Managing Stress

Chris Zoller 
Extension Agent, Tuscarawas County 
Steve Schumacher 
Extension Agent, Belmont County

Many dairy farmers across Ohio have been experiencing elevated stress levels for the past several months as a result of lower than expected milk prices, crop and weather concerns, and uncertainty about the future. What can be done about this? The following paragraphs will help you understand what stress is and some tips you can use to better manage it.

What is stress? It's a part of life. To a certain degree stress is positive because it keeps you active and productive in meeting the goals of your farm business. However, too much stress can have a negative impact on you, your family, your employees, and the long-term success of your business. In addition to the stresses that nonfarm individuals and families face, farm families face additional stresses. These include: weather, variable crop and livestock prices, large debt loads, long work hours, and equipment repairs. These and other factors combine to make agriculture one of the top 10 most stressful occupations in the United States. In fact, a recent study by the National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety examined 130 occupations and found that laborers and farm owners had the highest rate of deaths due to stress related conditions like heart and artery disease, hypertension, and ulcers.

What are the signs of stress? Signs and symptoms can be divided into several categories including physical, emotional, and behavioral. Common symptoms in these categories include headaches, rising blood pressure, frustration, depression, low self-esteem, difficulty sleeping, and verbal or physical abuse.

How can you manage the stress of farm life? There are several things you can do to help manage the day-to-day stresses. We realize sometimes these are easier said than done, but select one or two and commit to using them. Below are some examples:

  • Accept the fact that your occupation is stressful
  • Spend 15 minutes of each day planning your agenda for the day
  • Use "to do" lists and prioritize the items on the list
  • Maintain a positive attitude and associate with others who share that attitude
  • Spend time with your family - do activities everyone enjoys
  • Occasionally get away from the farm for a few days or a week
  • Clarify responsibilities for each of the members of your farm
  • Set reasonable goals for yourself
  • Become involved in a social group
  • Meet with other farmers once a month for breakfast or lunch to share ideas
  • Discuss your problems and concerns with family, professionals or a trusted friend
  • Make time for a hobby you most enjoy
  • Involve professionals and other dairy farmers in the planning and goal setting of your business (i.e., veterinarian, lender, nutritionist, etc).
  • Accept that change has and will continue to occur in the dairy industry and be willing to adapt and consider opportunities in or outside the dairy business
  • Implement control systems in your business to monitor activities (i.e., maintain accurate, up-to-date records and refer to them when making decisions)