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Farmers who don’t like to think about feelings might have skipped this page. Now that we have your attention, learn how to recognize farm stress

Many people don’t like to talk or read about their feelings. But dealing with stress by burying yourself in work instead of talking can backfire.

“We all, at times in our life, need some help getting back on track,” says Kathy Decelle, outreach social worker. Decelle has been counselling people in rural northwestern Saskatchewan for nine years.

Decelle says people who find a balance between work, family and other parts of their life manage stress better. “If it’s only about the work, eventually that can wear thin, I think, on people’s nervous systems. They don’t get the chance to rejuvenate their nervous systems, to relax and slow down.”

Signs of stress

Given the unpredictable weather and markets, heavy workloads, and financial risk, it’s no wonder farmers feel stressed, particularly during busy seasons. But there are several warning signs that a person is feeling overwhelmed:

  • They’re angry. “People blow up. That’s usually such a safe emotion to express,” says Decelle.
  • They’re tired.
  • They make many negative comments. Decelle says negative talk could be a sign someone is feeling anxious and overwhelmed.
  • They appear sad or depressed. They’ve lost interest in things they used to be interested in, have no energy, and no ability to concentrate. These people could be suffering from a combination of anxiety and depression, Decelle says.

Some people won’t seek help on their own, Decelle acknowledges. “I guess that I would encourage partners who know them well, if you see that kind of a person going down fast, to really perhaps drag them there, if you have any influence.”

People who are dealing with anxiety or depression will have a more successful recovery if they have a supportive person who encourages socializing and positive thinking, says Decelle.

Close connections to family and friends also buffer people during stressful times, Decelle says. Although family and friends might not be able to help with the actual work, they can support farmers. Being connected to neighbours can be especially helpful, Decelle says.

The greatest weapon against stress is the ability to pick one thought over another, says Decelle. She suggests practicing positive thinking when things are going well, to makes it easier to control negative thinking in high-stress situations.

People also need to learn to let go of things that aren’t within their control, Decelle says. “You have to let go of thinking about the weather. You just can’t control it.”

But when people are tired, they have less ability to control their thoughts, she says. And getting enough sleep during the hectic season is often a big part of the problem, she adds.

“Sleep is a great regulator of the body. You need a good five hours of deep sleep,” she says. Worry and negative thoughts often interrupt sleep. Routines can help. Staring at the alarm clock all night is counterproductive, so tuck it out of sight if need be, she says.

Recognizing that we have a choice in what we do with our lives also helps us manage stress, says Decelle. Farmers need to remember that they’ll have good years and bad years.

Learning to live in the moment and trusting one’s gut about which direction to take are also helpful, Decelle says. “I think, actually, rural people have that more because they’re outdoors more. They’re more aware of the elements and a little more intuitive because of that.”

Mental health myths

Decelle says she thinks there’s a myth that people have to be in really bad shape to see a counsellor. It’s much better to address stress, anxiety and depression early.

Decelle says counsellors don’t solve people’s problems. Instead, they give people tools to figure out what they need to do.

And accessing mental health services in Saskatchewan isn’t an arduous task. There’s no cost for provincially-funded services and no need for a referral, Decelle says.

Perceived social stigma around mental health shouldn’t keep rural residents from accessing counselling, either. Counselling sessions are confidential. If people can’t bring themselves to access local services for fear of the town gossip, they can go to other communities or call Saskatchewan’s Health Line at 811, Decelle says.

Concerns about others gossiping about who’s seeing a counsellor are likely overblown. Decelle says she’s never heard anyone gossiping about who’s seeing a counsellor, even before she became a social worker. Other people in the hospital waiting room are usually too focused on their own health issues to wonder why anyone else is there, she says.

“People initially have that worry (about confidentiality), and then it evaporates. Because as they get feeling better, they’re so grateful to feel better that they don’t care anymore.”

“People today are more informed about mental health issues and I think there isn’t the stigma that there used to be.”

Rural Manitobans can call a toll-free stress line at 1-866-367-3276 or visit www.ruralsupport.ca for mental health information. Saskatchewan’s farm stress line is 1-800-667-4442 and Alberta’s is 1-877-303-2642. To meet with a counsellor face-to-face, check with your family doctor or health region.

About the author

Field Editor

Lisa Guenther

Lisa Guenther is field editor for Grainews based at Livelong, Sask. You can follow her on Twitter @LtoG.

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