5 ways to keep farming stress at bay

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Fall is a busy time of year, and nobody knows this better than farmers. As harvest season draws to a close, remember these simple strategies that can help you manage the stress that may follow. 

1. Make the most of your healthy lifestyle choices (but don't expect perfection). 

Sleep is hard to come by during harvest season, when weather, moisture, equipment malfunctions and other uncontrollable factors play a major role in whether you can get a solid 8 hours of rest. So, focus on the things you can control, including your diet, alcohol intake and activity level—all of which have a direct impact on how you handle stress.

Give yourself the grace knowing that you likely won't be perfect in all these areas. Trust that even a small amount of consistent effort goes a long way in helping you manage stress levels and improve your physical and mental health. 

Here are some suggestions:

  • Keep alcohol intake to a minimum (up to 2 drinks per day for men, and 1 drink per day for women).
  • Eat enough food to sustain your energy levels during a busy day, and prioritize protein and healthy fats to keep you full and focused.
  • Keep a water bottle in your truck to stay hydrated.
  • Take brisk walks when you can.

As for sleep, even if you can't get 7 to 9 hours of uninterrupted rest at night, at least make your bedroom more sleep-friendly by keeping it cool, very dark, and for rest (and romance) only. 

2. Get and stay organized. 

Mistakes and unexpected hang-ups are bound to happen, even with the best preparation possible. It helps to maintain realistic expectations about your daily operations and be willing to accept the things that are beyond your control. 

In the meantime, keeping yourself and your family organized helps you avoid preventable snafus: 

  • Keep a good inventory of your equipment and supplies, noting which ones need replacement parts, tune-ups, etc. (off-season is a great time to get up-to-date).
  • Use a calendar system to stay on top of deliveries, shipments, auctions and so on.
  • Keep your bills, payments and receipts in order.
  • Assign tasks and make sure everyone is clear about their roles.
  • Be willing to say no to other commitments that you are unable or unwilling to fulfill. 

3. Make time to unwind. 

Don't neglect the family dinners. Play with the dogs. Go watch your kids' athletic events. Watch a comedy, play with the grandkids, work on your favorite hobby. Whatever it is you love to do to relax, make time for it in your daily life. Even just a 10-minute break can be enough to give you the mental break you need to prevent stress from piling up. 

4. Give thanks. 

Is there a trucker, buyer, mechanic, neighbor or someone else that helped you out recently? How about your spouse and kids? Showing gratitude on purpose—through a handshake, a compliment, a hug, or a thoughtful note, phone call or text message—helps you keep a healthy perspective on your life right now, and helps you and the other person feel good, too. 

Even when things "go wrong," you might find some satisfaction in finding the silver lining. 

5. Seek out supportive resources. 

No one farms alone—and you don't have to face your stress alone, either.

Connected to a local church or civic group? These are great communities to lean upon and learn from.

SIU School of Medicine’s Center for Rural Health and Social Services Development coordinates the Farm Family Resource Initiative, a unique program that improves access to a variety of resources for Illinois farming families. We encourage you or a loved one to explore its “toolkit” and reach out if you need help managing your stress this harvest season, or whenever farm-related stress encroaches on your life.

To learn more about the Farm Family Resource Initiative or to speak with a health care provider near you, call SIU Medicine at 217-545-8000. 

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