November 9, 2006
Drought Stress Doesn’t End in the Field
Drought stress is creating conditions that make seasoned farmers and ranchers wonder what the future will hold. It's important to remember that drought stress doesn’t end in the field, and an awareness of how stress plays out at home can be helpful to manage its impacts, says a professor at North Dakota State University.
"Any time that major concerns arise in agriculture, such as bad weather conditions, the impact reverberates into personal and family life," says Sean Brotherson, NDSU Extension Service family science specialist. "We usually see impacts in at least four areas: money, emotions, health and relationships.
"The biggest stress that people in agriculture tend to deal with is really whether they can make ends meet,” he adds. “The first item of importance is making the farm or ranch operation financially viable. The other end of that financial concern is the family and the little expenses, such as paying for a child's school activities or other small expenditures. Using and following a family budget is critical when such stresses occur."
The next largest source of stress tends to be emotional challenges, such as feelings of anger, discouragement or depression. Drought stress contributes to feelings that can be difficult to manage, which can result in feeling frustrated and discouraged. Men, in particular, need to be willing to do something to process those feelings or talk about them with someone.
“It may be going fishing for a couple of hours that is helpful, or talking to a spouse or sibling, but you should not let yourself remain isolated or alone in your feelings," Brotherson says.
Physical challenges that may result from increased stress may be seen in the form of headaches, stomach troubles, back or neck pain, higher blood pressure or other ailments. A medical professional can help.
"Physical health is put under strain when general stress exists," Brotherson says. "If you leave physical concerns unheeded, then you may be put in a situation that will increase your stress even more. Don't wait to get a physical checkup or to visit a medical professional. Your body needs attention when stress exists."
Family relationships or interactions with neighbors and employees can become strained when stress is high. Research conducted with farm families in North Dakota shows that families and neighbors provide the most support when stress is occurring. Spouses were listed as being the most helpful by two-thirds of the farmers and family members. Children and neighbors were next on the list. Parents, other relatives and close friends also can be helpful.
“Focus on making these relationships positive and understanding so they can become strong webs of support when there is a need,” Brotherson says.
Brotherson says that by thinking about these areas of stress and taking steps to manage any concerns, it is possible to keep healthy and prepared to deal with the ups and downs of life in farming and ranching. When drought stress or other challenging conditions occur, it is important for those working in agriculture to maintain their health and manage stress so they can make good decisions.