Farming can be both a rewarding but demanding occupation. Farmers are exposed to a great deal of physical health risks with long strenuous labour and poor working conditions inhibited by weather and time of day. Due to the nature of farming, farmers and their families are susceptible to high levels of stress, depression, anxiety, and suicide. The National Stress Survey found that “almost twothirds of Canadian farmers are feeling stressed on their farm” (CASA, 2005). As a result of the high stress among Canadian farmers, the Agricultural Health and Safety Network has developed this resource to support farmers’ understanding of stress, its impact and promote a variety of helpful coping methods to assist in stress reduction.
“I got my swather stuck, a minute later my father phoned to tell me the unloading auger stopped working on the combine, and then shortly after that a bearing went on our other combine. This all happened midday, peak season of harvest, with rain in the near forecast. Everything went wrong all at once, talk about being stressed. ”
– Saskatchewan Farmer
“We are farming a lot more land these days, and it can be pretty challenging organizing several workers on the farmkeeping everyone on track making sure they are safe and running the equipment properly trying to get a lot of work done. My wife is a big help to me on our farm, but I know that I have been pretty short with her lately. She is busy working off the farm, helping the kids keep up with school and activities and keeping on top of the bills that need to be paid. My sister phones every couple of days, reminds me that Dad shouldn’t be running the equipment anymore as his memory is getting poor. I know my family is worried about my Dad just like I am. I haven’t been sleeping well, and my stomach feels like it is always in a knot. “ – Saskatchewan Farmer
Stress can be difficult to define as people experience stress differently. Negative events do not always lead to stress, and positive events are not necessarily stress-free. Simply, stress is the disruption of the body’s homeostasis (i.e. ideal bodily function). Stress is the human response to change that is perceived as a challenge or a threat; it is a natural occurrence in life. However, too much stress can be harmful to the body, especially over a long period.
Is all stress bad?
A small amount of stress can be good for people as it makes us more alert and gives us a boost of adrenaline. Just enough stress can motivate people to accomplish tasks. This good stress is referred to as eustress. An example of eustress on the farm may be the motivation to make it through the busy seeding or harvest season.
A build-up of tension without the opportunity to recover can lead to harmful stress. Bad stress is when events make us feel uncomfortable and not in control, leading to poor concentration, poor decision-making and deteriorating relationships. The main problem with stress is feeling overwhelmed by too many demands resulting in loss of confidence in our ability to cope.
Stress is part of daily life as it is a result of both the good and bad things that happen. When you find an event stressful, your body undergoes a series of responses. Health Canada describes these responses in 3 stages:
Side note: Evolution of stress
Stress has evolved over the years. Back in primitive years, stress was more physical than psychological and was short term in duration. For instance, say an early human was out gathering food to eat when all of a sudden a predator such as a lion approaches. Stress enabled the body to quickly react, sprinting away from the lion. After escaping, the body would then go into recovery mode, bringing the body back to its homeostasis. While we aren’t running away from predators anymore, our busy lifestyle has put a constant strain on our body and mind. Stress has become more chronic and long term as a result of this transition.
Feeling stressed for periods of time can take a toll on your mental and physical health. Our bodies respond to stress by releasing stress hormones. These hormones make blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels go up. The first symptoms are relatively mild, like chronic headaches and increased susceptibility to colds however with increased exposure to chronic stress more serious health problems may develop. Some stress- influenced conditions include, but are not limited to:
"FIND WAYS TO MINIMIZE STRESS AS YOUR HEALTH DEPENDS ON IT!"
Stress can surface in the form of physical, emotional and behavioural changes depending on the person and situation.
Check the stress symptoms you may have experienced.
Stressors are those events or circumstances that cause people to become stressed. Stressors can be physical (e.g. pain, illness, or injury) or psychological (e.g. financial worry, time pressures, or family matters). Stressors and their severity vary among people.
Farming involves many situations that cause stress. Common farm stressors are finances, weather, heavy work overloads, and conflict in relationships.
Complete the following inventory to identify your stressors. Rate your stressors on a scale of 1 to 5.
(1 = low stress 5 = high stress).
