The health and wellbeing of rural women

Our guest blog writer for International Women’s Day is Di Dixon— a graduate of the NCFH Graduate Certificate in Agricultural Health and Medicine and founder of Panoramic Health and Fitness. In this blog, Di combines her expertise in farmer health and her passion for empowering people to overcome lifestyle obstacles with confidence, courage and ease.

When you think of a woman on a farm, what picture comes to mind?

Is it an image of them holding a baby on their hip waving their husband off for the day, then heading back in to tidy up the breakfast dishes?

Or do you imagine them in boots, jeans, old shirt and hat rushing around getting the kids to the school bus then heading out to work on the property for the day?

A day in the life of a woman in agriculture is now more often than not, the second one and with that comes a lot of mental load. This is what I’m going to discuss with you today.

Like many industries, the role of women in agriculture has evolved rapidly over the past 50 years. We’re no longer the main child rearer while our partner heads out to work for the day. We head out into the paddocks, dairies, shearing sheds and onto tractors and physically take on our share, while, in many cases, also contributing to the family finances through off-farm employment. This can also be the case with our male counterparts, yet, what we do know is that women take on a disproportionate amount of the mental load that comes along with the actions of running a family household, farm and outside employment.

What is mental load? Mental load is the often unseen actions performed and the decisions made on a daily basis that ensure our lives continue to run smoothly. Things like making sure budgets are on track, appointments are made on time, knowing when household chores need to be performed, being the first to drop everything to pick sick kids up from school, and knowing the safety protocols for farmworkers. In more recent times, it’s organising that there’s enough sheep drench ready and booking appointments for her partner’s vaccinations too.

So how does carrying this mental load affect our health?

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, chronic stress, regardless of the cause — it’s all just stress to your body — can cause problems with your:

  • immune and digestive systems
  •  reproductive and cardiovascular systems,
  • sleep, and
  • Can cause serious chronic health issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, and anxiety.

To add to that, in July 2021 the National Rural Health Alliance reported that while rural men have consistently higher suicide rates, incidences of non-lethal self-harm are higher for rural women. It is suggested that these self-harm occurrences are often intended to alleviate negative emotions or for self-punishment. Can we concede from these rates that the stress and expectations rural women are putting themselves under from carrying this mental load is leading to an increase in poor mental health? While I may not be able to decrease your mental load, I’d like to chat about how to ensure you care for yourself while carrying it.

When coaching my clients through caring for themselves, I focus on the five pillars of healthy habits and pick simple strategies to surround them.

 𝑬𝒂𝒕 – eat slowly at mealtimes and stop when you feel 80% full.

 𝑴𝒐𝒗𝒆 – aim to move in some capacity 5 days per week. Somedays this might be a full workout, others it might be a 10min walk. It all counts.

 𝑻𝒉𝒊𝒏𝒌 – take time to enjoy and reflect on your day. Practice gratitude. You can keep a journal or not, but actively focusing on what you are grateful for can help to turn the tide of negative emotion. Did your kids do the dishes today without being asked? Did it rain? Is the harvest finished for another year? There are many things to be grateful for in our days, but sometimes they’re harder to see.

 𝑹𝒆𝒔𝒕 – take time to stop and recover. Sleep for 7+ hours per night and try to enjoy at least one slow morning each week.

 𝑪𝒐𝒏𝒏𝒆𝒄𝒕 – take time away from farm work and your outside employment to connect with those around you. Maybe this is heading out for a short walk by yourself and calling a friend along the way, maybe it’s catching up for a hot beverage. Whatever works for you, our social connection plays a large role in improving mental health outcomes.

If you’re reading this and thinking that’s way too much and only adding to the mental load. Pick one. Work on one strategy at a time and work to implement that in a way that works for you. Our health is not a race. Take as much time as needed to build these habits slowly to ensure they’re not just a flash in the pan. Consistency and doing something will always win over trying to do it all. 

References used in this blog

nrha-mental-health-factsheet-july2021.pdf (

Stress and trauma – Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (

Further information

NCFH Fact Sheets – Stress and farming – coping tips | National Centre for Farmer Health

NCFH Managing Stress on the Farm Managing-Stress-on-the-Farm Booklet