Crops, Horticulture, Irrigation, Livestock, Programming

Ag Offers Rewards, but can be Stressful Too

Recently I presented a webinar with my colleague, Glennis McClure that reminds us of daily stress in our lives, especially for farmers and ranchers. Agriculture is a stressful occupation and while it provides numerous rewards, it does not come without challenges. Too much stress can contribute to health issues and make us more accident prone.

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The National Center for Farmer Health points out that stress is the human response to any change that is perceived as a challenge or a threat. Changes that cause worry, frustration or upheaval and seem beyond our control can cause stress. An example that hits close to home for Nebraska farmers and ranchers is the recent weather-related disasters. Attitudes, perceptions and meanings that people assign to events determine a large part of one’s stress levels.

There are many symptoms of stress that impact our body, mind and actions. For example, physical symptoms might include nausea, shortness of breath, shaky legs, headaches, and fatigue just to name a few. When under stress, some people may experience moodiness, frustration, anger, loneliness, anxiety or depression and even suicidal thoughts. Sleeping too much or too little, increased use of alcohol or drugs, withdrawal from others and exhibiting nervous behaviors are all examples of how our actions might change when stressed.

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The good news is there are many ways to reduce stress. A summary of ways to decrease stress as compiled by Susan Harris-Broomfield, Nebraska extension educator includes:

  • Exercising ½ hour a day every day or every other day
  • Getting enough sleep to meet the demands of your body
  • Accepting that stress is a part of life and not dwelling on it
  • Learning to relax which could include taking deep breaths
  • Balance work and family time
  • Connect with sources of support
  • Eat a well-balanced diet
  • Talk with a friend or counselor
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

If you recognize someone in distress, express your concern to them and ask about their situation. Do this in a non-judgmental way and actively listen to them. People in distress might turn to suicide and a majority of people who attempt suicide have given a clue or warning to someone. Don’t ignore indirect references to death or suicide. In fact it is a myth that talking about suicide with someone may give them the idea to carry it out. Asking someone about potential suicidal thoughts they may have or discussing it openly is one of the most helpful things you can do for someone who is suicidal. If someone indicates they are thinking of suicide, do not leave them alone. Call for help and/or take them to a hospital or health care provider. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). This hotline can be accessed day or night.

In keeping with the #NebraskaStrong idea, remember to be strong and seek out help as needed and assist others who may need help. In Nebraska, our Rural Response Hotline can be accessed at 1-800-464-0258. When a farmer, rancher, or rural resident calls the hotline and requests help with stress related issues, they are connected to an experienced staff person who is trained to help callers through the Counseling, Outreach and Mental Health Therapy program. Staff members are trained to work with individuals over the phone or in their home, providing confidential information and assistance.

A recording of the webinar, in addition to resources utilized for this program can be found at https://go.unl.edu/wellnessintoughtimes.  More resources, especially disaster-related resources can be accessed on the flood.unl.edu website. For more information, contact me at brandy.vandewalle@unl.edu or (402)759-3712.

Crops, Irrigation, Livestock, Uncategorized

Mental Health is Just as Important as Financial Health

Picture this. Someone is showing physical signs of stress – maybe it’s a heart attack or even a broken leg.  Who might arrive to the scene first?  It probably will be an EMT or other first responder. Their role is to keep the person alive or comfortable until that person reaches the hospital where doctors and other medical professionals will treat that patient. What happens if a person is showing signs of mental distress or even suicidal signs? There are classes available called, “Mental Health First Aid” which provides people the opportunity to properly help others receive professional help he/she might need. Things as simple as listening to the person non-judgmentally and encouraging them to seek professional help might just save that person’s life. Calling the suicide hotline with the person can also help that person realize that they can get through the crisis in their life.

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Farmers and ranchers have many stressors in their life. Weather challenges and disasters like many Nebraskans have recently experienced have led to uncertainty in their crop and livestock operations. Machinery breakdowns, debt loads, volatile markets, long days with sleep deprivation, government regulations, and the stress of holding onto a multi-generational farm/ranch all play a part of the stress and mental health of a farmer or rancher. Farmers and ranchers know the importance of  planning and talking about their financial health to bankers, financial planners, spouses, etc. but might not realize how important it is to spend time on their mental health.

A North Dakota State University Extension publication reminds farmers that “just as farms need to be operated in a sustainable way that preserves resources for the long term, an individual’s life needs to be managed in a sustainable way for long-term well-being. Feeling overly tired, overwhelmed by stresses or under constant pressure is not a recipe for a sustainable lifestyle.” There are physical, mental, emotional/spiritual, personal/relational, work/professional and financial/practical strategies for coping with stress. For example, get at least 7-8 hours of restful sleep is one physical way to take care of yourself. Take 10 minutes and reflect on blessings in your life in as a mental strategy to dealing with stress. Emotional or spiritual coping strategies are to pray, do random acts of kindness and something as simple as eating a meal with a friend of loved one. A personal or relational coping strategy is to plan a small getaway with a family member or spend time playing games with family or friends. For a work strategy, talk to other farmers about their strategies or plan your next day at the end of a work day and set priorities ahead of time. Finally, financial/practical coping strategies are to schedule time to organize your records or finances monthly and create a family budget and live within your means.Assess for risk of suicide or harm. Listen non-judgmentally. Give re-assurance and information. Encourage appropriate professional help. Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

At the Mental Health First Aid workshop, an action plan to help others with potential mental health problems is referred to as “ALGEE.” The action plan is as follows:

  • Assess for risk of suicide or harm.
  • Listen non-judgmentally.
  • Give re-assurance and information.
  • Encourage appropriate professional help.
  • Encourage self-help and other support strategies.

If you or someone you know needs help, there are several resources. The Nebraska Family Helpline can be reached at 1-888-866-8660, the Nebraska Rural Response Hotline at 1-800-464-0258 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Disaster Resources

Nebraska Extension is pushing out information to help.  Please use or share the website https://flood.unl.edu  It’s a key resource full of science-based information

Knowing the legal rights, benefits and resources available to low-income survivors of a disaster is crucial to recovery. Legal Aid of Nebraska can help. Apply online at disaster.legalaidofnebraska.org/apply, or call the Disaster Relief Hotline at 1-844-268-5627.