Manage stress through planning and time management
Two factors contribute to a lot of stress and anxiety for farmers. First, there is often too much work and not enough time. Second, concerns about weather and markets are outside of our control but have an enormous impact on the business. Together, these scenarios can put us in a semi-constant state of anxiety that, if left unchecked, can put mental health at risk.
Bonnie Taylor is a registered social worker and psychotherapist based in Wellesley, Ontario. She often sees farm clients who seem to be rushing from one crisis to the next. “Farming can be a stressful occupation, but there are steps we can take to manage the factors we can control and get better at dealing with the things we can’t.”
Take control of your time
Prioritizing tasks and planning can be powerful mental health tools.
Prioritizing tasks and planning can be powerful mental health tools. “Taking ten minutes every morning to create a to-do list for the day and listing the tasks in priority is a way to deal with short-term stresses. Not every task can be number one, so determine which get your time and attention. Getting better at delegating and sharing the workload is a big part of this daily process,” Taylor says.
“You may not be getting paid by the hour, but you should still pay attention to where your hours are spent. Keep a detailed time journal for a week or two to track what you do each day and how long tasks take. It can also show where you may need to allocate time for physical health, family time or other non-farm activities.”
This is where planning plays a role in maintaining mental health. Your ability to be successful and sustainable as a farm operator depends on a high level of physical and mental health. If you’re postponing self-care activities, there can be negative impacts on you, your family, your employees and your entire business.
Identify worries that are outside your control
It’s important to identify worries that are outside of your control. Worrying about things like weather or interest rates can snowball to a point where you aren’t eating or sleeping well. “We have to get those persistent, swirling thoughts out of our heads,” Taylor says. “It’s empowering to write down the list of concerns that are taking up your mental space.”
“Classify each concern as being within or outside your control. Consider a ‘what if’ for each worry,” she says. In other words, if your worry came true, what would you do about it? Taylor advises focusing on issues within your control and having a basic response identified for each. This will help you feel some control over stressful concerns.
As Taylor points out, “Thoughts are not facts, and we need to identify the thoughts that keep us productive and manage the thoughts that don’t help us and cause stress. People who manage stress well can accept the concerns that are outside their control.”
Plan to take care of yourself and your business
With so much to get done, it can be hard to set time aside for business planning. But it’s one of the most important steps in identifying real versus perceived concerns. “Knowing your business at a granular level removes stress. Knowing exactly where you and the business stand on a financial basis allows you to know your strengths and areas of risk. You’re positioned to prioritize where you put your energy and effectively plan for the short and long term,” Taylor says.
Taylor says setting goals and acknowledging when those goals are achieved is also essential. “Setting an intentional plan with actionable items is the ultimate step in the process. If one of the goals is to walk 15 minutes three times a week with your spouse for mental and physical health, lock it into the schedule and follow it with the same diligence as showing up for a doctor appointment,” she says. “If a goal is to review the monthly financial statements with your partners and refresh the business plan annually, put it on the list of goals and check it off every time it’s achieved.”
If you’ve put off business planning and time management because you’re simply too busy, you’re missing an important opportunity to get off the endless cycle of work and worry. “Self-care through time management, prioritizing tasks and goal setting is not a luxury. It’s an essential part of a sustainable business plan.”
Four steps toward better time and stress management
- Create a time diary to help see where you can take control. Determine how much time to dedicate to family, health, business planning and other areas.
- Document your concerns. Are they in your control or not? Ask yourself, “What if?” for each, and generate simple responses.
- Create a list of personal and business priorities from most to least important to direct the action plan for the day, week, year and beyond.
- Set specific, realistic, achievable goals and acknowledge or even celebrate hitting those targets.
Please make sure your well-being is a priority. And talk to someone if you or someone you know needs help. For more resources, visit fcc.ca/Wellness.
From an AgriSuccess article by Peter Gredig.