Lets rewind a couple of days to when I started writing this blog. The sun was out the forecast was sunny and hot for the next 3 days and the I was on my first pass straight cutting peas. First day with a new combine, first day with a new hired hand, soggy wet fields, peas flatter than flatter than piss on a plate, what could possibly go wrong? Almost immediately a high hydraulic temp light flashes at me on the combine, then a sheer bolt on the unload auger, then by a bearing going on the grain cart followed by the shaft on the auger hydraulic drive stripping. It is just the first 48 hours and I am already attempting to control the little voice in my head to provide positive thoughts. But it doesn’t work and I can feel the stress building. I walk into the house for dinner covered in dust and grease after only two days of this and my wife knows that look in my eyes. My stress is off the charts, everyone from the farm knows this feeling and there is nothing that can done….. or is there?
It’s 5AM at my computer with a cup of coffee in front of a keyboard as the rain falls outside. The peas are done after an epic 2 day battle and I know this is just the start with another 2300 acres still to complete. Farming is a stressful occupation at the best of times, so many variables out of our control yet somehow stress management is not a conversation discussed at the kitchen table. Anyone who choses to be a farmer is fiercely independent, strong willed, and used to problem solving alone. None of these qualities are particularly desirable when dealing with a mental health issue like stress, anxiety, depression or emotional exhaustion. #Fitfarmer is not just about sharing tips and tricks to stay physically fit, I am a big believer in attempting to be balanced (key word being attempting) physically and emotionally. The stress management strategies are below are just some what works for me and ideas I felt are worth sharing when it comes to a few changes toward stress management.
- Exercise – Just make 20 minutes. I know it is 20 minutes you feel you don’t have. If you tell yourself to make just 20 minutes it will almost always lead to at least 45. I utilize my home gym and country roads in the early morning hours. Trust me it is no easier for me than you to resist hitting the snooze when the alarm rings especially after a late night in the combine. But habit is a powerful tool in this routine and once ingrained this morning session will provide the extra energy you need for the long haul.
- Diet – Food matters, don’t get pulled into the stress food cycle. As much as we all enjoy comfort food during stressful times harvest is a marathon and diet makes a big difference. Healthy snacks, limiting sugar consumption (especially soda), square meals with proper portion control are essential. The long haul of harvest is no time to let diet slide. In some ways it should be easier to eat balanced as there is only the three square meals and whatever snacks you take to the field. If packed in the morning when will power is at it’s peak healthy choices should be easy.
- Audio books – Listening to audio books over harvest not only challenges the mind it passes the time. Farmers don’t have a support group of like minded individuals to share ideas in social settings for prolonged periods like harvest. I use this time to feed my mind with healthy ideas and motivations to stay on track with fitness health and emotional wellness. To get you started here are 3. 1.The Power of Habit- Charles Duhigg 2. The Surrender Experiment – Michael A. Singer 3. Born to Run – Christopher McDougall
- Create accountability and support networks. During the busy times of the year like harvest you need to clearly communicate what your needs are. Do not assume even with those closest to you that they can read your mind. Let them know what is going on and how they can help support you. From making parts run, meal prep to just lending an ear. It all matters in maintaining physical and mental health.
My agronomist best summed up in explaining his role in us producing maximum yields. “It is not one thing that produces maximum yields it is the sum of all the little changes that makes the difference between average and excellent crops”. I am always reminded of this quote when it comes to stress management and physical fitness. Our stress management is the sum of a lot of small actions that when repeated become habit forming and hopefully yield a strong emotional outlook to the inevitable stress we face as farmers.