Dealing with stress due to farming
Many farm families have been under a lot of stress recently. You have to make sure you look at ways to reduce it, writes Peter Young.

Dear Money Mentor,

I am writing this to you and I’m tired and frustrated. I am married to a dairy farmer and, like many others, we have expanded cow numbers over the last few years. This spring has been very stressful for both of us.

I work part time but find the days that I am not working off-farm I am farming to try and help out. Some of the days I work, I help out feeding the calves. It means we are both exhausted and this often leads to us arguing. He says if I didn’t work off the farm, it would be easier on us both. However, I look forward to those days and we need the money.

He keeps saying it is just a tough year and normally it would be a lot easier. He is still planning on going up in numbers further and says if we invest in infrastructure the work would be easier. He is under pressure and doesn’t seem to be able to take time off. When I’m away from the farm, I worry that he is under too much stress. We used to be able to get away from the farm for an afternoon but now this seems to be getting more difficult.

I just wonder is he too focused on getting bigger and is it really worth it? I’m sure there must be other readers in the same situation and I would like to hear how they are dealing with this spring.

Ann

Hi Ann,

Yes, there are many others in the same situation. I have actually talked to a few farmers over the last few weeks and what kept coming up was stress and mental health and the impact it can have. You talked about the future plans but from your letter the immediate stress on both of you has to be dealt with first. As an industry, we don’t focus enough on the importance of mental health and mental wellbeing, especially during stressful periods.

This spring, in particular, has been very stressful on farmers and their partners. Stress can be brought on by a number of different things, such as weather, “too much work, too little time”, financial pressures and relationship issues. Often it is a combination, but every person has a different reaction to stress.

The biggest problem is when it is not talked about and bottled up inside. Everyone should have at least one person that they can talk to and trust. You should talk to your husband about the stress you are both under. By talking, you can often deal with the current situation and see how you can make things easier.

Making decisions on a few areas can make you feel you are more in control. Even put in a date when you do go out for an hour or two to get away from the farm.

Get him to talk to his friends as well. I think farmers don’t realise and are often surprised when they do start talking and find out that others have experienced similar difficulties. You say that you look forward to getting off the farm and this is important. For women who work on farms, going for a coffee or lunch to meet a friend should be a regular feature.

Your husband also needs to take time out. I know farmers who meet other farmers or friends for lunch once a week. They don’t just talk farming. Many farmers would laugh at this but it can be refreshing and helps a lot. It might be better than going to the pub at night as having a few pints can make you more tired and put you back in a poorer mood the next day.

Eating healthy is an important element as when we are stressed we might look to food such as coffee, tea, alcohol, chocolate or soft drinks that can increase tension. I know farmers think they are doing exercise all day, but going for a walk or doing exercise they enjoy, like swimming, can be very helpful. It can also help them sleep better, which is very important. If you or your husband feel that things are still getting on top of you both, don’t be afraid to make an appointment with your doctor. They can check you over and give you options.

I know I have not dealt with the debate you are having on the future plans for the farm, but I will return to this topic. I would like to hear from other families about the stress they are under and, more importantly, what people are doing to make sure they keep mentally fit. CL

Spot the signs of stress

Some of the more common warning signs that it’s time to manage your stress and consider getting help are highlighted. They can include:

  • Loss of enjoyment and interest in activities usually enjoyed.
  • Loss of energy and constant tiredness.
  • Persistent worrying about little things.
  • Changes in sleeping patterns: sleeping difficulties despite physical exhaustion, or sometimes sleeping too much.
  • Indigestion or stomach upsets.
  • Muscle tension and pains (for example, lower back, chest, shoulders, joints, nervous twitches.
  • Skin itches or rashes for no apparent reason.
  • Frequent sickness (for example, colds and stomach bugs).
  • Shortness of breath or shallow breathing.
  • Memory or concentration problems.
  • Doing risky or careless things (excessive drinking).
  • • Continuous feelings of anxiousness and tension for no obvious reason.
  • • Feeling irritable, impatient or teary with no apparent reason.
  • • Finding it hard to make decisions and concentrate.
  • • A sad mood that will not go away despite good things happening.
  • • Loss of appetite or overeating.
  • • Isolation by avoiding people, places and events.
  • Mental health was a key part of our Movember campaign last autumn. They actually established a good website for New Zealand dairy farmers called farmstrong.co.nz.