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How stress and anxiety impact farm decisions

  • 2.5 min read

Farming is stressful. Equipment breakdowns at key times; unpredictable weather events; fires and disease; public trust issues – the list of stressors can seem endless, especially when coupled with life's happenings, some good and some tragic.

When we have a lot of stress in our lives, we start making decisions based on what feels good and ignore pertinent information.

And while stress can have a physical impact, experts say it can also impact the decision-making ability about the farm business.

Gerry Friesen, a conflict and stress management expert for Backswath Management, says stress has a huge impact on a person’s decision-making abilities.

“When we have a lot of stress in our lives, we start making decisions based on what feels good or what may have worked in the past,” Friesen says. “We ignore pertinent information or current information that can have huge impact on decisions we make.”

Scott Gilson operates Sprucemere Ranch and Dairy in Manitoba with his family. Along with barley, oats and corn and hay, the family milks 82 cows and has a 80-head beef herd. Seasons of floods followed by drought caused high stress for the family as they made tough management decisions, including decreasing the beef herd and selling some quota.

Impacts decision making

He agrees with Friesen and says stress certainly impacts decision making.

“It can get to the point where you don't want to go to bed as the nights are horrible because your brain won't rest,” Gilson says. “Making operational decisions becomes more difficult and you find yourself unable to concentrate and taking hours doing chores that before only took minutes. You're frustrated with yourself and others, and you are just not the person you want to be.”

Gilson says the nature of farming, where producers are always on and generally don't take the time to decompress, is mentally challenging.

“Being able to turn it off or worry about it in the morning is not possible once the stress builds up,” Gilson says.

Recognize the problem

In September 2016, Gilson attended a Canadian Red Cross course on Psychological First Aid that focused on self-care and assisting others going through stressful situations.

“One of the main points is the realization that stress is cumulative,” Gilson says. “Events pile up on your psyche and eventually present as anxiety and depression to varying degrees when triggered by another stressing event.”

The most critical part of looking after mental health is recognizing personal limits and seeing when you are unable to get it together and pull out of the depression.

“It doesn't work that way,” Gilson says. “The hardest part is admitting to yourself that you are in trouble and need professional help.”

Talk to a professional

Seeking help by speaking with a professional about feelings of anxiety, depression and stress can be extremely helpful. For one, it helps farmers begin to take control of their lives again.

As well as calling a provincial or territorial mental help line, going to a family physician is a good first step because they are the primary caregiver, can listen and can help determine a course of action.

“If medication is recommended as treatment, take it,” Gilson says. “Sometimes all it requires is for you to start sleeping better; once that starts, the recovery is amazing.”

Bottom line

Making operational decisions on the farm becomes increasingly challenging the longer mental health issues are ignored, experts say. Recognizing stress and seeking help to deal with stress, anxiety and depression are important steps to take to help ease the pressure.

Article by: Trudy Kelly Forsythe