Getting the stress out of your life is not a one-time project. It’s something you have to work on every day.
By Gabriele Del Bianco
My last article explained that stress is not something a good night’s sleep or a short holiday will fix. Stress is a very real illness that affects our minds and bodies. It influences work efficiency and how we relate to others, not a one-time fix just when things get overwhelming.
On a farm, there always seems to be one more thing to do and one more thing to think about. Information keeps arriving. People keep demanding decisions. Bills pile up. Machinery breaks down. Buildings need maintenance. In the busy seasons not even darkness signals the end of your working day.
Personal care tends to be a “we’ll see if there’s any time left” part of life. Many of us have been raised with a sense of false heroism. Machines, buildings, crops, and animals often get better care than we do ourselves. Working harder, we believe, will cure whatever ails us.
But we’re wrong. We need to balance hard work with a proper plan for maintaining our health and sense of well-being; to make time to look after ourselves. That’s easier if we accept that mental and physical health are critical to success in living and farming.
Thinking about health is not enough. You need to take the next step, which requires decisions. First, learn to be aware of yourself. Don’t dismiss the physical signs of unhealthy stress. These include insomnia, fatigue, eating too much or too little, excessive drinking, excessive smoking, stomach cramps high blood pressure, teeth grinding, diarrhea, constipation, or head/back/neck pain.
Among the emotional danger signs are ongoing feelings of frustration, anger, bitterness, withdrawal, nervousness, mood swings, depression or worrying. These can show themselves in behavior such as shouting and screaming, staying in bed all day, listlessness, “using” people, and irregular personal care.
Ignoring stress symptoms triggers negative attitudes, a feeling of worthlessness and failure, a lack of focus leading to injury, and an overall feeling of hopelessness.
To combat unhealthy stress, first sit down with your farming partners and examine ways to improve communication and disperse work so that no one is overloaded. Take time to plan, talk about expectations, and do some problem solving
Fun is an important part of stress reduction. We all need rest, and breaks during the day with relaxing activities to look forward to. Exercise is another stress-reducer. Buy a treadmill and walk for 20 or 30 minutes a day on it. Or just go walking. Develop a hobby. Having at least one activity that carries no responsibility is refreshing.
Eating slowly and enjoying your meals makes a difference. Good food is more than simply downing a couple of donuts. We think a lot about how we feed livestock, and should think more about how we feed ourselves. Avoid alcohol whenever possible. It increases depression. Don’t over-medicate yourself. Read the instructions on medications. Report any side effects that worry you.
Don’t let anger grow roots. Storing anger inside is dangerous. But venting it on family members and hired hands is also destructive. Find a counselor or trusted friend to help you explore anger, challenge you to name it and find ways of dealing with it. Pinpointing the real reason for anger helps resolve the immediate difficulty and other problems, too.
Cultivate your support network. Admitting you need support, whether from a professional or our peers is not an admission of weakness but actually a signal that you want to become strengthened.
When dealing with a major problem, try to break it down into smaller parts. For example, if you have a barn that needs a lot of repairs, pick out one job and concentrate on getting it done. That way you see yourself progressing. Once the first task is completed, pick out another, and so on. Gradually, the problem as a whole will begin to look more manageable.
Learn to say “no”. Many people have a hard time saying “no” because they think it will make them look negative. The truth is, we all have to know when enough is enough.
Also, remember that old line about laughter being good medicine. It’s true. Look for humor. Watch a funny movie, read some funny stories, look for humor in what you do. Positive thoughts and humor help us maintain perspective when tackling serious problems.
There is no way to completely eliminate stress. Aim instead at developing a healthy lifestyle that limits the amount of stress. This requires a conscious personal commitment, but the benefits are worth it.
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 April 2001. The Farm Line thanks Gabriele Del Bianco for allowing us to share his knowledge and expertise with you.