Times are tough and the future’s uncertain for many farmers. Talking about your problems won’t make them go away — but will make them easier to live with. That’s what stress reduction is all about.
By Gabriele Del Bianco
She looks out her farmhouse window, fatigue marking her face. Her husband continues the work they shared earlier in the day, which began at dawn. The lights of the tractor are on as she puts the kids to bed. They’ll see Dad tomorrow.
He loves being a farmer, but the pile of bills keeps rising. “We’ll catch up someday,” is all he can say. He’s also angry, having watched shoppers at the grocery store look at well-stocked shelves oblivious to the passion, worry, fatigue, hard work and difficult decisions facing farmers who produced this abundant food.
Farmers, he recalls, used to be guys that other folk tipped their hats to in gratitude and respect. Now, too often, a farmer is simply someone to blame for environmental pollution or those slow-moving vehicles on busy country roads.
Stress affects our physical and mental health. It can rob us of motivation, throw a wet blanket on the fire of our passion, make workplaces less safe, distance people from each other, and make use feel all our efforts were for nothing.
It can trigger aches and pains, stomach upsets, and persistent headaches. Sleep is no longer restful — the mind continues to ponder and dread; morning comes too soon. And then it starts all over again. Stress is a condition that causes you to fear the future because you fell you have no control over your life.
It’s not something you clear away with a good sleep, a couple of drinks, or even a short vacation. Dealing successfully with stress requires an attitude focusing on wellness. It involves reminding ourselves that we are not just what we do. It’s a commitment to taking care of ourselves and celebrating the fruits of our labor, regardless of the storms we must weather.
You can’t always avoid the sources of stress. But you can focus on the big picture of life and not get drained by the negative events that sometimes seem to fill your day-to-day existence. And you can seek help to do this.
As a counselor, I’ve talked to farmers with unopened farm relief program documents sitting in the midst of scattered bills on the table between us. I’ve seen the desperation in the eyes of farmers convinced they’ve failed because a farm that’s been in their family for generations is in danger of being lost.
Often it’s not so much the sense of loss that causes the heartache, but a feeling that no matter how hard they work, forces beyond their control are dictating events. Stress takes a toll when you believe tomorrow will be a repeat of today — and you cannot handle many more todays.
I recall one farmer at a meeting describing how he felt like one of those old-time jugglers who spun plates at the top of sticks. The juggler started with one plate, and that was fine. Then he went to a second plate, and that was also fine. But with 3 plates he had to start concentrating to keep them all spinning. By the eighth plate he was constantly on the edge of disaster, with at least one plate always starting to wobble.
We had just finished listening to that story when another farmer stood up and described how he still loved to smell hay, and pick up a handful of soil out in the middle of a field and let it roll around in his fingers.
Suddenly small and large groups started to talk. A rapport had developed. All their difficulties could not rob these farmers of their common love of farming and the non-financial fulfillment it offers.
The lesson here is to remember the good things when you’re being pounded by negative news. Talk with farmer colleagues about why you farm. Motivate rather than discourage each other.
This is not a suggestion to dwell on nostalgia or look for sympathy, but to draw strength from others in your community instead of relying solely on your own inner strength. We can’t pretend that farming is not a high-pressure business, but we can remember that we’re all human beings in the midst of the business of farming.
My next article will explore some practical down-to-earth ways of relieving stress and regaining motivation. Meantime, remember that gathering to laugh, tell stories, know one another, and remind each other that we matter is one of the most important farming tools. All of us together are always stronger than one of us alone.
Gabriele Del Bianco is president of Innerfit Counselling, Consulting, and Training, based inn Auburn, Ont. His professional specialty lies in helping people feel a sense of worth, rework old habits, learn new skills, and unclutter their lives. He runs workshops on stress management, team building, and adapting to change for businesses and other organizations. He can be reached at 519-526-7625
The article has been reproduced with permission from the author and appeared in Country Guide March 2001. The Farm Line thanks Gabriele Del Bianco for allowing us to share his knowledge and expertise with you.