Helping to tame farm stress

John Shutske

In the year ahead, here is my Top Ten list to help tame farm stress

John Shutske

1. Understand the basic physical, chemical, and physiological workings of the stress thermostat including potential impacts on thinking, memory, distractibility, health, communications, relationships, etc.  (This is covered in detail in other workshop materials)

2. Work to help people regain a sense of positive control. Help them see things in a concrete way, including writing down numbers, goals, next steps, timelines, and resources to contact. Talking only about concepts and ideas in an abstract way, and then relying on people’s memory, won’t work.

3. Work with people so that THEY set goals. On paper. Preferably things that they write down. SMART goal setting is one potential framework for goal setting.

·       S - specific

·       M - measurable

·       A - achievable

·       R - realistic, relevant

·       T - time-based

4. Have patience as you walk people through decisions and plans. LISTEN. You may see things as clear as day, but because of the real and measurable impacts of stress on the brain, your client will likely not see things as clearly.

5. Help people tap and fully use the social support systems they have around them. This could include Extension, technical college, church, schools, trusted and experienced advisors and “elders” in the community.

6. Know that all of this will take time. Simultaneously many people may need  to have some focus on health and physical well-being since all of this takes a lot of energy. Know that some individuals and families might focus on things that YOU may not see as the highest priority--but they are still important and might be overwhelming the emotions of your client.

7. Consider who needs to be on the team and get them involved. A HOLISTIC APPROACH IS REQUIRED. A team is needed. Everything above is complicated. Don’t overlook the roles of health professionals.

8. Help people see the stress response as a call to action. As Dr. Kelly McGonigal says, “Stress gives us access to our hearts. The compassionate heart that finds joy and meaning in connecting with others…your pounding physical heart, working so hard to give you strength and energy. And when you choose to view stress in this way, you're not just getting better at stress, you're actually making a pretty profound statement. You're saying that you can trust yourself to handle life's challenges. And you're remembering that you don't have to face them alone.”

9. Follow up in a pre-planned, scheduled way. We all need support. Checking back in creates a sense of support and helps people achieve goals they’ve set. Be positive. Recognize and celebrate progress. Listen. Be patient. It might take multiple times to make significant progress. But, all forward progress is good progress. And slippage in the backward direction, when properly framed, can be a great learning opportunity.

10.  As a professional, take care of yourself. This is heavy-duty work. It can sap energy, and for many, can be just as stressful of an experience as it is for those whom you are serving. Get support from others doing similar work. Listen with the intent to connect. Get time away. Know when you need a break. Seek help and lean on other team members.

Shutske is a Professor & Extension Specialist at UW-Madison and UW-Extension