|1. Sudden and significant increas in debt load||1 2 3 4 5|
|2. Significant production loss due to disease or pests||1 2 3 4 5|
|3. Insufficient regular cash flow to meet financial obligations or for daily necessities||1 2 3 4 5|
|4. Delay in planting or harvesting due to weather||1 2 3 4 5|
|5. Media distortions of farm situation||1 2 3 4 5|
|6. Low commodity prices||1 2 3 4 5|
|7. Significant changes in type or size of farming operation||1 2 3 4 5|
|8. Meeting with loan officer for additional loan||1 2 3 4 5|
|9. Purchase of major machinery, facility or livestock||1 2 3 4 5|
|10. Not being considered part of the farm business by others||1 2 3 4 5|
|11. Taking an off-the-farm job to meet expenses||1 2 3 4 5|
12. Prolonged bad weather
|1 2 3 4 5|
|13. Problems with weeds or insects||1 2 3 4 5|
|14. Machinery breakdown at a critical time||1 2 3 4 5|
|15. Not enough time to spend with spouse||1 2 3 4 5|
|16. Crop loss due to weather||1 2 3 4 5|
|17. Illness during planting/harvesting||1 2 3 4 5|
|18. Deciding when to sell||1 2 3 4 5|
|19. Rising expenses||1 2 3 4 5|
|20. Government policies and regulations||1 2 3 4 5|
|21. concerns about the continued financial viability of the farm||1 2 3 4 5|
|22. Having a loan request turned down||1 2 3 4 5|
|23. Farming-related accident||1 2 3 4 5|
|24. Government free-trade policies||1 2 3 4 5|
|25. Government "cheap food" policies||1 2 3 4 5|
|26. Metric conversion||1 2 3 4 5|
|27. Breeding or reproductive difficulties with livestock||1 2 3 4 5|
|28. No farm help or loss of help when needed||1 2 3 4 5|
|29. Need to learn/adjust to new government regulations and policies||1 2 3 4 5|
|30. Spouse doesn't have enough time for child-rearing||1 2 3 4 5|
|31. Increased workload at peak times||1 2 3 4 5|
|32. Unplanned interruptions||1 2 3 4 5|
|33. Use of hazardous chemicals on the farm||1 2 3 4 5|
|34. Dealing with salespeople||1 2 3 4 5|
|35. Long work hours||1 2 3 4 5|
|36. Few vacations away from the farm||1 2 3 4 5|
|37. Feeling isolated on the farm||1 2 3 4 5|
|38. Having to travel long distances for services, shopping and health care||1 2 3 4 5|
|39. Pressure of having too much to do in too little time||1 2 3 4 5|
|40. Keeping up with new technology and products||1 2 3 4 5|
|41. Worrying about market conditions||1 2 3 4 5|
|42. Having to make decisions without all the necessary information||1 2 3 4 5|
|43. Being expected to work on the farm as well as manage the house||1 2 3 4 5|
|44. Worrying about owing money||1 2 3 4 5|
|45. Worrying about keeping the farm in the family||1 2 3 4 5|
|46. Not seeing enough people||1 2 3 4 5|
47. Not having enough money or time for entertainment and recreation
|1 2 3 4 5|
|48. Death of a parent or member of immediate family||1 2 3 4 5|
|49. Death of a friend||1 2 3 4 5|
|50. Problems balancing work and family responsibilities||1 2 3 4 5|
|51. Problems with relatives in farm operating agreement||1 2 3 4 5|
|52. Divorce or marital separation||1 2 3 4 5|
|53. Problems with a partnership||1 2 3 4 5|
|54. Daughter or son leaving home||1 2 3 4 5|
|55. Trouble with parents or in-laws||1 2 3 4 5|
|56. Conflict with spouse over spending priorities||1 2 3 4 5|
|57. Major decisions being made without my knowledge or input||1 2 3 4 5|
|58. Having to wear too many hats, eg. farmer, spouse, father, son etc.||1 2 3 4 5|
|59. Surface-rights negotiations||1 2 3 4 5|
|60. Other recent events which have had an impact on your life:||1 2 3 4 5|
If the majority of scores are 4 or 5:
It is important for you to devote immediate attention to stress management. Give yourself credit for the tough times you have survived. It is important to remember that when you are under stress for a long time, it depletes your internal resources. It is common to identify with these farm stresses in your operation. Remember there are people to talk to, to listen and help brainstorm ways to cope. Please refer to the back page of this book for local contacts. There is no shame in talking to someone about your concerns.
If the majority of scores are 3:
Focus on your stress management strengths and continue to expand your coping skills that will help to deal with farm stress. Set goals that allow you to take control of what is controllable on your farm. The skills you are using, and those you will develop can help you to deal with uncontrollable situations that arise.
If the majority of scores are 1 and 2:
You have farm stress coping skills. Share your skills with others. Farming will continue to challenge you, so continue to communicate, prioritize daily tasks and support your family, friends, workers and community in difficult times.
Less than 7 yes: Any effort made to improve your ability to recognize and deal with stress will help promote balance in your life.
More than 7 yes: You are on the right track! Share your ability to balance farm stress through difficult times with friends, family and colleagues. Be aware there can be a big difference between knowing what to do and doing it.
"REMEMBER THAT EVERYONE RESPONDS TO STRESS DIFFERENTLY"
Coping is how a person manages both their stressful problems and their responses to them. Each person may have a different way of coping with stress, and that coping style may also change based on the situation.
Two common coping styles among people
- approach coping: deal with stressor by trying to resolve it
- avoidant coping: avoid the problem causing stress
People who use approach coping, are more likely to adapt to stressors and have more positive outcomes than those who use avoidant coping.
There are a many stress coping methods that can help resolve or reduce stress. One method may be best suited for one stressor but not the other. Coping methods are not meant to be interdependent, but they can supplement one another when two or more are used together.
Useful stress coping methods may include:
- Cognitive-behavioral restructuring
- Physical activity
- Social Support
CHOOSE TO BE OPTIMISTIC IT FEELS BETTER
Cognitive-behavioural restructuring reduces stressful thoughts by restructuring them to be more realistic and unthreatening. Below is a coping technique that guides you through altering your stressful thoughts.
