There’s no question that farming is one of our nation’s toughest jobs, taking a toll both physically and mentally on the farmers who work each and every day to feed our hungry world.

Especially now, farm families are struggling under the stress of problems outside their control: market uncertainty, trade disputes, far-from-ideal planting and harvest weather, and political standoffs.

Yet farmers should never give up hope, said Larry Tranel, an Iowa State University Extension dairy specialist, ordained minister and rural psychologist, at the 2019 Iowa Farm Bureau annual meeting last week in Des Moines.

“When something happens to us in life ..., we can think of it as a problem, or we can think of it as a challenge to overcome, something that will help me grow, become more than before, more resilient on the other side,” Tranel said during a breakout session on farm family stress management.

Always remember, farmers serve a vital role in providing food, fiber and fuel for the world’s growing population, Tranel said.

“When farmers get so stressed out, they don’t realize how valuable they are as people,” Tranel says “Farmers allow us all to do the jobs we do. In addition, they take all the weather risk. They take the financial risk. They work long hours. Farmers don’t realize how valuable they are and what they do for us as a society.”

Impacts of stress

Unfortunately, daily stress due to low commodity prices, missed farming opportunities or personal loss can impact the health and well-being of farm families, Tranel explained.

When stressed, we struggle to make decisions at a time when we need to make them the most, he said. We can also transfer our negative emotions, such as anger, to those closest to us — our spouses or children.

Chronic stress can impact our physical health, making it difficult to sleep, triggering cravings for unhealthy foods, or spiraling into anxiety or depression, Tranel cautioned.

“When we face market stress, we can feel overwhelmed. We tend to get somewhat immobilized. We lack energy. We lose hope,” he said. “When you start noticing people who lose hope in the future, then be very concerned. Once you start losing hope, you lose a lot.”

It’s important to understand that people deal with the grief of either a personal loss or farming setback differently and it takes time to process that grief, Tranel said.

Changing your mind-set

However, you can change your mind-set, accept that some things are out of your control and realize that problems are often opportunities in disguise, he said.

“What happens when we lose something in life is that there is a reality on the other side. It might not be quite as good as the reality that we thought we were experiencing, but there is a reality on the other side,” Tranel said. “Know that overcoming problems transforms and builds us into becoming more than before.”

Stress is a normal, and sometimes healthy, part of life, Tranel said. The key is to build our resiliency and learn to manage stress in a healthy way.

Tranel encouraged farmers to stay positive and avoid transferring negative emotions to friends and family.

Stay proactive

Farmers should also stay proactive. Tranel recommended creating not only an operating plan for your farm but also an exit plan. “An exit strategy should set the point where we are no longer willing to go through with it,” he said.

In addition, Tranel offered simple stress management techniques that farmers can use each day to build resiliency. These techniques include deep breathing exercises, regular ex­­ercise (at least 7 minutes a day of heart-pumping activity), healthy eating, adequate sleep and making room in your family’s schedule to slow down and “get bored.”

Most importantly, reach out and connect with family, friends and others if you’re feeling overwhelmed, Tranel said.

If you or a family member needs help, contact the Iowa Concern hotline at 800-447-1985. Trained experts are available 24 hours a day/seven days a week to discuss farm stress, crisis, legal assistance and financial concerns. The service is free and confidential.