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Is stress one of the most commonly used words in agriculture?

As farmers face an abundance of challenges and stressors, the team at YANA (You Are Not Alone), offer farming families some guidance on stress and how to cope.

Every week seems to bring yet another story of stress for farmers and rural businesses. In recent months we have heard about the pig industry crisis, lamb imports during the UK lamb season, labour shortages, huge increases in the cost of fertiliser and other inputs, lack of haulage drivers, food wasting in fields, the volume of work for audits, not to mention Defra rulings and political decisions. It makes us feel we are a beleaguered industry.

Is stress all bad?

Stress can be positive, keeping us alert, motivated and ready to avoid danger. For example, if you have an important event coming up, a stress response might help your body and mind work harder and you are able to stay awake longer.

Stress becomes a problem when the causes of stress, known as stressors, continue without relief or periods of relaxation. It seems as if the last 20 months have been exactly that – the supply of stressors seems relentless. Whilst we cannot change those external factors, there are small changes we can make to help us cope with stress better.

How do we know we are experiencing stress?

Some of the most common physical symptoms of stress include:

  • a change in sleep patterns
  • a change in appetite
  • headaches
  • sore muscles
  • raised heart rate
  • dizziness.

These can lead to poor mental health and feelings of:

  • depression, anxiety, or worry – regularly or all the time
  • being overwhelmed
  • being irritable
  • changes in mood.

How can we help ourselves?

If you feel overwhelmed, are using drugs or alcohol to cope, or have thoughts about hurting yourself, you should speak to your GP. They can offer you advice, medication or therapy.

In East Anglia and Worcestershire, for those in farming and rural businesses, YANA provides fully funded counselling which can be put in place within days. See the practical advice YANA offers online www.yanahelp.org and use these useful tips:

  • Stay connected and TALK. People who keep you calm, make you happy, provide emotional support and help you practically can be a source of strength. Friends, family members or neighbours can be good listeners, or share responsibilities so that stress doesn’t become overwhelming.
  • Take time for yourself even if it’s just 10 minutes. Try to reconnect with something you enjoy. If you struggle to do this, ask people who understand you to help you with this task.
  • Exercising for just 20 minutes a day and getting enough sleep help your body handle stress much better.
  • Recognise and acknowledge the good parts of your day or life.
  • Learn to say “no” to additional responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed.
  • Realise you can’t control everything. Find ways to distract your thoughts or think differently about situations you cannot change.
  • Make time for relaxation activities such as breathing exercises, meditation, yoga, tai chi, and muscle relaxation. Programmes are available online and in apps.
  • Take care of your physical self. Eat well. Your diet can affect your mood. Avoid sugary foods and too much alcohol.

Key points to accept about stress and how you can cope:

  • Stress is normal, everybody experiences it at different times in life.
  • Observe yourself, check in regularly to consider how you are feeling and coping, this way you can catch changes early
  • Look after yourself, find your way of looking after yourself and let people help you
  • Watch your diet, exercise and sleep
  • Stay connected to people you know, family, friends etc.

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