A publication of
NY FarmNet 1-800-547-3276 www.nyfarmnet.org
Department of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University
Stress management :
Make it part of your personal and business
You snapped at an employee today. You ignored an invitation to
attend a friends party. You put off doing bookkeeping this month. You’re
worried about the weather and your corn silage yields. You yelled at your
spouse for forgetting to order supplies. You canceled your annual doctor
appointment because there’s no time to go.
All these events have one thing in common: They’re the behaviors
and decisions of someone experiencing a high level of stress. Stress is
associated with unclear thinking, poor decision-making, chaotic work
environments and poor family relations.
Not that there’s ever a stress-free time in farming, but there can be reduced stress when you take the time to recognize stress and take care to
alleviate or reduce its harmful affects. Stresses unique to farming are
weather, prices, market conditions, family conflict. If you feel stressed
from time, you’re not alone. The NY FarmNet program - a statewide
program that helps farmers reduce their stress by providing information,
referrals and individualized financial and family consulting responds to
over 1800 calls annually from the farm community.
You can reduce the negative effects of stress on your personal and
business lives by making stress management part of your management
plan, just as production, finances, cropping and employees are. Without
stress management, other components of your business plan will be
difficult to achieve.
Know it; handle it. To develop your stress management plan, follow these
1. Recognize that you experience stress. It’s a natural response to life’s
events, not a weakness. Stress can help us to perform at peak efficiency,
but when stress is higher than normal or left unaddressed, it produces real
and harmful physical and mental reactions.
2. Recognize the symptoms of stress.
• Physical signs of stress include aching and/or tight muscles,
raised blood pressure, headaches, fatigue, increased sickness and
weight gain or weight loss.
• Emotional signs of stress are difficulty concentrating and/or
making decisions, irritability, impatience, self-criticism,
forgetfulness, repetitive thoughts and a sense of being overwhelmed.
• Behavioral signs of stress include verbal or physical
aggression, changes in sleeping or eating habits, excessive use of
alcohol or tobacco, being accident prone and avoiding other people.
• Relational signs of stress are communication difficulties,
conflict and dissatisfaction with relationships.
3. Manage stress by shifting from worrying to problem solving. Be
realistic about what you can control and take responsibility for it by
focusing on those areas within your business and personal life. Four
techniques, given here, and others in can help you do this:
? Make and implement daily, yearly, and long-term business plans
to help guide your decisions. Learn to say “no” to things that
hinder your planning goals.
? Do not plan in isolation. Operating an agricultural business
today is complex. It’s important when planning and making
decisions to consult with and ask questions of others to gather
information and insight.
? Learn to use clear communication and listening skills and
understand the importance of listening. For example, before you
ask an employee for input into heifer raising, identify the problem
you are working on and formulate your questions so you get the
information you need. Then listen.
? Try to be flexible when unexpected - out of your control - events
occur. Choose the “relax response” rather than the “stress
response” - take three deep breaths or count to 10.
4. Develop stress relief techniques that work for you. Below are
examples of stress reducing techniques to incorporate into your day.
Remember that you may need to use several techniques and give yourself
some time to see results.
? Take 15 minutes daily for yourself. Take a walk, ride a bike, read
a book, listen to music or do something else you enjoy.
? Take a deep breath. Shallow breathing brings in less oxygen and
increases muscle tension, headaches and an uptight feeling.
Breathe in slowly through your nose to a count of five, hold to a
count of five and blow out slowly through pursed lips as if you are
blowing up a balloon. Try to inhale enough so that your belly
rises and falls. Repeat throughout the day.
? Walk away and take time to think about a situation. You’ll come
back to a problem better prepared to solve it. For example, if a
tractor breaks down in the middle of harvest, don’t kick the tires
and scream. Take a 10-minute walk in the laneway to clear your
mind and open it to solutions.
? Take care of your body. Exercise, eat healthy, get adequate sleep,
reduce caffeine consumption and avoid smoking, alcohol, and
? Celebrate holidays and family events. Attend social functions.
You may think spending time away from work is a poor use of
time, but it actually helps you rebuild your mental and physical
? Manage your time. It is easy to feel overwhelmed by all there is to
do. As a result, you may not accomplish as much. Make a list of
what needs to be done, prioritize the list and do the most
important things first. If there is something you find hard to face,
tackle it early in the day when energy levels are higher to get it
over with. Resist the temptation to tackle too much.
? Work as a team. Identify tasks that you dislike, don’t find time to
do and are causing you stress. Seek help on these. If you put off
bookkeeping because you have fieldwork to do, consider hiring
office help. Learn to delegate tasks.
? Find someone with whom you feel comfortable and talk to the
person about your feelings or problems. Don’t keep them bottled
up inside to cause serious health problems. Friends, family,
clergy and other farmers can be good listeners.
? Get help when needed. Sometimes a neutral third party or
trained counselor can help you get through tough times. Working
with a business or personal consultant can help you make sound
business decisions and learn new communication skills, and
implement stress management techniques.
? Contact your doctor. You should see a doctor at least annually
and let the doctor know which stress symptoms you are
experiencing. Some stress symptoms may also be a symptom of a
medical condition that would respond to treatment.
? Communicate your stress-management plans with your family,
coworkers and employees. Do not feel guilty or allow others to
make you feel guilty about taking time for yourself.
To learn more
For more information on stress management and for assistance in
reducing your stress, call New York FarmNet at 800-547-FARM (3276).
New York FarmNet is a free and confidential information, referral and
consultation program available to help you address family and business
concerns or visit www.nyfarmnet.org.
Written by Cathy Sheils, NY FarmNet, Department of Applied Economics &
Management, Cornell University. 2002