Ease worry with a mental health check in

  • 4 min read

COVID-19 has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Watching the situation unfold around the world and in our backyards can induce anxiety, including on the farm. Balancing life, farm work and sickness worries can make for a stressful time for farmers.

And combined with the potential financial impacts of an uncertain economy, can add even more worry. 

Lesly Kelly, the co-founder of Do More Ag, who farms with her family in Watrous, Sask, says during highly stressful times, in the past, she worked to find allies. 

Check-in with family and friends during this time of social distancing and make a contingency plan to take care of one another.

 “It helped us feel like we weren’t alone, and you could talk to your neighbour down the road or someone across Canada, Kelly says. 

Now, at a time where social distancing is the new normal and large gatherings of people discouraged, connecting with loved ones and family may mean the use of technology for video chat or phone calls. 

Stay open and check in

Kelly says she and her family focus on open communication.

Being open helps when someone is having a rough day. It means everyone is comfortable checking on each other and open to conversation during the rough patches, whether it’s concerns about the farm or anxiety about COVID-19.

During a rough day, they also keep an ongoing conversation about mental health. They check on how everyone’s feeling, and if anyone is weighed down. And to help keep their spirits high during the long hours, Kelly says they like to text to keep the lines of communication open. 

“My mom would text a picture of my dad having a really good day, and that would boost our spirits,” Kelly says. 

Find your outlet

Adelle Stewart, executive director of Do More Ag, recommends beating worries and stress by personally figuring out what works best.

Self-care is an extremely individualized coping strategy,” Stewart says. “So, have some openness with yourself to explore what that may mean.”

For some, that may mean curling up with a good book, while for others, it may involve physical activity. Try various activities, Stewart says, to find what works best. 

With current COVID-19 worries, Psychology Today suggests these strategies to help stay mentally healthy during this time of uncertainty. Pay attention to your physical health and your emotions, embrace health practices, share reliable information and step away from breaking news when feeling overwhelmed.

Stewart says producers at busy times of the year like during calving, need to pay attention to their mental health.

“Anybody out calving probably doesn’t have good sleep hygiene, so it’s being forgiving with yourself,” Stewart says.

Sleep hygiene refers to healthy habits that help us sleep better at night and stay asleep. However, when producers are waking up every few hours to check on their animals, their sleep is interrupted.

“Sleep hygiene is different for everyone, and some people need more sleep than others,” Stewart says. “Getting the appropriate amount of rest is important because going prolonged periods without sleep or quality rest diminishes our mental and physical functions and coordination, which can lead to irritability, accidents and poor decisions.”

It’s difficult for farmers to maintain good sleep habits during calving, seeding and harvest. But being aware of how it can affect them can help identify how they feel or act during prolonged periods of fatigue.

Plan ahead

As for spring planting, both Kelly and Stewart recommend farmers sit down with family now and make contingency plans. Having backup plans helps ease stress, they say.

“Even the best-laid plan and back-ups may not come to fruition, so self-care strategies and asking or reaching out for support can help our mental wellness,” Stewart says.

Kelly and her family have already started making their seeding, rotation and marketing plans.

“We try to do as much as we can ahead of time and feel confident and know that things change, but at least we have a Plan A and B for right now,” Kelly says.

And during seeding and harvest, they meet every morning to discuss what’s going on around them and plan for that day.

“It helps alleviate elevated stress and know, even though things are out of your control - the weather is out of your control, you can't manage the weather - but you can manage what you can do with it up to a certain point. It's knowing that you've tried your best,” Kelly says.

Bottom line

The uncertainty brought on by COVID-19 combined with a poor harvest and worries about spring planting cause stress on the farm. Mental health check-ins with friends and family can help ease anxiety, so it’s important to keep lines of communication open and find personal outlets for destressing. Where COVID-19 is concerned, pay attention to emotions, step away from the news when feeling overwhelmed and embrace best health practices. 

Article by: Taryn Milton