with cheap fast food and other high-fat low-nutrition junk food – or worse we don’t eat at all.
  • Start moving – Exercise relieves stress. It is an outlet for extra energy generated by chemicals released in the body during stressful situations. Exercise stimulates parts of the brain that keep the stress response in check, as well those needed for good decision making. People who exercise sleep better – and adequate rest helps one cope. Spouses might encourage one another to take a 20-minute walk together to exercise and reconnect.
  • Keep a sense of humor – Laughing helps keep perspective. That’s why maintaining social activities in times of stress is important. Kicking back and laughing improves outlook.
  • Avoid unhealthy ways of destressing – One of the unfortunate consequences of too much stress is increased risk of drug, alcohol or tobacco use. Substances often make challenging problems worse in the longer term and damage our most precious relationships.
  • Talk it out – Openly airing problems, fears and frustrations can be constructive and healthy. Couples who handle stress well communicate freely. Though men tend to have more difficulty expressing fears, women with clear access to information can help find solutions. Problems become easier to solve.
  • Learn – Agriculture is increasingly complex. Though education requires time and commitment, it lowers stress and builds confidence. The unknown becomes manageable. Attending a workshop might also open doors to new supplementary business opportunities.
  • Clarify long-term goals – Like education, farm planning provides a roadmap that reduces confusion and ambiguity – and thus reduces stress.
  • Schedule in family time – Missing family events or fun activities results in guilt, anger and regret – all of which add to stress. Better communication between spouses on family events establishes team spirit and helps the home be well-managed. That prevents family activities falling through the cracks.
  • Know depression symptoms – Farmers have higher rates of depression and suicide.

Choose to be grateful

Cultivating gratitude is a path to greater emotional well-being, said Richelle Hoekstra-Anderson, clinical psychologist and life-enrichment coach at Crossroads Renewal Coaching and Counseling Services in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.

“From a psychological standpoint it is absolutely essential to our well-being,” she said. “Unfortunately I believe we live in a culture that is increasingly focused not on thanksgiving but criticism giving or complaint giving or just plain indifference.”

Expressing gratitude boosts happiness, reduces stress and even improves physical health. And people have the power to choose gratitude, she said. Happy people are aware that everything in life is undeserved. That positive awareness results in gratefulness, a lighter spirit and a willingness to give to other people.

“There’s a certain ease of life that occurs when you don’t always feel like you are on pins and needles waiting for life to come together,” she said.

Gratitude and contentment are interconnected. Gratitude neutralizes envy, hostility, worry and irritation, and boosts feelings of happiness.

“Gratitude empowers you to notice what’s right in front of you,” Hoekstra-Anderson said. “It opens your mind to the little blessings – that if they suddenly disappeared, they wouldn’t seem so little anymore.”

She said to be intentional in expressing gratitude to people – especially to a spouse.

Michigan State University has a new online course for managing stress, “Weathering the Storm: How to Handle Stress on the Farm.” It’s designed to help farm families gain a better understanding of chronic stress and cultivate a more productive mindset. Those interested can access the self-paced course at their convenience. Visit for more information.

Jane Fyksen writes about crops, dairy, livestock and other agricultural topics; she is the crops editor for Agri-View based in Wisconsin. Email to contact her.

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