How farmers can manage stress and improve personal well-being

Farmers across the UK have experienced many challenges over recent months from prolonged periods of poor weather to negative press in the media, failed autumn crops, flooding disasters and concerns over agriculture post-Brexit; all of which have the potential to cause significant physical and mental stress. Although spring has sprung and the weather is finally taking a turn for the better, farmers, and indeed the entire population, now face new and unprecedented challenges in the form of Covid-19.

The pandemic brings a multitude of concerns and worries to many, not least to farmers who rely upon seasonal foreign labourers who are now unable to travel due to restrictions, or those who rely on livestock markets, forced to cease trading, to generate income. Many are naturally worried for family members, those in their communities and from a business perspective – staying operational in these times of crisis.

Recognising the signs of stress during these difficult and challenging times can be the first step in proactively looking after your mental health. These signs may include;

  • Mood swings
  • Difficulty sleeping and increased tiredness
  • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • Increased intake of alcohol, tobacco and/or caffeine
  • Decreased appetite
  • Loss of interest in otherwise enjoyable activities
  • Heightened emotions
  • Changes in behaviour or in relationships with family and friends

Once these signs are recognised, individuals can better manage the impact of stress on their mental health. During times of crisis, stress and hardship, individuals can take the following steps in order to help and improve their physical and mental well-being;

  • Talk to someone – a problem shared is a problem halved. This person may be your GP, a member of your family, a trusted friend or colleague, or an independent and strictly confidential charity helpline. Talking is an effective way of releasing tension, seeing the situation from a fresh perspective and can help to find solutions for ongoing problems. 
  • Deal with tasks – one at a time. Comprehensive planning will be beneficial for work load management and helping to alleviate stress in the long term.
  • Eat well. Eating healthily has been proven to increase energy levels and improve mood.
  • Sleep well. Breathing deeply and slowly for a minute, eating meals rich in protein and fibre, and drinking plenty of water are all ways to encourage a good night’s sleep.
  • Get active. Exercise releases endorphins which help to calm anxiety, release built-up tension, improve your mood and reduce stress levels.
  • Develop an interest. Take time to do something you enjoy: walking, cooking, gardening or reading for example. Your mental health will benefit from the distraction, and you will be able to face the problem with a fresh perspective afterwards.
  • Learning to accept the things you cannot change and try to look for the best in situations. Understand that financial pressures and time challenges due to the pandemic, the weather, market demand and prices are beyond our control – and that many others are in the same position. Building personal resilience is key.
  • Seek help. Feeling stressed, anxious or depressed is nothing to be ashamed of – we’re all human and we’re all facing unprecedented challenges at this present time. There are many excellent organisations which exist to provide help, support and advice to farmers across the UK. YANA (You Are Not Alone) is a rural mental health charity which has created a comprehensive directory for farmers seeking help https://www.yanahelp.org/rural-directory.pdf.

Managing stress and anxiety during difficult times is paramount to protecting your mental health and improving your personal well-being.

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