When Farm Stress Gets You Down

If you scroll through social media highlights, it’s easy to assume farmers have the life:

beautiful sunrises over green pastures, fresh air spent outside with healthy livestock, farm-fresh meals on the dinner table. Beyond social media, it doesn’t take much to find ad campaigns with pictures of smiling farmers on everything from milk cartons to the sides of trucks that deliver dairy products to grocery stores. While telling the positive side of the farming story is a vital part of connecting with customers, it’s just as important to talk about farm stress. 

Beautiful as it may appear, farming is one of the most stressful jobs in the U.S. 

Between erratic weather, debt load, increasing expenses, and family dynamics, stress is unavoidable.  

What is stress, though? 

Farm psychologist and counselor Monica Kramer McConkey defines it this way: stress is pressure that causes movement. Not all stress is bad. In fact, as the Human Function Curve demonstrates, “good stress” can help improve your performance. 

Without healthy coping strategies and a support network, it’s all too easy to cross the hump into distress.

While feelings of isolation are also common among farmers, awareness and conversations about mental health are increasing.  According to the 2022 PA Animal Agriculture Mental Wellness Survey, 90% of farmers and ag professionals view mental health as important. Understanding the symptoms of stress is an important step to dealing with it in a constructive way. 

Symptoms of stress include: 

  • Anger and irritability 
  • Feeling worthless 
  • Lack of Focus 
  • Forgetfulness 
  • Headaches 
  • Fatigue 
  • Increased use of drugs or alcohol 

Along with awareness comes new resources for farmers in dealing with stress. 

One of those is the Vermont-based program Farm First, which “provides farmers and their families with support, resources and information to reduce stress.”  

Among their offerings is the Farmer Peer Support, which trains farmers with skills to support their peers though nonjudgmental active listening to decrease isolation and allow a space for farmers in need to be heard by someone who truly understands farming.  In addition to peer support, Farm First has a broad resource list: Farm First Resource Directory 

In Pennsylvania, the Center for Dairy Excellence has also created an extensive resource list: Stress & Wellness Resources For Farmers. 

We may never be able to remove all stress from our lives, but we can build resilience.

If you’re feeling stress, anxiety, or overwhelm, remember that you’re not alone. Take some time to visit the resources linked in this post. Reach out for support and know that asking for help is a resilient quality in any farmer. 

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