Mental health a priority on all farms

Farming is up there as one of the most stressful jobs, working long hours, pretty much 7 days a week, 365 days a year. With that in mind, our farming blogger Mark McConnell looks at the importance of looking after your mental health. Farming is more than just a job, it’s a way of life. It’s a tradition that has been handed down from generation to generation. Recently, one farmer said to me when speaking about handing his farm to his son; “you wouldn’t wish farming on your worst enemy at the moment”. This sums up how things are at the moment in the farming world and it is very hard not to get down and stressed by all the negatives that are coming at farmers. I am a farmer myself and in my work as an agricultural advisor I talk to farmers every day.  There are a huge amount of pressures facing farmers on a daily basis and a lot of them the farmer can’t influence. We have the constant bad weather, the poor prices for outputs and high prices for inputs. The regulations that are constantly coming down the line and the threat of an inspection at any time. All of this is never too far from the farmers mind. With all these negatives in mind, you could ask “why do they do it?”  The answer is for the love of the land, animals and the heritage that was passed down from their father and mother.  However, parents are now more reluctant to pass the farm down in the hope that the child will go to college and gain a better life for themselves. For us die hards that won’t give up and keep drudging through the muck in the winter and summer, what can we do to improve and keep our mental health strong? The farm may seem like most important thing to any farmer but if the farmer themselves is not in good health, mentally as much as physically, then the condition of the farm will start to slip. Keeping your mental health in it’s best condition and regularly doing what you can to look after it, is like regularly servicing your car or tractor – it will work better for you if you keep it looked after. If you go out to a farm (and I have been in many yards over the years) you can tell very quickly the person who is of good state of mind and mentally happy. If the yard is a mess then this can sometimes reflect that the person’s mental state is a mess. If your mental health is strong and you are in a good place with yourself, when these external pressures come at you, you will be better equipped to deal with them and move on. One real downside to a farmer being stressed is not being able to focus on the work at hand, which can end up being the cause of farm accidents and fatalities. According to the recent IFA Let’s Talk campaign, a good way to try and prevent this from happening is to: Recognise the symptoms of stress, Identifying the causes, and Taking steps to reduce and manage it. By doing these three things, you will improve the quality of your life and make your farm a safer place to work. This recent IFA incentive shared the following advice to help spot and manage stress – Anyone can suffer from stress. Stress is your body’s way of responding to any kind of demand that makes you feel threatened or upsets your balance in some way. When working properly, stress helps you to stay focused, energetic, and alert. But beyond a certain point, it can stop being helpful and start causing damage to your health, your mood, your productivity, your relationships and your quality of life. What causes stress? Many different things can cause stress. The very nature of farming means that a lot of our daily lives are not under our control, for example changes, in weather or commodity prices. Other common causes of stress include: bureaucracy, paperwork, complexity of farm schemes, cross-compliance inspections, reduced incomes, financial problems, work load, responsibility, health and safety on the farm, feeling isolated and relationship difficulties. Signs of stress Every person has a different reaction to stress, here are some of the more common warning signs that it’s time to manage your stress and consider getting help. Coping with stress There are many things you can do to help yourself, from changing the way you look after yourself – your diet, exercise, leisure and sleep patterns – to changing the way you think about yourself, your relationships and the farm. Talk about it.

Talk to a trusted friend, family member or neighbour. Make an appointment to see your GP. Expressing what you are going through can be very therapeutic, even if there is nothing you can do to alter the stressful situation. Manage your time better.

Poor time management can cause a lot of stress. When you are stretched too thin and running behind, it’s hard to stay calm and focused. But if you plan ahead and make sure you do not overextend yourself, you can reduce the amount of stress you are under. Focus on the positive.

When stress is getting you down, take a moment to reflect on all the things you appreciate in your life, including your own positive qualities. This simple strategy can help you keep things in perspective. Eat well.

Eat a variety of fresh foods in a balanced diet. Some foods actually cause increased tension, for example, coffee, tea, chocolate, alcohol and soft drinks. These are often the foods we crave when we are stressed so be aware and try to limit your intake of them Exercise regularly.

Physical activity plays a key role in reducing and preventing the effects of stress. Make time for exercise and find something you enjoy: sport, swimming, walking, dancing or cycling. Make time for relaxation.

Even stopping for ten minutes a day to breathe slowly and deeply can help. Spend time on your own – reading, walking, or listening to music. Put a bit of fun and laughter in your life. The above extract was taken from the IFA Let’s Talk – Dealing with Stress campaign. There are some excellent places to start looking on line for help with your mental health if you feel that you want to improve it and make it more stronger or if you don’t feel happy and can’t understand why and you want to stop feeling like that check out the following websites to make a start There are also some great organisations out there like GROW and AWARE were you can attend meetings on a weekly basis and they are all free of charge. If you feel really bad then you should contact the Samaritans as they are always there to listen and help. Telephone 116123 #Farming