Agriculture is an occupation with the word “culture” in it; it is a way of life. Unfortunately, that way of life can be affected when stress starts to show physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive symptoms.
Frustration is a stressor each of us can feel from time to time, especially for those in the dairy industry. From personal and family struggles to rhetoric in our community and prices in the marketplace, there are plenty of reasons to doubt who we are and what we represent. That can cause the frustration to become overwhelming, but knowing how to deal with that stress can be the key to keep moving forward.
“None of us are exempt from stress, including anxiety and depression,” said John Noullet, a mental health care educator for WellSpan Philhaven. Noullet, accompanied by Jayne Miller of Wellspan, spoke during the Dairy Financial and Risk Management Conference, held in September 2018 at Summerdale, Pennsylvania. The presentation was held to help educate industry professionals and dairy producers about what they can do to ease stress on the farm and in the office.
Noullet explained stress is defined as the state of mental or emotional strain – a tension that results from adverse and demanding circumstances. What are these circumstances? Many of these circumstances or factors are in our surrounding environment.
“This includes our language – the phrases and words we use – in conversations with one another; it can help or hinder how someone interprets the message,” Noullet said. “Sometimes, without the intention of this happening, we can create barriers.” For instance, if someone speaks to a higher level of understanding than the recipient of the message, the recipient may become frazzled because he or she does not know what the speaker was trying to convey. It is a goal to communicate in ways everyone can understand.
During the conference, Noullet elaborated on the idea that some stress can be beneficial; however, we all need to know our limits. There are seven common contributors to stress among Americans who have chronic and high levels of tension. These contributors include too many responsibilities, finances, work, individual health, family health, family and friends, and self-esteem. For farmers, this contribution list is extended, including the feeling of having no control over weather, animal health and markets.
Agriculture is an occupation with the word “culture” in it; it is a way of life. Unfortunately, that way of life can be affected when stress starts to show physical, emotional, behavioral and cognitive symptoms. These symptoms include but are not limited to:
• Clenched jaw and teeth grinding
• Sleeping problems
• Upset stomach
• Avoiding others
• Easily agitated, frustrated and moody
• Forgetfulness and disorganization
• Appetite changes
• Pacing and fidgeting
Any symptoms of stress that last two weeks or longer can become worrisome to an individual’s attitude, mentality and functions. Noullet and Miller explained this is when anxiety and depression start to play a factor in a person’s mental and emotional strain. Without positive social support or a treated mental health plan, individuals can start to feel hopeless and helpless. Unfortunately, these symptoms can lead to suicidal thoughts if surrounding environmental factors do not change.
In the U.S., middle-aged Caucasian males represent the demographic with the most completed suicides, with farmers making up a large rate. “This rate is not fully accounted for, though, due to the belief farm suicides can be reported as accidents,” Miller said.
Noullet and Miller shared signs to be aware of to make certain a loved one or peer is not contemplating suicide. These warning signs include but are not limited to:
• Verbal cues
• Giving away prized possessions
• Past-tense language
• Isolation and withdrawal
• Acting recklessly
• Sudden mood changes
• Organizing personal belongings
• Sudden interest or disinterest in religion
Though the behavior of the loved one or peer may be standoffish and unaccepting, Miller emphasized a listening ear can shed light on them in troubling times. Depending on your relationship with the person, you may need to get others involved. If someone is actively expressing suicidal thoughts, do not leave them alone. This means you should know your resources, such as other family members, friends or county interventions. In addition, consider the time and circumstance. Remember, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is (800) 273-8255. You may also use the crisis text line by sending a message, something as simple as “help,” to 741741.
Whether or not you or a loved one is experiencing stress, Miller said it is still important to indulge in self-care. Make sure you’re getting enough rest and going to bed at a reasonable time, choosing healthy options for your meals and taking those few minutes to exercise or go on a walk. Even organizing your office, closet or kitchen can do the trick. Don’t forget to spend some time on your hobbies or take extra time to talk and enjoy the company of your friends and family.
Noullet invited each conference attendee to participate in additional training. WellSpan Philhaven provides both mental health first aid and question/persuade/refer trainings free of charge. These programs are available in many regions across the U.S. Both programs are nationally recognized, so if interested, contact your local doctors or visit online (www.mentalhealthfirstaid.org).
“The brain is an organ too. It’ll malfunction at times,” Miller said. “We need to start thinking of it this way and reduce the stigma that surrounds stress, anxiety and disorder. Everyone is affected at some time.”
Frustration and stress affect every one of us. Remember, you or your loved one is not alone. Through times of stress, it is important to be there for one another and check in with each other; these are times that should not be put all on one person’s shoulders. Communicate, and open any barriers. While some days it may seem the battle is more than what it is worth, know there is a way to get through it and see better days ahead. It will be tough – not everyone will understand, but empathy and awareness are our friends. Have faith, especially in yourself. Know your resources, be aware of the visual signs, and don’t be afraid of the stigma. We all have a role in managing the stress.
Communications and Marketing Manager
Center for Dairy Excellence