Stress and farming – coping tips

Living and working in rural Australia can be very rewarding. However, farming can also be stressful. There are the everyday issues of family life, balancing budgets, planning for the future and keeping up with developments in your area of farming. The added pressures of managing a farm during difficult times like extreme climatic events, market fluctuations or natural disaster can sometimes seem overwhelming. Social isolation and working long, irregular hours can make this harder to cope with.

Keeping yourself in a fit state to enjoy the good times is very important. Keeping yourself fit to weather difficult times is even more important. A small amount of stress can help keep us motivated and actually improves our performance and productivity. However, persistent high levels of stress can have a negative impact on your physical and mental wellbeing, your performance and, ultimately, your farming business.

Different people respond differently to potentially stressful situations. Be aware of some of the common signs of elevated stress to watch out for in yourself and others:

  • Poor sleep or sleeping more than usual
  • Poor concentration, irritability, and anger
  • Increased drinking or smoking
  • Poor decision-making, avoiding making decisions or forgetfulness
  • Changed appetite, not feeling well or nervousness
  • Physical symptoms such as chronic headaches, upset gut, muscle aches or low immunity.

If you see or feel these signs, take notice and take action.

Some simple tips to help get you through tough times:

  • Eat healthy, nutritious food
  • Get adequate sleep and keep a regular sleep routine
  • Keep physically active
  • Make time to get away from the farm
  • Find things to laugh about
  • Allow yourself time to do something you enjoy
  • Keep socially connected

These are things that we often forget when we are feeling stressed, but they are the very things that can help us get through a stressful period.

Some tips for managing stressful times in your farming business:

  • Make a list of people and services you can call on for information and assistance
  • Break large tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks which you can then prioritise in order of importance
  • Keep the lines of communication open—schedule regular farm business meetings and don’t avoid making decisions
  • Celebrate and reward success, even small wins should be acknowledged
  • Keep in touch with farming groups and industry networks—they are sources of information and social contact
  • Schedule time away from the farm—taking a break gives you fresh perspective, renewed energy and improved decision-making power.

Taking a few minutes to complete your own ‘Steering Straight’ plan is a great way to put strategies in place for managing stressful times—before they happen!

You need to talk about it

While we know people in rural farming communities are very willing to volunteer help to others, many farmers are used to working things out for themselves, and may not feel comfortable sharing their problems. However, it’s really important that you talk to family, trusted friends/advisors or a health professional about issues that are upsetting, stressful or difficult. You may be helping someone else as well if you open up and say how you feel. Don’t give up if you find it tricky to find support that suits you—there is never a one-size-fits-all solution. Keep trying until you find what works for you.

Find out more about this topic on Better Health Channel

Fast facts:

  • Farming can be stressful, particularly during difficult times like drought, bushfire and flood.
  • Watch out for warning signs like irritability, sleeplessness, appetite loss and physical symptoms like head and gut aches.
  • Talk about what you are going through, even if you’re used to sorting out your own problems—some things are really better being shared.