Physical activity is another great coping mechanism to reduce stress. Research has found those who exercise often are less likely to experience stress and depression. How does physical activity reduce stress?
Examples of Physical activities:
"TAKE SMALL BREAKS OUT OF YOUR DAY TO COLLECT YOURSELF AND RECHARGE"
Stress tenses your muscles, makes your breathing shallow, raises your blood pressure, makes your heart pound and clouds your judgment. Relaxation skills can reverse those effects to make you feel better, think better and perform better. Most relaxation techniques involve shifting your stressful thought by concentrating on one positive image, thought, or task. Relaxation can be achieved in many different ways such as meditation, reading a magazine, listening to your favorite music, and going for a walk. It is important to take small breaks out of your day to collect yourself and recharge. Breaks do not have to be long, a short 3-minute relaxation break maybe all you need to boost your energy and mood.
3-minute guided relaxation technique
Sometimes when we are stressed, our sleep can be compromised. Overthinking things can make it very difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. We have to remember that sleep is very important to help our body and mind cope with the symptoms of stress. Here are a few tips to you may find helpful to get a quality sleep:
Laughter is critical to relaxation and wellbeing; it's FREE, low calorie, and available without a prescription.
Did you know that when you laugh:
"HE WHO LAUGHS........LASTS." MARK TWAIN
Now that you understand what stress is, the impact it can have, and different coping methods for dealing with it, the next step is to take action. Direct your energy towards problem-solving and coping with your stressors. Use this recipe to deal with the stressors as they arise on the farm.
What is on my mind?
What does this affect?
What can I do?
Who can help?
It’s important to get a picture of what you, ideally, would like to have happen in your life and on your farm in the short and long term. SMART goals can help to turn all these stress skills into personal satisfaction and productivity.
Specific: Set a concrete goal that addresses behaviour and results.
Measurable: State your goal in a way that you can easily measure progress.
Agreed upon: Don’t do it alone, ask others to help and support you.
Rewarding: Behaviour change should be as much fun as possible. Reward yourself for achieving a goal as well as passing milestones.
Trackable: Keep track of your progress in a visible way, so you do not get discouraged.
To achieve long-term goals, you need to set three short term goals. Develop actions that will enable you to succeed in reaching the short term goals. Outline a time frame for each goal. This template can be useful in setting goals on your farm.
FARM STRESS LINE 1-800-667-4442
24 hours per day. Seven days per week. Free and Confidential. There is no call display.
The Farm Stress Line is staffed by peer counsellors, men and women from the farm, trained to assist people in crisis, taking calls on personal and family issues, financial situations and other concerns affecting the farm operation.
WHO CAN HELP?
Canadian Mental Health Association
Farm Consultation Services (pro-active business planning)
Heart and Stroke Foundation
Problem Gambling Help Line (24 hrs)
Public Health Agency of Canada
Kid’s Help Phone Line (24 hrs)
Farm Debt Mediation Services
Suicide (24 hrs) (Tel. Dir. blue pages: “Mobile Crisis Service”)
9-1-1 or 1-306-933-6200
Fill in Local Contacts:
Community Addiction Services _________________
AgKnowledge Centre _________________
Family Doctor _________________
Financial Counselling _________________
Mental Health Services (Local health district) _________________
Narcotics Anonymous (Phone directory, white pages) _________________
Rural Service Centre _________________
Sexual Assault Crisis Line (Tel. Dir. white pages)
DISCLAIMER: Information provided in this booklet is general in content and should not be seen as a substitute for professional medical advice. Concerns over stress, and agricultural related exposures should be discussed with your doctor.
The Agricultural Health and Safety Network
Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture (CCHSA)
104 Clinic Place, Box 23, University of Saskatchewan
Saskatoon, SK S7N 2Z4
Phone: (306) 966-6644 or (306) 966-6647
Fax: (306) 966-8799
Every care has been taken to provide accurate information in the Daily Chore: Handling Stress on the Farm resource but the authors are not liable for any results that arise from the application of this material.
Written permission is required to reproduce material.
First edition, 2000.
4th edition prepared by:
Ms. Miranda Dziaduck. BA, MPH Agricultural Health and Safety Network Canadian Centre for Health and Safety in Agriculture
Thanks to the following for their contribution and help:
Dr. Lilian Thorpe. MD, PhD, FRCPC Ms. Kendra Ulmer. BSN, RN, MN Dr. Niels Koehnke. MD, MSc, FRCPC
3rd edition prepared by:
Ms. Kendra Ulmer. BSN, RN Rural Health Extension Program
2nd edition prepared by:
Ms. Leanne LaBrash, BSA, MS I.ARE.H
Ms. Kendra Ulmer. BSN, RN I.ARE.H
1st Edition prepared by:
Mrs. Julie Bidwell, BSN, RN I.ARE.H
Rev. Adel Compton, BSN, RN, MDiv The United Church of Canada
Mr. Ken Imhoff
Farm Stress Unit
Publication #: 2006
Disclaimer and Reproduction Information: Information in NASD does not represent NIOSH policy. Information included in NASD appears by permission of the author and/or copyright holder. More