Managing stress in an era of ag uncertainity

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Getting plenty of sleep, recreation and bringing in a team of resources are some ways to help manage behavior and better deal with stress brought on from poor circumstances surrounding the ag economy.

Editor’s note, this is the second of a two-part series of articles that will discuss issues related to farm stress and information and resources that are available.

When it comes to managing stress in an era of ag uncertainty, Dr. Mike Rosmann, a farmer/psychologist from Harlan gave some tips on what farmers can do to manage themselves better and to help other people who are overly stressed.

Rosmann shared his comments during a recent webinar hosted by the Iowa Farm Bureau.

“First of all, don’t ignore them. Visit them. Offer help,” he said. “You can just go and say ‘how are things going lately?’ ‘I have noticed that you haven’t been at church, I just wanted to stop by and say hello.'”

He added that it’s important to let them know that you’re concerned about them.

“Don’t leave them alone if you see two or more cardinal features that we need to be concerned about and that is loss of pleasure, hopelessness, the lump in the throat or actual statements of intention to harm one’s self,” Rosmann said.

During a research study of 43,000 people that called into hotlines and help lines in a 26-month period, Rosmann said they found that 1.9 percent of all of the callers had some type of suicidal thoughts or tendencies.

“They didn’t all necessarily have a plan, but some of them had actually concocted a plan that they revealed in the course of meeting with the counselors or in the course of talking about their personal adjustment with the telephone responders,” he said. “Another 35 or so persons had actually attempted a life-threatening event prior to making the phone call to the farm crisis hotlines and help lines. That is, they had already consumed a potentially lethal dose of medications or had slashed their wrist and so forth.”

“In those cases, the telephone responders had to keep them on the line and while using a second line to contact resources such as law enforcement or family members that could be to the scene rapidly to respond.”

What do we do when we’re concerned about suicide?

Rosmann said to be sure to not leave a suicidal person alone.

“Make sure that somebody will be around. Having somebody in their environment is a deterrent from self harm,” he said. “It’s important to make sure that somebody in the family or a friend can be around to keep an eye on that person.”

Rosmann also suggested giving them the number to the Iowa Concern Hotline, 1-800-447-1985.

The Iowa Concern Hotline is available 24/7.

Bring in a team

Another way to help farmers that may be profoundly depressed is to help them find the resources they need to not only aid them in managing their behavior, but alternative options to help them hang onto their assets, such as their farmland.

“Bringing in a team of resources really spreads out the stress and it helps us bring in outside input and ideas that may give us some hope, but also some information that we can capitalize on,” Rosmann said. “For instance, maybe one can find a person who will contract for a certain amount of corn. Or, maybe one can figure out a way to become an organic producer. Try different crops. All of these ideas help to build hope.”

“They’re going to vary for every farmer. They’re going to vary from situation to situation, but having a team of good advisors helps the person who is struggling.”

Managing behavior

What can be done to control behaviors?

Rosmann said first of all to make sure farmers are getting enough adequate sleep.

“Sometimes sleep is one of the things that we first decline when we are trying to get a lot of things done and when we are anxious we can’t sleep very well,” he said. “If that happens, our thinking becomes unclear. We develop what we call sleep debt.”

Sleep debt, Rosmann explained, happens after accumulating 10 hours of sleep debt in succession. For example, if someone normally sleeps eight hours a night, then they only sleep six hours for five nights in a row. That’s an accumulation of 10 hours of sleep debt, which can alter thinking about the same as .08 level of alcohol in the blood.

“That means we don’t think as clearly when we can’t sleep well,” he said. “It means that sometimes we will take risks that we wouldn’t normally take — our judgment isn’t as good as when we are completely sober and rested. It may mean that we will lose control of our temper easier. It is important that we make sure we are sleeping adequately.”

If you are feeling sleep deprived, Rosmann said this could lead to the need to temporarily taking sleep medications to help you manage your rest.

Rosmann said it’s also important to manage how much time is spent talking about feelings.

“If we talk about what we are feeling and worried about, it gets the issues out of us and it is more likely to lead to other persons to try to help us find solutions,” he said. “Talking is all the more important especially when we don’t want to talk. That is why we have to sometimes encourage the person who we know and are concerned about by saying, ‘tell me what is going on.'”

Making time for recreation is another way to help manage behavior.

“Recreation gives us a change of environment,” he said. “It often helps us to release a lot of tension when we’re yelling at a basketball game. It is a respite from the things that worry us.”

Is it really that bad?

Rosmann stressed that it’s important to remember that someone else always has it worse.

“It’s important to remember that, and to help others to know that, they aren’t alone because many other people are going through the same thing,” he said. “You can just help people by listening and just being there. Most problems are resolvable if we give them time to sort out and if we bring in resources to help figure out long-term, meaningful solutions.”

Seek help

Rosmann said it is important for farmers to look out for themselves and others in the farming industry now more than usual, because there are more at risk.

Where are some places to go for help?

Rosmann suggests going for help to the local county Iowa State University Extension office; talk to lenders; ask for business consultants that can help, and ask for legal advice.

“Let persons know that sometimes you might not be in a position to pay,” he said. “Most professionals want and will offer help even when we, as the customers, do not have the capacity to fully reimburse them their regular amount. It’s just a part of the human nature of most good professionals to want to serve.”

He added it’s also important for persons that are in distress to find resources that are culturally attuned.

“That’s why farmers may like to talk to their veterinarians because they know their veterinarians understand what they are going through,” he said. “Or they may talk to their seed sales persons or to their agronomists. These are our support systems. It’s important that the resources we tap into help us out to understand what we are going through.”

New farm bill

Rosmann said it is important to have services available that are affordable, and the new farm bill could help with that.

When the new farm bill is enacted, Rosmann said there is money that will be used to help pay for counseling for farmers; however the available funding could take some time.

Organizations like Extension services, state departments of agriculture and non-profit organizations can apply for grants on a competitive basis through the USDA.

“Keep an eye on the farm bill, because it does have, for the first time, funds that will be used to address the unmet needs for counseling and assistance of a behavioral health nature,” he said.

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